You’ve heard that laughter is the best medicine, but it could also make good diplomacy.
The “Make Chai, Not War” stand-up tour features three U.S.-born comics of South Asian ancestry on a mission to break down religious barriers between Indians and promote U.S.-India cultural ties.
The 35-year-old Hindu comedian created the routine, named after the Indian spiced tea drink, chai, for U.S. audiences in 2007 with Azhar Usman, a Muslim comic from Chicago. Past iterations also featured Jewish and Christian comics, and the tour caught the eye of State Department officials in 2008 during a sold-out performance in Arlington.
Relations between the two have long been strained by violence, and tensions run high between majority-Muslim Pakistan and majority-Hindu India, which has accused its northwestern neighbor of backing militants who killed 166 people in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Mr. Satyal and Mr. Usman noted that most Muslims and Hindus have lived together in harmony for centuries - which both men aim to use in the tour, if only to show how people of different faiths can laugh at the same jokes.
“The key is to tap into issues that everyone can relate to and find what’s funny,” said Mr. Usman, known for his work on “Allah Made Me Funny: the Official Muslim Comedy Tour.”
“I am a believing, practicing Muslim,” he said. “This, to me, means that I won’t do sacrilegious, blasphemous or heretical material. I will, however, make fun of human stupidity, narrow-mindedness and religious fundamentalism.”
The goal of the tour is to provide a window for Indians into American multiculturalism, said David Mees, cultural attache at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
Some U.S.-funded cultural events play to elite and older audiences, but this one is different, he said.
“Humor should help us make inroads in a part of India that hasn’t yet made up its mind about the United States - the young people, who, through exposure like this, are still open to persuasion,” he said.
No stand-up routine is without risk. Since “Make Chai, Not War” is mainly in English, it is possible the American jokes might not resonate.
Mr. Kondabolu, who holds a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, noted how every comedy act uses trial and error.
“India is one of the most diverse places in the world,” he said. “I really don’t know what to expect, and that is both scary and very exciting for a performer.”
“I didn’t know what to write,” he said, adding that it wasn’t until he met his grandfather that he saw how much they had in common despite living on opposite sides of the world.
He hopes people leave the show “with a better understanding of someone like them growing up on the other side of the planet.”
“It’s not like we’re looking up, or looking down, but looking across at each other,” he said.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Guy Taylor rejoined The Washington Times in 2011 as the State Department correspondent.
As a freelance journalist, Taylor’s work was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Fund For Investigative Journalism, and his stories appeared in a variety publications, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to Salon, Reason, Prospect Magazine of London, the Daily Star of Beirut, the ...
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