'We discuss the similarities between halal and kosher restaurants': comedian Ashley Blaker on performing with Imran Yusuf

The Orthodox Jewish and Muslim comics are due to take a joint show around Britain

May 28, 2019 11:27

When I left the UK seven months ago, we were facing confusion about Brexit, the Jewish community was worried about Labour antisemitism and my football team hadn’t won the league for 28 years. Now I’m back, we are facing confusion about Brexit, the Jewish community was worried about Labour antisemitism and my football team hasn’t won the league for 29 years.

If you have to ask which of these three things upsets me most you really don’t know me.

Since October I’ve been performing in the United States, Canada and Australia, based most of the time in Manhattan.

But now I am back, reunited with my crazy children, I am more in need than ever for an antidote to depression. Luckily I have just the thing as I’m teaming up with my fellow Liverpool-supporting comedian Imran Yusuf for our new UK tour, Prophet Sharing.

The show is about mine and Imran’s spiritual journeys to becoming the rather untypical Jew and Muslim that we are today. And as the pun in the title suggests, it is also about us making money, because I’m actually not that untypical a Jew after all.

And already, I can see that like the Seder, this is a night different to all other nights. I’ve performed around the world for Jews. At the Edinburgh Festival and on my BBC Radio 4 show I play to predominantly gentiles. But there is something unique about performing to a completely mixed audience of Jews, Muslims and everyone else. Plus being on stage at the same time as Imran means we get to bounce off each other and explore topics it would be hard to do on our own.

I have genuinely learned so much already as we’ve discussed whether my synagogue is more extreme than Imran’s mosque, whether it’s harder to get Jews or Muslims to laugh and the similarities between halal and kosher restaurants. I still intend to one day write a history of the UK’s kosher restaurants titled ‘Our Credit Card Machine Isn’t Working Yet’.

As ever with performing for a mixed audience, I love being able to explain some of the mysteries of Judaism. Because let’s face it, it’s a very insular private religion and most people probably see Orthodox Jews in our funny hats and long beards and think we’re all slightly crazy. However when they get to know some of what’s involved, they realise we’re actually totally crazy.

Much of the show is ad-libbed so it’s different night to night. But the make-up of each audience also changes. It’s actually a bit like home and away ties in European football. Nights in Radlett and at JW3 are like my home matches; whereas Bradford and Sheffield are Imran’s home crowd. If we ever go to East London it’s probably more neutral and we’re both hoping to simply make it out alive.

And just so you know what to expect, I am on stage for 45 minutes or so and then we have an interval so that Jews can pray Maariv, our nighttime ritual; Muslims can pray Isha’a, their nighttime ritual; and everyone else can go to the bar and get pissed: the Christian nighttime ritual.

After that Imran tells his story. Then the two of us join forces on stage, at which point we hope peace will be declared in the Middle East, Bibi Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas will declare love for each other and Jeremy Corbyn will disappear in a puff of smoke.

We can but dream.

May 28, 2019 11:27

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