The art of outrage requires the constant turning of tables and forcing of analogies, the endless iteration of words and ideas like those of Richard Pryor whose jokes made the networks so nervous that they would broadcast his material with a 10 second delay so that any offending words could be bleeped [AO Scott “A World that won’t laugh with you” NYTimes June 7, 2015]. Pryor and other black comedians [for example Redd Foxx from the long television series Sanford and son, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock] changed the face of humor by caricaturing, analyzing, analogizing identity in america and making people laugh about their contradictions, insults, allegories and silly caricatures. But these comedians – except for Rock who still rules the stage- were mostly limited to screen – both television and cinema. Today, in our viral age, there are two comedians who use racist and colonialist humor to provoke laughter. The images, ideas and words that come out of their punch lines include Indian Superbowl, a fear of brown planet, reverse racism, a Transasian slave trade, colonialism as the ultimate form of “looting” etc. Their ideas are not poisonous examples of racism, but serve as mockery to both the structures that colonized and discriminated against immigrants of African and Asian origin, Blacks and Whites. Theirs is a redemptive satire of society which make listeners think about the seats of privilege and authority and NOT the kind of satire that bullies the powerless. Their ‘jokes’ cause laughter because they raise philosophical questions on social power. Aamer Rahman is Saudi Arabian by birth, Bangladeshi by origin and Australian by naturalization while Hari Kondabolu is Andhra Pradeshi by origin and American by birth. These two comedians straddle many worlds on their shoulders and mouths.
Rahman graduated with a law degree in Australia, but became involved in political protests around issues such as mandatory detention, refugees, and cuts to higher education. In his “Fear of Brown Planet” Aamer Rahman reverses racism and sets up a Transasian slave trade [to mimic the transatlantic slave trade] so that ‘white people’ could see what it was like for minorities. Rahman fights fire with fire by defusing colonialism into serious laughter. We get the message but think about the pain and plight of ‘brown folks’ through the laughter he elicits. Rahman has written and performed for television and worked on Channel 31’s program Salam Cafe. He has appeared regularly on ABC national radio and Triple J Channel Ten’s Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala, the Comedy Channel’s You have been watching, ABC1’s Tractor Monkeys and has also written for season one of Balls Of Steel Australia and currently developing more projects for television.
Hari Kondabolu is very race conscious having growing up in Queens New York, one of the most diverse regions of America. He makes light of awkward and difficult situations in his life – and his parents’ – by plying them with the deeper message of love and acceptance. He fights back colonialism with his reverse racism a la Richard Pryor’s style of comedy regarding black slavery. Pain takes pain and anger and turns them into laughter. When he hears Pryor he felt how lonely it was to be discriminated against. Doing political comedy is a lonely business for him as it was for Pryor. He not only fights colonialism for Indians, but other minorities like Chinese and Bangladeshis.
His off-color comedy brings post colonial India out of her past post colonialism and makes all think about events and things we don’t like to think about ordinarily or which are too explosive or awkward to address in quotidian language or platforms. His year 2042 for a minority majority in America is a fine example of this.
His comedy also pushes against racism: he pokes fun at those who’ve told him to go back to his country when he was born in America; to Americans who tell him to go back to all the countries they are bombing.
His “Why You Can’t Be ‘Obsessed With Race’ in America” opens with the punch line, “Saying that I’m obsessed with race and racism in America is like saying that I’m obsessed with swimming while I’m drowning. It’s absurd.” He brooches racism in America the way Nicholas Kristof talks about it in NY Times or his blogs.
When in New York City, Kondabolu co-hosts the mostly improvised talk show The Untitled Kondabolu Brothers Project with his younger brother Ashok (“Dap” from hip hop group Das Racist) and their podcast The Untitled Kondabolu Brothers Podcast. He also wrote the cover story for Spin Magazine about Das Racist in November 2011 and he also video blogged for World Compass.
Rahman and Kondabolu have given ethic humor a hard punch and before a global audience. These two comic artists prove that there is no place to hide from the things we should take seriously.