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They come from different backgrounds, but share a common goal—to ease religious tensions with laughter and a healthy dose of political incorrectness. Hindu comedian Rajiv Satyal, a.k.a. the “Funny Indian,” and Muslim comedian Azhar Usman have teamed up with fellow comedians Hasan Minhaj and Samson Koletkar for the latest version of Make Chai Not War, coming to the Punch Line comedy club in San Francisco on July 26 at 8:00 p.m.
“There would be a lot less trouble in the world if people could learn to not take themselves so seriously, if we could learn to assume the best about each other,” Satyal says. “Our show is meant to help people loosen up a bit. We have fun with all religions, including our own. We try to be good-natured, not mean-spirited.”
Satyal and Usman, who created Make Chai Not War, say that their comedy is not based on making fun of anyone’s religious beliefs. Instead, their jokes and stories are mostly self-deprecating and introspective.
“I am a believing, practicing Muslim,” Usman says. “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.” Usman believes there is an important and qualitative difference between jokes that disrespect deities, teachings, ideas, beliefs, creeds, theologies, sacred symbols, or other profound aspects of religion itself, versus jokes about human frailties, idiosyncrasies, and moral failures, which are all fair game.
Samson Koletkar, the world’s only known Indian-Jewish standup comedian, agrees. Although he now lives in San Francisco, Koletkar was born in India, which he believes gives him a unique sense of humor that is perfect for Make Chai Not War.
“As a first generation immigrant to the USA, my comedy offers a new and refreshing perspective on life, unadulterated by the existing American stereotypes,” he says. “I see Make Chai Not War as a platform to promote cross-cultural insights, to put aside our differences and share a laugh together, to make the world see that we are all in this tea-bag together.”
According to Satyal and Usman, many people misunderstand the historical relationship between Muslims and Hindus in South Asia. Certainly, there are tensions between religious groups in the region today, which sometimes result in communal violence. But Usman and Satyal believe that those incidents typically involve minority fringe groups, whereas the vast majority of Muslims and Hindus have lived together in harmony for centuries.
“Hindus and Muslims, for most of their shared history, actually got along fairly peacefully,” says Usman. “They often inter-married; they sometimes fused religious teachings, or even converted to one another’s religions; they respected and even celebrated one another’s holidays and jointly upheld shared traditions. The same is true in Java (modern Indonesia) where syncretic religion is the norm. I consider what Rajiv and I are doing together to be a throw-back to the way Mahabharat (Greater India) was supposed to be: Hindus and Muslims getting along peaceably like brothers.”
“Make Chai Not War” will take place on Monday, July 26 at 8:00 p.m., at Punch Line San Francisco, 444 Battery Street, San Francisco, CA 94111. Admission is $20. For ticket information, visit www.punchlinecomedyclub.com or call 415-397-PLSF.