Funny, They all just get along
Coexist? Comedy Tour exercises faith and fun
by Jim Carnes Read it at SacBee.com
Photo by Erik Schorr
A Muslim, a Hindu, a Christian, a Jew and an atheist walk into a comedy club. It's not the beginning of a joke, but it is the start of an evening of holy – or unholy – humor.
The Coexist? Comedy Tour features five comedians of different (and no) faiths, talking about their beliefs and about each other's. The group will perform Thursday at the Punch Line in Sacramento.
The show is the brainchild of local comedian-videographer- provocateur Keith Lowell Jensen (the nonbeliever) and is the outgrowth of discussions he had with his friend and fellow comic Tapan Trivedi, the Hindu.
"Being an atheist and coming from a religious family, I've always thought that people from different religious backgrounds can get along," Jensen said in a recent telephone interview. "Although," he quickly added, "I see it happening less and less."
Jensen said, "I was hanging out backstage at a comedy show one night, chatting with my buddy Tapan, and we were laughing that here we were, an atheist and a Hindu, about to go onstage before a roomful of Christians and tell jokes.
"It hit us what a cool thing that actually was."
Jensen said that shortly after that, he began talking onstage about his being an atheist, and atheist material became a part of his stand-up routine.
The next time he encountered Trivedi, "I told him how much I enjoyed it and how well I thought it was received."
The pair decided to expand the congregation and explore the comic potential.
"I had previously performed with John (Ross), the Christian, in our Funny/Peculiar shows at Luna's, so we recruited him. Chad (Lehrman), our Jew, was an acquaintance, too."
They advertised for their fifth member and found Muslim comic Tissa Hammi via an ad.
"She sent us a tape, and we reviewed it and really liked it," Jensen said.
The group was complete, although he conceded it might be nice to add a Buddhist, a Mormon and "whatever else is out there" to the mix – "if they're funny."
Jensen generally plays master of ceremonies in the shows. "We usually come out onstage together; it's a nice way to establish things, present a united front before we spend the rest of the evening bashing each other," he said.
As the atheist, Jensen said, he enjoys the opportunity of "destroying their sacred cows – figuratively, but sometimes literally" – although the real purpose is not to ridicule another's religion so much as to try to understand it.
"It's kind of an interfaith thing," Jensen said. "You don't see a lot of atheists being invited to interfaith meetings, and it's true that we're not a faith, but we do have something to contribute to the discussion."
Audiences have been very receptive to the shows, the comic said.
"We did a four-show test run at the Geery Theater here and it was a hit from the get-go," he said. "We knew immediately it was something special."
The group then appeared at a club in Los Angeles and the show sold out.
"We did a 90-minute show and then probably spent another 90 minutes on the street outside talking with audience members," he said.
"You get a lot of questions from people just asking what it is you believe, or why you don't," he said. "You soon realize that a lot of people don't interact with a Hindu on a regular basis.
"It's neat to see people get together and talk about religion."
The group was invited by the Punch Line to perform here – and at its club in San Francisco (that show will be Dec. 10). Other dates in other cities are in the works.
"In our culture right now," Jensen said, "it's all about divisiveness. Divisions are newsworthy. This is something that is not divisive, and it's nice to see that it's being accepted.
"When you hear from a Muslim on TV, you just don't hear them say, 'Here's some joy I want to bring you.'
"We'd like to change that."