Can’t We All Just Get Along?

What do a Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and an Atheist have in common?

Not a whole lot, except that they’re touring as part of the Coexist? comedy tour.

The term “politically correct” is left backstage at a Coexist? show, and each member of the tour is known by his or her respective religion. The members are Tapan Trivedi, the Hindu; John Ross, the Christian; Sammy Obeid, the Buddhist; Tissa Hami, the Muslim; and Keith Lowell Jensen, the Atheist. “I get three names because I don’t have a God,” Jensen says, as seriously as he can manage.

The goal is to take the taboo subject of religious differences and present it in a way that gets people talking about it, replacing fear with a room full of laughter. Says Trivedi, “Once you laugh at something, you acknowledge its existence and deal with it; you cannot deny it anymore. When you laugh at something, it’s like, how heinous can it be?”

The group came together a year ago while founding members Jensen and Trivedi were performing their solo comedy acts in the Sacramento area. Trivedi and Jensen met at Luna’s Café, and came together when they noticed just how much they were at “opposite ends of the religious spectrum,” Trivedi says.

They talked it over, and started looking for other comedians in the area who fit the “comedians of a certain religion” bill. In fact, they put out an ad looking for a Muslim comic.

“It was part organic and part seeking people out,” Jensen explains. From there, it was a matter of deciding whether they could get along with this comedian while crammed into a tiny vehicle on long trips between shows. This is not a high-budget tour, and a private jet is not yet a reality. “What are the chances that they’ll give us a flight plan with a Muslim in it?” Trivedi jokes.

They performed for the first time in August 2007 at the Geery Theater in Sacramento, and since then have taken their rare breed of interfaith humor all over California, as well as to Portland and Seattle. They crack up audiences in comedy clubs, theaters, churches, atheist conventions and once even at a “clothing optional” hot spring.
“All ages, all colors, all races of people that have come [to our shows] they all liked it,” Trivedi says.

Jensen adds, “I like for people to understand that with all our high pretensions about it, it’s a comedy show. It’s funny, and no matter who you are you’re gonna laugh.”
Alternating between clubs and theaters, from large cities to tiny towns, can be challenging. The comedians try to tailor their humor to each location, which is why every show begins with a sort of meet-and-greet with the audience. Jensen explains, “We come out together and we say hello”¦and we find out what the audience is made up of. Let me hear from the Atheists; let me hear from the Christians in the audience. Kind of find out what sort of diversity we have in the crowd.” It helps for the audience to see them all together on stage before they start taking jabs at each other’s religions, he says, to let everybody know that they are friends after all.

The show is then passed to host Sammy Obeid, and each comedian takes a turn onstage. The bits really depend on the audience and whether they are performing at a theater or a club.

“Dealing with a theater crowd is like dealing with an old German Shepherd dog,” Trivedi quips. “He sees the mistake that you’re making, but he is kind of OK with it. The comedy club is like a Rottweiler. The moment he sees fear, ahh!”

So, why take on such a difficult topic? Basically, they explain that this is a conversation that just needs to be started. “You’ve got people who have potentially never met a Hindu before, and now they’ve come and they’ve not only met one but they’ve laughed with this person,” Jensen says.

The members of Coexist? are more likely to fight over who is taking too long in the shower than how many gods there are, and are always willing to help each other out with new jokes. Imagine a car ride with five comedians. With notebooks open and laptops out, they’ll work on jokes together for hours.

“What they say is that you can write the novel on your own, but comedy is almost always a team sport,” Trivedi says.

This theme of coexistence is magnified by these five comedians who not only come from different religious backgrounds, but also have extremely diverse comedic styles.

“We don’t get along by ignoring our differences or pretending they’re not there. I see a lot of interfaith entities kind of water down their beliefs to believe that their beliefs are all compatible, and we don’t need that to get along,” Jensen says.

Their upcoming show at the Crest Theatre on Dec. 12 will likely be the apex of this tour, as they’ve been saving the best for last. Trivedi refers to this show as their “swan song.”

Jensen says, “We have jokes that we put aside, but we pull them out for the Crest. So joke thieves, come to The Crest; buy a ticket. If we see Dane Cook in there, we’ll know. This is for you, Dane!”