Moontower 2019 Review: Hari Kondabolu

This stand-up act balanced light humor and social issues

Hari Kondabolu

Comedian and writer Hari Kondabolu had this take on playing the Moontower Comedy Festival last Friday: “It’s always strange to perform at comedy festivals. Some of you are fans, some of you have never heard of me, and some of you hate me because I made a documentary that ruined your childhood.”

Judging by the applause that welcomed him to the Stateside stage moments before, the audience was full of fans – some, no doubt, because of his 2017 documentary, The Problem with Apu, which focuses on issues with The Simpsons’ recurring character, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. The opening joke landed, and it set the stage for an evening of sociopolitical humor and references from the 1990s. Yes, my fellow Nineties kids, he hit on all our favorites: Ginuwine, the Ninja Turtles, that song "Linger" by the Cranberries! As both an established comedian and former human rights activist, Kondabolu delivered a set that balanced lighthearted references with an honest discussion about some of the heavier issues facing America today: abortion rights, racial and gender inequality, gun control, the stigmatization of depression, and the persistence of problems that should have ended in the pre-Civil War South – including the South’s rather liberal definition of what constitutes a vegetable. “Owning a human being is absolutely absurd,” he said. “But second to that is macaroni as a vegetable.”

Kondabolu’s discussion of inequality was nuanced, addressing different levels of privilege. For example, he lives in Brooklyn. As a fellow person-of-color, he explained, long-time residents often include him in their concerns over white people gentrifying the neighborhood – even though he’s a newer resident, too. “Just pay no mind to the Neutral Milk Hotel coming from my apartment,” he joked. It came up again regarding his outspoken support for women’s reproductive rights. “I’m pro-choice,” he said. “I express my opinion on Twitter, where it’s safe.” Then adding: “For men.” Overall, his silly play-on-words and Shakespearean references painted an image of an endearing literary nerd sincerely concerned with social issues who might watch a bit too much (and by that, I mean the perfect amount) of Law and Order SVU. His set was at the same time eye-opening and entirely relatable.

Carmen Lynch opened the evening with a solid set that established the night’s slightly nerdy tone. Lynch hails from New York City, where she performs regularly at famed stand-up club the Comedy Cellar. She steered clear of heavier social topics, focusing instead on personal experiences. But as a woman dating men, she introduced some of the themes that would later surface in Kondabolu’s jokes about gender issues, offering examples of the “weird things” guys have said to her bars, like “You’re awkwardly hot.” And she touched on the weird space stepmothers and girlfriends occupy in the lives of children. “I just met my boyfriend’s son. We went to the park and I bought him an apple juice. So, I’m a mom,” she joked. “It’s so easy being a mom. I’m not sure why they’re all so tired all the time.”

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Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival, Moontower Comedy Festival 2019, Hari Kondabolu, Carmen Lynch

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