So a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew walk into a bar . . . . No, it's not the beginning of a joke, it's the beginning of a show all about telling jokes, and pointedly religious jokes at that.
Tonight, the Coexist Comedy show comes to the Hollywood Improv, the last stop in a successful West Coast tour. Comedians chosen for their religious heritage and humor have played to big houses from San Diego to Vancouver, Canada. The point is not to smooth over religious differences but to confront the conflicts that dominate daily headlines in the Middle East and elsewhere with a bit of comic relief.
"We don't water down our beliefs," said Tapan Trivedi, co-founder of Coexist and resident Hindu. "We try not to make amends. However, we can still coexist."
Trivedi and Keith Lowell Jensen, an atheist, started the show a year and a half ago when the pair met backstage at a comedy club and realized they had more in common than just struggling on the comedy circuit. They both understood a rich metaphysical material that really touched people and their deepest beliefs. The duo set out to form the first multi-faith comedy team by hunting down comics who weren't afraid to cross the line. Less than two years after their first gig in a Sacramento basement theater, Coexist is booking the West Coast's biggest clubs.
"The language of mockery is something the whole world can get on," quipped Moshe Kasher, a Jewish comic who is joining the tour for the show at the Improv. "The truth of every religion is pretty much the same."
Kasher never wanted to be a stereotypically "Jewish" comedian and spent most of his early career trying to avoid that label. He wanted to do something different, and found the perfect opportunity in Coexist.
Unlike Kasher, Tissa Hami embraced the opportunity to use comedy to explore her faith and also dispel negative perceptions of Islam. But the Iranian-born performer was more shocked to encounter audiences who not only understood her sense of humor but who also knew a thing or two about her religion.
"I didn't give people enough credit," she said.
"It's not like we're coming out of the blue -- everyone who comes to the show has some kind of background," John Ross, a Christian punk rocker turned comic, added. "Everyone is tied to it. It's something that really bonds the crowds."
In Seattle, one woman knocked back a few drinks, then tumbled off her seat while heckling Jensen, the atheist.
"I performed an exorcism and then she was escorted out," Jensen bragged. "It was great."
The Coexist Comedy Tour
Where: Hollywood Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.
When: 8 tonight
Contact: (323) 651-2583, www.coexistcomedy.com