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Hari Kondabolu
Hari Kondabolu
Photo by Mindy Tucker

After Apu, Hari Kondabolu Is Settling Uneasily Into Fame

Hari Kondabolu is recognized more often on the street, and he kind of likes it. The Indian-American standup comic and Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell writer especially gets a kick out of the fact that people know who he is in cities he’s visiting for the first time. His amusement makes sense: He’s been at this for over a decade.

Named one of Variety's "10 Comics to Watch" in 2018, Kondabolu credits Netflix in part for raising his profile. His standup special, Warn Your Relatives, aired on the streaming network in May. But his relatives and friends aren't confusing his Netflix payday with that of Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle.

“I think they would have known I was doing really well if I was able to buy a house: ‘Oh, he bought a house. That must mean he’s doing really well.’ I’m not able to do that,” says Kondabolu, who will perform October 6 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. “But I make a fine living.”

Then there's last year’s much-talked-about The Problem With Apu. Kondabolu’s documentary about The Simpsons’ stereotypical Indian character and his negative impact on society brought the Queens native the sort of fame that, truth be told, he could do without. It’s complicated.

“Some people know me for that,” says Kondabolu, who promoted the documentary on The Daily Show and The View. “They don’t know I’m a comedian and have been doing it for a long time. They think about me as a guy critiquing a cartoon character. I was irritated with that for a long time: Great, all these years of hating Apu, and I’ll forever be associated with Apu. The irony is not lost on me. But you can’t control that stuff.”

We’ve seen this sort of thing before with comedian Hannibal Buress. His bit about Bill Cosby being a sexual predator took The Cosby Show legend down and for a moment became Buress’ unwanted claim to fame. But Buress has stepped out of that shadow. Kondabolu hopes to do the same.

He makes no mention of Apu in his Netflix special, but there are jokes about being Indian-American. Perhaps his most popular is his revelation that Indian people love mangoes. “When we don’t have mangoes available to us,” Kondabolu jokes in the special, “we will sit around in a circle and share stories of favorite mangoes we have eaten in the past.” You don’t have to be Indian to laugh at that joke (or any of the others). Just about every culture has a version of the mango. And in South Florida, the sweet fruit has its own devotees.

Kondabolu says he tends to draw an "ethnically diverse crowd," though it often depends upon the city. He joked on his Netflix special that he was nervous about touring the South because of its racist rep, but over the phone, he points out that all Southern cities aren’t alike and that he has dealt with racism in liberal cities such as Seattle and Portland as well. He can’t speak to South Florida's vibe, however, because he’s never been here before.

He’s looking forward to getting know the area and the Cuban influence. But no need to bring mangoes to the show, even if we are the home of the International Mango Festival. He gets enough mangoes from fans as it is, he says. Your support and recognition are more than good enough.

Hari Kondabolu. 8 p.m. Saturday, October 6, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; browardcenter.org. Tickets cost $22.50 to $29.50 via ticketmaster.com.

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