It was always going to be a tough gig. Orthodox Jewish comic Ashley Blaker admitted it himself, when he told the crowd: “All the men in this room are looking at me, thinking to themselves, ‘I could do better than him’.”
Prophet Sharing, featuring Blaker and co-comic Imran Yusuf, was a modern take on interfaith that busted some well-ingrained myths.
Blaker went on first and quickly got the audience onside, giving them the types of jokes they’d come for, but also some pretty thought-provoking stuff about Judaism’s more obscure rules. (My husband particularly loved the gag about the group of overweight men in the mikveh all suffering from athlete’s foot.)
For 40 minutes, Blaker regaled the mostly-Jewish audience with tales of his journey from secular Jewish TV producer and rabid Liverpool FC supporter (a passion he shares with Yusuf) to being a black hat and tzitzit-wearing paid up member of Orthodoxy and father-of-six children with no TV at home.
He joked that his obsessive compulsiveness allowed him to easily adapt his non-religious ways to his now strict routine – one he likened to a drug and with which he is very happy.
There were anti-Corbyn swipes and in-jokes about certain teachers from his secondary school, but Blaker wasn’t averse to sending up his coreligionists: “We make up 0.4 percent of the population, but we call everyone else ‘non-Jews’?! That really tells you everything you need to know about Jews!”
The audience learnt about the many separate brachot recited over different foods (“Jewish Masterchef would be a nightmare!”) and how rimless kippot are seen by the strictly-Orthodox as rebellious.
Blaker discussed the bugbears of both Judaism and Islam, including making fun of the religions’ need to cover up women (showing slides with women’s faces pixelated out).
Then it was the turn of “unorthodox Muslim” Yusuf, whose family is Indian and came to the UK as refugees, having been kicked out of Uganda.
He had the audience enthralled as he detailed his journey from a secular life to praying five times a day and reading the Koran.
As a youngster growing up in Hackney Downs, he mingled with people of all faiths. All he knew about Jews was what he had gleaned from his mother, who told him that they, along with Muslims, follow Moses, and Muslims can eat their food.
Aged six, he took a book entitled Islam from his school library (“and no one called Prevent,” he joked).
He spoke of visiting Jerusalem (“it was in 2006 when Hezbollah rockets were attacking Israel, so I was in that room [in the airport] for a long time!”), even the Western Wall, before going on Umrah to Saudia Arabia (“like Hajj, but off-peak”).
After visiting the Occupied Territories with the late comedian Jeremy Hardy, Yusuf came back dejected, but determined to do something to try
to bridge the divide and became involved in interfaith projects among Muslims and Jews.
He became less judgemental. But he agrees that mosques should be monitored – “I’d go further and say that every mosque should be put on surveillance – to make sure we don’t lose our shoes!”
Then the pair came on together and ad-libbed on subjects ranging from Boris Johnson to cricket, using answers from questions that had been posed to the audience before they went on set. This was possibly the best part, and could have been longer.
They showed their ease at thinking on their feet and compared notes on their compatriots (Muslims don’t tend to park like Jews do in Golders Green, but Muslim aunties on planes are apparently a liability).
They also dispelled some long-held notions – the 72 virgins that Muslim martyrs are supposedly promised when they get to heaven is not accurate, Yusuf declared, and neither is it true that Orthodox Jewish couples have sex through a hole in the sheet, clarified Blaker.
There were genuine groans from the audience when the pair said they’d have to call it a night, and we left with a good feeling – we’d been united in laughter, but we’d also learned about both faiths.
It would be interesting to see the reception the pair get in a mixed venue, so it’s just as well they are planning another tour in the autumn.
For upcoming performances, visit Prophet Sharing Tour Dates