“Laugh In Peace” Bringing Unorthodox Stand-up Show to Indianapolis

A rabbi, a Baptist minister and a Muslim comic walk into a public library. Think you’ve heard this one before? The “Laugh In Peace” comedy tour combines the talents of Muslim stand-up Gibran Saleem, Reverend Susan Sparks, and Rabbi Bob Alper. The trio look to spread a message of commonality and understanding in a harmless and fun space.

When discussing religion and traditions, it’s easy to get caught up in stereotypes. Often times the media can put religion in very narrow ways that make other persons’ belief systems seem so much more polarizing. “Laugh In Peace” hopes to expand these limited perspectives and create conversations among different groups.

“Humor bridges everybody on an emotional level without having to do anything but to listen and laugh,” Gibran says. “It’s an extremely efficient way to create an environment where people are connected and growing together.”

The comedy show is part of the second annual spring faith event from Spirit & Place, a self-funded group focused on creating community engagement activities based on the ethos of fairness, hospitality and equity housed in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. The event will be hosted at Clowes Auditorium in Indianapolis’ Central Public Library on May 19.

“It’s been a hard two years,” Spirit & Place program director Erin Kelley says. “Figuring out something fun with a religious fit was a challenge. It was pure serendipity, the idea of an interfaith comedy show. We’re always trying to make these connections that don’t always seem so obvious.”

The trio is overjoyed to bring Indianapolis their first live show since January 2020. Comedians, and ministers alike, have made due with circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most tried their hand at sets and sermons over Zoom, which can sometimes make it difficult to register how well the performance is going.

“We did one ‘Laugh in Peace’ show virtually,” Susan says. “Everybody’s muted. It’s like, alright here’s the punchline and (hold for some type of movement on-screen). It was rough.”

“Yeah. It was more like a PowerPoint presentation at that point,” Gibran says. “We are so excited to finally be back.”

In 2001, after over ten years of performing as a stand-up comic, Rabbi Bob Alper had an agent suggest he tour with a Muslim comedian in order to garner more gig opportunities. Though often hesitant of his publicist’s tactics at the time, Bob began exchanging tapes with Ahmed Ahmed (“Axis of Evil” comedy tour, “Sullivan & Son”) before first performing with the Egyptian-born comedian at a synagogue in 2002.

While Rabbi Bob Alper served congregations for fourteen years before trying his hand at joke-telling, Reverend Susan Sparks discovered her comedy roots before her time in seminary. Working as a trial lawyer in Atlanta, GA, she was the only woman in an 80-man law office.

“All those good ol’ boys could really spin a story. Oh, honey!” Susan says, “They were so funny. And the rapports they had with juries, they were right there with them. I thought I have to study this.”

In 2004, after a “goofy, one-hour stand-up class” Susan fell in love with the art form. After finding it difficult to study her seminary thesis on humor and religion with anybody else, she met Rabbi Bob and kept performing at open mics in New York before settling in as a pastor.

“The synergies with the ‘Laugh in Peace’ tour were so obvious,” Susan says. “The call was so much more clear from there.” She is currently Senior Pastor at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in Manhattan.

“My whole goal with a sermon is to leave people feeling less alone,” Susan says. “As comedians if we do our job right, people bond. Our worlds overlap for a split second in that moment where we laugh together. To leave people feeling less alone, to lead people to see the commonality before the difference.”

Gibran Saleem began doing stand-up twelve years ago at a club one block away from NYU’s student housing. Even before his time on stage, his chosen field of psychology for graduate school was a deviation from his Muslim background where psychiatry and medical school were considered more traditional options.

“I was obsessed with comedy,” Gibran says. ”I didn’t think it was something I could make into a career. When I was on-stage it was kind of like a gradual social and creative stepping stone.”

Bob approached Gibran in 2016 to join “Laugh in Peace” after the success of previous Muslim comics including Mo Amer (“Black Adam”, “Mohammed in Texas”) and Azhar Usman (“Allah Made Me Funny”).

“It was strange to receive an e-mail from a Rabbi Bob Alper,” Gibran says. “But after meeting and performing my first time, I really enjoyed the message and the audience’s response to merging communities together. Overall it was good chemistry, good vibes, and good laughs.”

Spirit & Place expects the “Laugh in Peace” show to be a lot of people’s first experience with the community advocacy group, but hopes it won’t be their last.

“We got to deal with the hard stuff,” Erin says. “But there are ways for us to celebrate the small things we have in common. It’s our hope that people will leave with a new idea.. and have a conversation with others about what they experienced and connect back to the themes that have been approached.”

The “Laugh in Peace” show will take place from 7-9 p.m. at the Indianapolis Public Library’s Central Library, located at 40 E. Saint Clair St. in Indianapolis, IN.

Tickets are free, but guests need to register prior to the event at www.eventbrite.com/e/laugh-in-peace-comedy-show-tickets.

Written By
0 replies on ““Laugh In Peace” Bringing Unorthodox Stand-up Show to Indianapolis”