News / Asia

    'Make Chai, Not War' Showcase Brings Stand-Up Comedy to India

    Three Indian-Americans use comedy to promote religious tolerance, break down prejudices and make people laugh.

    'Make Chai, Not War' Showcase Brings Stand-Up Comedy to India
    'Make Chai, Not War' Showcase Brings Stand-Up Comedy to India

    In the United States, a stand-up comedy routine about Indians in America is never complete without a joke about a miserly shopkeeper with a heavy accent, chasing away riffraff with a broom. But that stereotypical humor doesn't make much sense in India. At least that's what three Indian-American comedians have found on their unique tour of the South Asian nation.

    The “Make Chai, Not War” showcase features comedians Rajiv Satyal, Azhar Usman and Hari Kondabolu. They use stand-up comedy to talk about religious tolerance, breaking down prejudices and their experiences growing up Indian-American in the United States.

    While the tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department has lofty ambitions, Rajiv Satyal said, “Our goal is to make people laugh. I know that sounds simple, but it seems that can get lost sometimes in the grander scheme of things.”

    Satyal added that he wanted to “make them laugh in the room and, make them think on the way home.”

    “If you can change some minds through some of the things you’re saying, and get people to talk, then hopefully, we’re promoting religious and racial harmony without being preachy,” he said on the phone from Patna, the tour’s fourth stop.

    The idea for the tour came from a State Department cultural attaché who saw Azhar Usman perform in London several years ago, according to State Department spokesperson Emily Horne. The officer brought Usman over for a tour in India, and he was so well received that the State Department decided to invite the full group this time.

    While the focus of the two-week tour, which ends January 17, is stand-up comedy, the performers are also holding discussions with audiences, facilitating workshops and giving interviews to the media, said Horne. The group is making appearances in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Calcutta, Durgapur, Bombay and Patna.

    The comedy routines have been well received, according to Satyal, playing to as many as 1,200 people in sold out shows. Satyal said he does the same act no matter where he’s performing, but he did say there have been occasions on the tour where he’s slowed down the pace to be more easily understood.

    Not all of his jokes work as well in India as they do back home in the U.S. Satyal said he has stopped trying to get laughs using the stereotype in the U.S. that all convenience stores are owned by Indians. On the flipside, he said he can do jokes about the Indian stereotype that Gujaratis are very frugal, which would not be understood in the U.S.

    Satyal also noted that his comedic style is often new to his Indian audiences.

    Traditional Indian comedy has more mimicry of politicians and Bollywood stars, Satyal said, adding that stand-up is a very American form.

    “To get up and talk about, 'Here’s who I am and here’s my point of view, here’s what I think,' … it’s very American,” he said. “[To say] 'Here are my foibles, here are my flaws and my faults,' is very new to Indians.”

    Satyal got his start in comedy in 2002, when his brother spotted a newspaper ad for a contest for the funniest person in Cincinnati, Ohio, Satyal’s hometown in the Midwestern U.S. He made it to the semifinals the first time and won it the next year, he said.

    Comedy is not a common path for Indian-Americans, many of whom are pushed by their parents into more traditional fields like medicine, academia, law and business.

    “Entertainment is kind of the last area someone would go into,” Satyal said, adding that for his parents’ generation, many don’t quite understand making fun of Indian-Americans in a self-deprecating way. But he said that his own parents, who came to the U.S. in the 1970s, have always been supportive of his decision to become a comedian.

    Additionally, he thinks comedy can be a positive force for the Indian-American community.

    “Only when a community is doing well can comedians really emerge and make fun of it,” he said. “It’s actually a compliment that we’re making fun of ourselves.”

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora