Four Guys Walk Into a Bar

By Lauren F. Friedman

Published July 21, 2010, issue of July 30, 2010.
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‘I am an Indian Jew,” standup comedian Samson Koletkar said at a recent show in Toronto. The audience erupted in laughter, and Koletkar feigned confusion. “That was not the joke,” he deadpanned.

Funny Guy: Samson Koletkar
Funny Guy: Samson Koletkar

Koletkar, who was born and raised in Mumbai’s small Jewish community, will appear in San Francisco on July 26, along with Rajiv Satyal (a Hindu), Azhar Usman and Hasan Minhaj (both Muslim), in “Make Chai Not War,” a touring comedy showcase that — not to be all serious — facilitates interfaith laughter.

“Chai,” which refers to the popular Indian tea (not the Hebrew word for “life”), was originally created by Satyal and Usman, who previously performed the provocatively titled show “Allah Made Me Funny.” “In India, Muslims are the biggest minority, and there is lots of tension,” Koletkar explained to the Forward. “It was a big step for them to share the stage and laugh with each other.”

And how did Koletkar get involved? “I, being the only Jewish comedian with an Indian background, fit into the whole idea,” he said.

In his routine, Koletkar jokes about the immigrant experience (he came to this country a decade ago), Indians, Americans and Jews. “I only pick on my own religion,” he said. “If I pick on someone else’s, it’s a problem.” But his hodge-podge background is like a comedian’s dream: He can talk about looking like a terrorist and being cheap, while still making fun of only himself.

Despite all the identity politics, the idea behind “Make Chai Not War” is primarily to create a funny show, not to make a sweeping statement about interfaith dialogue. “I keep it pretty silly,” Koletkar said. “Otherwise I’d be a preacher.”

So is there anyone who might not enjoy a night of jokes by members of different world religions? “My comedy resonates with everybody — except the highly religious and close-minded,” Koletkar said. “They hate me.”

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