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US sends NRI comedians to lighten relations

With the nuclear deal stuck, multi-billion dollar fighter aircraft deal lost and some big ticket reforms done and undone, guess who the US is sending to troubleshoot? Yashwant Raj reports.

world Updated: Dec 30, 2011 02:46 IST
Yashwant Raj

With the nuclear deal stuck, multi-billion dollar fighter aircraft deal lost and some big ticket reforms done and undone, guess who the US is sending to troubleshoot?

Three Indian origin comedians - Rajiv Satyal, Hari Kondabolu and Azhar Osman. They start a seven -city tour of India from January 4 at the invitation of the US state department. Their show, called "Make chai not war", is billed to win over a section of Indians who don't care much for Hollywood or Jazz.

Therefore the comics, a part of the "non-elite" cultural push.

The US hopes to use their earthy jokes, that draw liberally from their ethnicity to connect with a section of India that doesn't care much for Hollywood or Jazz.

And they are not scared of religion, usually a red zone..

"We try and play a small part in breaking down religious barriers," Satyal said shortly before boarding a flight for India. And he is aware of the minefields.

Though he has not performed in India before, co-founder Azhar Usman has, in 2008. "Indians were quite receptive to what is essentially an American art form - the stand-up comic."

Usman is knows for his religious swipes. "I never make religion the butt of my jokes," he said, adding, "I target stupidity, human foibles and fundamentalism."

Satyal, Usman and the third corner of the trio Kondabolu started the Make chai show five years, essentially playing to expat audiences, which loved their gigs.

They frequently take on issues head on. After 9/11, for instance, when anyone with a beard or a headgear was a terrorist, Satyal jokes, his father had his car painted with US flags all over.

"'We didn't do it, we didn't do it,' he would shout." Ethnic tensions have arisen markedly with Muslims increasingly in the unenviable position of having to prove their americanness - there was even a high-profile congress hearing.

Satyal, Usman and Kondabolu will be away in a different milieu entertaining a different people - their people by ancestry to vibe better with their people by adoption.