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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs