Anointed voice-of-their-generation comedians can sometimes stumble when initially thrust into the cultural spotlight—as Hard Kondabolu has been with the fallout from The Problem with Apu. Not this time. Warn Your Relatives, his first Netflix special, is a searingly confident statement from an extremely, proudly political comedian who injects his rapid material with a strong current of justified anger. “My stand-up isn’t for everybody,” he says, to laugher at such a ballsy statement from an outwardly nerdy persona. “It’s okay, it’s okay. That’s why it’s good.”
And he’s completely right. Kondabolu isn’t a contrarian and he’s not “telling it like it is” just for cheap shock value. He just has an infinitely stronger and more thoughtful point of view than other comedians who say “my stand-up isn’t for everybody.” But he knows how to undercut his own bravado, immediately bringing his parents into the equation by referencing how underwhelmed they’d be by the size of his audience. “My parents are from India. Eight hundred? It’s not a big number.” Still, he’s clearly equally comfortable in large venues and small. The last time I saw him was at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, holding court over a much smaller crowd with the same pointed hooks to each of his arguments. (My then-girlfriend had comps to a T.J. Miller show and we were sticking around to try and say hi. Simpler times!)
The rambling quality in these arguments—the way they spill over each other before stomping down on a single, undeniable point—makes Kondabolu more the heir to Bill Hicks than to other social commentators like Chris Rock, a comparison that becomes even more clear when he gets to a furious, grotesque bit about literally devouring the rich. There are really too many inspired moments here to count, but I’d be loathe not to include his abbreviated list of why he was called gay in middle school (“I was homophobic as a kid, because I went to middle school,”) and an extremely satisfying analogy that champions firefighters in order to condemn police officers. We are also treated to the most insight into the making of All About Steve (2009) that we’re likely to get. If you’re still one of those people mad at Kondabolu for criticizing a 30-year-old TV show you’ve spent 15 years complaining about anyway, I feel for you. You’re really missing out.
Warn Your Relatives is streaming on Netflix.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and comedian. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @grahamtechler or on Instagram @obvious_new_yorker. A real solid.