Hari Kondabolu and Alex Edelman in Conversation

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When two comedians have their first really long conversation—usually after hours, in the back room of a comedy club—there’s this kind of pleasant squaring-off. The pair sort of kick their frames of references into alignment, marking out likes and dislikes, talking shop. You circle, and size each other up. It’s like wrestling but very gentle.

Hari Kondabolu is a comedian and former organizer genuinely interested in the stuff he talks about onstage: baseball, music, family, social justice. Which was why I decided I wanted to sit down with him and my Windows phone and his iPhone in Brooklyn last May. Our afternoon begins with our getting lost in Park Slope on the way to a meal—Were you following me? never follow me—and continues over omelettes. We skip some things: Kondabolu’s time spent as writer and correspondent on both seasons of the recently cancelled FXX show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, for instance, and we spend as little time as possible talking about race, a subject that has come up in “literally every interview [he’s] done” about his new album, Waiting for 2042. We don’t talk much about the album either.

—Alex Edelman

I. DIFFERENT KINDS OF SILENCES

HARI KONDABOLU: It should be noted that I’m Hari Kondabolu and I’m using my iPhone to record the interview.

ALEX EDELMAN:It should be noted that I’m Alex Edelman. I’m using my Windows Phone to record this interview. We have competing recordings.

HK: Is this print?

AE: This is print. Some unlucky intern will have to sift through this recording and bang it out. [1]

HK: Is it a paid intern?

AE: I hope it’s a paid intern. I would never do unpaid internships. That’s tantamount to slavery.

HK: It’s not tantamount to slavery.

AE: Well, “slavery” is a broad word.

HK: It’s not a broad word. It’s very narrowly defined. Internships are some kind of upper-middle class slavery. Which isn’t slavery at all.

AE: Well, then this is the end of the interview, I guess. Me offending you.

[Laughter.]

AE: I’ve run into you in auspicious places.

HK: Where did we meet?

AE: We did Morgan Venticinque’s show together.He had this show in a basement and there was a beam directly in front of your face and every performer mentioned it.There was a loud group in the corner—

HK: Did I yell at them?

AE: You did yell, but you were in the right. I remember thinking This is a guy who knows what his comedy is worth.

HK: I hope I finished that set and then stormed out.

AE: Ugh, why? There’s no glory in that.

HK: Every now and then you find a little bit of magic when you’re forced to adjust your material to the room, and some gold comes out of it. There’s a difference between offense and defense, to use a sports analogy. That’s defense, to get something out of a tough room. When a crowd loves you, that’s offense. When you have a good crowd, you can push further a little bit because they’re with you for the easiest parts. When you’re on defense, you might not get to any part of the joke, but being pushed against makes you force yourself to push back. And pushing back makes you come up with stuff.

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5X5: BRIAN EVENSON

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Illustrations by Josephine Demme

In this series five different writers talk to one writer about five (or more) of his different books. In this first interview, Colin Winnette talks to Brian Evenson about his books Baby Leg and Dark Property.

Colin Winnette in Conversation with Brian Evenson

Brian Evenson is an incredibly kind man with eyes that could lead a cult, if he had the inclination. Instead, he writes terrifying fiction that grapples with the duplicitous nature of reality, or our interpretations of reality. Some call it literary horror. He’s written twelve books, and each is uniquely affecting, but many bleed together or interact with one another in unexpected and rewarding ways. His writing is forceful—not just the subject matter and the emotional content of the stories, but the way the letters and words sit together, the way his sentences push into you like a thumb. He is bold in the forms he’ll use, willing to end a story at the length it demands (40 pages, 120 pages, 250 pages, 2 pages) rather than stretch it too far or trim it back—so the lengths of his books vary widely from project to project. We should all be brave enough to let our stories end when they want to.

Evenson teaches at Brown University. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Awards. He has also written an expansion of the Aliens universe, under the name B.K. Evenson, and a book version of the Rob Zombie film, Lord of Salem. His newest novel, Immobility, is available from TOR Books. For this interview, we set out to talk about his books Baby Leg and Dark Property.

—Colin Winnette

I. FIFTEEN MINUTES

COLIN WINNETTE: As a prolific writer, and a generous guy, you’ve done a considerable body of interviews and conversations, most of which are available online. It’s wonderful. But my first question would be: is there something you’ve always wanted to say but haven’t had the opportunity?

BRIAN EVENSON: Well, I don’t know.  At this point, I seem to have been asked almost everything, and usually I answer at least relatively truthfully, though it’s also become easy to say the same things over and over. I’ll try not to say the same things this time.

I do know that it’s become commonplace to refer to me as prolific—once someone says that, everybody does, and it’s not like I’m Thackeray or Dickens or Balzac, but I do really like to write and have been blessed with having the problem of having more ideas than I could ever possibly write about rather than a dearth of ideas.

I don’t think I spend a lot more time writing than other writers.  But I do think that when I was a young writer with two young kids, I learned that whatever time I could get, even if it was just a few minutes, was valuable.  I don’t spend time ramping up and ramping down like a lot of writers I know. I don’t check to see if anything is new on the Internet. I don’t have to spend time sharpening my special magical pencil made from wood taken from the deck of the Titanic. I don’t have to brew my cup of coffee and balance it just right to write.  I don’t have to be writing in my precious little handmade notebook that I bought in Bolivia from the Aymara people. I don’t have to be sitting at my desk looking out at the birds in the backyard and wait for the song of the lark for inspiration to strike. Instead, if I have fifteen minutes, I write for a full fifteen minutes. I try to live my life in such a way that when those minutes come I can take advantage of them wherever I am and whatever I have to write with—computer, phone, pen, pencil, etc.—and take advantage of them fully, and I think the idea of being committed to doing that has actually, somehow, made it work.

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The 2014 Music Issue is now available! Featuring Marcel Dzama in conversation with Will Butler, Arcade Fire in Haiti, an interview with Glenn Branca, Alexandra Molotkow on the micro-genre of memoirs of rock stars’ ex-lovers, an interview with Killer Mike, the Tune-Yards deconstructing themselves, and much more!

Subscribe to the Believer and start with the Music Issue, featuring an exclusive, limited-edition 7-inch by Marcel Dzama and members of Arcade Fire!!

Read it: 

Buy It: blvr.org/buy109

What’s Inside:

Table of Contents

Marcel Dzama in conversation with Will Butler
The artists chat about music, dance, and childhood to mark the release of the soundtrack to Dzama’s new film, included in this issue.

Reflections of Jacmel by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
On the trail of Arcade Fire as they tour an unexpected locale: Haiti.

“Balletomane”: a new poem

Without You I’m Nothing by Alexandra Molotkow
Exploring a seldom-considered but surprisingly fruitful literary micro genre: the memoirs of rock stars’ ex-lovers.

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