Three U.S. comedians of South Asian ancestry are heading to India for a 7-city tour in January, by invitation of the U.S. Department of State, as part of a goodwill program to promote better relations among diverse countries and religious faiths. “Make Chai Not War,” starring Rajiv Satyal, Azhar Usman and Hari Kondabolu, will perform in Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Ranchi and Patna January 4-19.
“I have visited India many times, but I am especially excited to be bringing ‘Make Chai Not War’ to my parents’ country,” said Satyal, a Hindu, who created the show with his Muslim comedian friend, Usman. “Sharing a laugh is universally one of the most powerfully positive experiences on the planet. I hope people will come with an open mind. We are coming not only to talk, but to listen.”
“Make Chai Not War” has been breaking down cultural barriers since 2007, when it premiered at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. to predominantly Hindu and Muslim audience members, many of whom were not used to seeing comedians of their respective ethnicities making good-natured jokes about their religions. The following year, a sold-out performance in neighboring Arlington, Virginia caught the attention of the State Department.
Usman said that he and his colleagues are sensitive to cultural differences between the U.S. and India, and will take extra care not to offend, at least not intentionally.
"I am a believing, practicing Muslim," said Usman, who is based in Chicago. "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 key is to tap into issues that everyone can relate to and find what’s funny.”
“As with all live comedy, there is an element of trial and error,” said Kondabolu, a Hindu who lives in New York. “In terms of knowing the differences between Indian and U.S. culture, that's tricky because there is no singular American or Indian culture. Both are complicated nations and India is one of the most diverse places in the world. I really don't know what to expect, and that is both scary and very exciting for a performer.”
Previous iterations of “Make Chai Not War” have also included Jewish and Christian comedians. The upcoming show in India will consist of just Muslim and Hindu comedians because of the historical relationship between those faiths in South Asia, where tensions have sometimes erupted in violence. Usman and Satyal believe that those incidents typically involve more radical factions, whereas the vast majority of Muslims and Hindus have lived together in harmony for centuries. Satyal hopes to experience some of that harmony, during the upcoming tour.
“There would be a lot less trouble in the world, if people could learn to not take themselves so seriously,” he said. “We can’t wait to hear the laughter of the Indian crowds, which are some of the best in the world. I like saying that, because it puts pressure on them to laugh.”
Rajiv Satyal is “The Funny Indian” from Ohio whose witty, universal, and TV-clean act resonates with Middle America by covering everything from racial issues to soap bottles and politics. A former Procter & Gamble marketer, he has repeatedly opened for Dave Chappelle, Tim Allen, Kevin Nealon and Russell Peters. He co-founded the world-touring “Make Chai, Not War” and “Funny ‘Cause It’s True,” a marketing consulting program based on humor. He has been featured on national TV and radio, in The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. He does standup at over 40 colleges annually and appears regularly at major Comedy Clubs in LA. More information about him is available at www.funnyindian.com.
Azhar Usman is widely recognized as America’s top South Asian Muslim standup comedian. As co-founder of the internationally acclaimed “Allah Made Me Funny – The Official Muslim Comedy Tour,” he has performed in over a dozen countries on five continents. He was born and raised in Chicago by parents who emigrated from India. He holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago and The University of Minnesota Law School. More information about him can be found at www.azhar.com.