When Liverpool FC achieved their “miracle” win over Barcelona earlier this month, there was no doubt in Imran Yusuf’s mind as to where he should be.
The avid Liverpool fan and hugely popular stand-up comic made his way to the home of his friend Ashley Blaker, an equally besotted Liverpool supporter and himself a renowned comedian. What they needed – in fact, what the world needed – was a double selfie of the two of them, proudly wearing their Liverpool red shirts.
The obvious affection between the two men, Blaker – an Orthodox Jew – and Yusuf – a knowledgeable Muslim – has led to a remarkable and probably unique stage pairing for their comedy show, Prophet Sharing, which is currently touring the UK.
How did they meet? “I was a TV and radio producer,” says Blaker, “and I think I booked Imran for one of my shows. I’ve known him about eight years or so.” Yes, says Yusuf, it was after appearing on one of Blaker’s shows that they discovered their mutual passion for Liverpool FC.
Gradually, this unlikely pair became good friends. Last summer Blaker did a show at the Edinburgh Festival called Observant Jew, and Yusuf went to see it. “After the show, we were talking and Ashley came up with this proposal that we should do a tour together. I thought, what a great opportunity.”
Both men have had their own successful BBC shows, so it was a natural pairing.
Blaker has been doing solo stand-up comedy for a number of years and in a previous interview was adamant that he wouldn’t work with other Jewish comedians.
So has he broken a rule to work with a Muslim comedian?
No, insists Blaker. “I said I would never do ‘mixed bill’ stuff where the audience comes and sees five or six different acts. This is still like a solo show – we each do stuff on our own and then we have half an hour together, which is really great fun.”
The joy of the two of them together is that it is entirely driven by the audience, who have been asked to fill in a questionnaire before the show, and Blaker and Yusuf then riff off each other, each bringing their own, unscripted views to the stage.
“We designed the show together,” says Blaker. “We’re each very aware of what we are doing, and how that marries up.”
Yusuf, who has been a full-time comedy performer for 14 years, comes from an Indian Muslim family who were chased out of East Africa by Idi Amin.
He was born in Mombasa, Kenya, and was brought up near Hackney Fields, before moving to Harrow.
Blaker was a television producer and writer most associated with the hit comedy, Little Britain, before going it alone on a very carefully thought-out comedy path. He doesn’t do clubs and certainly won’t do anything which would conflict with his Orthodox beliefs.
Of his friend’s comedy, Blaker describes it as “very warm, not cruel – audiences really like him”.
Meanwhile, Yusuf believes the pair have much in common: “We are both quite learned about our religion. I’ve read the Koran – in English – twice through, cover to cover and [Hinduism’s] Bhaghavad Gita. I’m about to start on the Tanach [the Hebrew Bible]. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner gave me a copy.”
In fact, says Yusuf, his ambition is to read every major religious book in the world. “Most of us don’t study our own religious books enough, but I want to try.”
Stand-up, says Blaker, “is not easy. But we know how to do it and what works with an audience”.
For him, it’s an opportunity to find out the similarities between Judaism and Islam, asking Yusuf on stage if his imam is anything like Blaker’s rabbi.
Both men believe that, particularly with the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia, “there couldn’t be a better time to do this show”.
Blaker says the lesson he draws from it is “that we are stronger together than apart”.
Yusuf, for his part, says there is a sometimes “brutal journey” between Jews and Muslims, but that “we thrive by being tolerant –that’s the trajectory we are on”.
- Prophet Sharing is currently touring UK venues until 25 June, ending at JW3. Details: ashleyblaker.com/uktour. To book tickets at JW3, visit: jw3.org.uk