Few things are as enjoyable as laughing heartily alongside strangers while a comedian kills it onstage. At his Center Stage performance on March 1, Hari Kondabolu and his opener, Liz Miele, both delivered strong performances throughout a fluid, laugh-filled evening.
Kondabolu is a Brooklyn-based comedian whose material thoughtfully and humorously tackles an array of social issues — he is a rare and important comic.
Kondabolu examines topics such as racism and sexism in his Netflix special “Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives,” and his Center Stage performance did not shy away from such difficult subjects either. He spoke about the prison industrial complex, abortion, racism and his experiences as a first-generation citizen. He delivered his routine with an openness and self-awareness that made his political commentary feel conversational, rather than brash or accusatory. It was impressive. With this kind of comedy, it’s easy for a comic to talk at, rather than to, an audience. But Kondabolu was always careful to express his concerns without castigating audience members who may not hold the same opinion.
Kondabolu’s props added an additional layer of authenticity to his recounted stories, and crystallized his comedy in that glorious place that surpasses fart-joke territory. I laughed hardest at Kondabolu’s loud exclamation that “‘Cars’ was a documentary!” I was touched when he said the children of immigrants should affirm their family’s hard work by being able to “live despite their stupidity” when pursuing the arts or other non pre-professional tracks. I also resonated with his statement that “art is better when you’re alive to make it.”
Miele, like Kondabolu, did not disappoint. Her enthralling stage presence and engaging delivery made for a clever and well received 15-minute opener. She joked about expensive eyelash extensions and her desire to hold a baby koala. Above all, Miele appeared comfortable onstage. Listening to her material made me feel like I was like hearing a funny story from an old friend, rather than paying to be entertained.
The physicality and honesty of her storytelling was refreshing, too. Some female stand-up comics speak in falsetto about their vaginas in order to earn laughs and attention in the comedy world. But Miele’s comedy worked because it was meticulous, confessional and all her own. It was easy to laugh at her material, because Miele gave me every reason to believe that she was being herself and graciously letting the audience in on what she thought was funny.
Miele and Kondabolu put together an excellent show. Both of their performances were distinctive, authentic and gave audience members an opportunity to think critically about the power individuals have to combat injustice. I highly recommend seeing them next time they come to a city near you.