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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs