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And I'm Melissa Block. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity. Well, that's how three standup comedians felt today after learning they were mentioned during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing about the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports that as part of its cultural diplomacy, the State Department sent the three Indian-American comedians to India last year.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: At the hearing today, Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that he could understand that she might not know everything going on in her department. One of his examples was this.
SENATOR RAND PAUL: I can understand that maybe you're not aware that your department spent $100,000 on three comedians who went to India on a promotional tour called "Make Chai, Not War."
BLAIR: That tour was created in the U.S. by Rajiv Satyal about five years ago to give Indian-American standup comedians like him a platform.
RAJIV SATYAL: Hindus get all up in arms, like six arms, if you...
BLAIR: The other two comedians are Hari Kondabolu...
HARI KONDABOLU: We saw this exhibit about ivory. On one of the shelves I saw elephants carved out of ivory. Did you miss it? Elephants carved out of ivory.
BLAIR: And Azhar Usman.
AZHAR USMAN: Me walking into the airport, heads turn simultaneously. Security guy's like, we got a Mohamed at 4 o'clock.
BLAIR: The show caught the attention of the State Department, which has, for years, sent American artists abroad. Rajiv Satyal says their tour was public diplomacy.
SATYAL: Kind of like ping-pong diplomacy with China back in - I think it was the '70s, a little bit before my time. But that was the reasoning. It was so show democracy, tolerance, diversity. And specifically, when you send Indian-Americans to India, it's funny because we're like them, but we're not like them.
BLAIR: Satyal believes their seven-city tour of India was a hit. After the shows, the comedians did Q&As with the audience, which was often several hundred people. But he also knows that a lot of people will be surprised to find out that the State Department paid almost $100,000 to send them.
SATYAL: In my standup act for the last year, I've been doing that as a joke. I've said that the State Department sent three comedians to India, which sounds like the beginning of a joke.
BLAIR: One final note, in the hearing today, Senator Paul called the tour "Make A Chi, Not War." Chi, not chai. Satyal says he thought that was interesting coming from a member of the Tea Party. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.
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