Prophet Sharing, JW3 and Arts Depot
PUBLISHED: 13:36 05 June 2019
Inspired by the prophets in their lives, Orthodox Jewish comic Ashley Blaker and Muslim stand-up Imran Yusuf take their comedy show on the road
Two men discussing their different religions may sound more like hard work than a fun night out.
But when one is Little Britain producer turned Orthodox Jewish comic Ashley Blaker, and the other is Muslim stand-up Imran Yusuf, it might just yield more laughs than Songs of Praise.
In Prophet Sharing, each performs a 40-minute set riffing on their respective beliefs, before the audience gets to fire off questions.
The pair, who met on the TV circuit and bonded over a shared love of Liverpool Football Club, also unpack their prejudices about each other's faiths.
In one show, Blaker tells how a Muslim family asking him directions to Brent Cross's Kosher restaurant "rang alarm bells". While Yusuf shared the times he had spotted a bearded man with a backback in a tube carriage and thought 'I'm not getting on that one'.
"We educate each other, I have learned a lot," says Blaker.
"I try to keep it fresh and fun with something new every night, I ask a lot of questions of Imran. I'm curious about what his mosque or Imam is like compared to my synagogue or Rabbi. We talk about extremism, and PR.
"Both our communities have a PR problem. Buddhists get away with murder - not literally - we need to find out who does their PR."
On the road they might play on Blaker's home turf of Radlett one night, then tap into Yusuf's fanbase in Harrow the next. Blaker jokes: "like two European teams playing home and away matches."
"It's interesting for us to perform for audiences that we don't usually play. My material is very much about my life. The Jews will enjoy it, but I love performing for a crowd that isn't Jewish, explaining Jewish life to them. Telling them something they don't know."
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Kenya-born, but raised in Hackney and Harrow, Yusuf says it's unusual to have two comics who are "learned about our faith and have read our Holy books."
"Most of my material is different to what I do for a club audience. I get to tell Jewish people about the Koran, how Abraham is in it and massively influenced me as a young adult. It's my journey, my faith - most religious people have never read their own religious book cover to cover, let alone anyone else's."
Audiences have been prepped with questions such as suggesting a new commandment for the modern world.
They join an open discussion asking questions they might otherwise be nervous to ask.
"Humour can bring people together, you can say things in comedy that you can't in any other way," says Blaker, who started in TV production before becoming a stand-up four years ago.
Yusuf agrees: "It's an opportunity for us to talk about our experiences in a free and open way. It's a natural human reflex to make judgements and feel prejudice, but not so cool to act it out on people. If we learn to communicate our fears, we can learn to be more tolerant.
"Backstage, comedians have those conversations all the time, we say things which at work you would be dragged into HR on a disciplinary. But there's no ill will. You play the game, poke fun, but be on the right side of kind with it."
Yusuf, who plans to read "every major religious book in the world to make an effort to understand them," credits growing up in Hackney Downs for his broad mindedness.
"It was a very multicultural environment and had a huge impact on how I see the world," he says.
"There was a square outside our flat. We used to play with kids and we didn't care where they were from or what languages were spoken at home. We were just kids having fun, and as far as I was concerned life was great. In the London and Britain I grew up in we'd sing Christian hymns in assembly but celebrate everyone's festival, the whole year group would learn about Diwali, Islam or Christmas.
"Kids today have it much harder. They are exposed to so much. I feel blessed I grew up pre-internet and Pre-911 with only four TV channels. I got it pretty good."
Blaker, whose Radio 4 show Goyish Guide to Judaism is being prepped for TV, ads: "There's never been a more crucial time for Jews and Muslims to come together. We have seen a rise in far right hatred throughout the world. It's important for our communities to join forces, we are better together than apart."