Did you hear the one about the Jew and the Muslim who met in a comedy club? They became friends. And while traditionally the descendants of Abraham may have gone their separate ways, stand-up comedians, Ashley Blaker and Imran Yusuf are uniting as a double act in new comedy show, Prophet Sharing. Quays Life caught-up with them on their UK tour.
How did you meet?
Ashley: When I was a TV and radio producer I booked Imran on two different pilots. I must have thought he was funny though neither got turned into a series so maybe my judgement was impaired! Then I realised he is also a big Liverpool supporter so all was forgiven.
Imran: Ashley and I met a few times over the years on shows that Ashley was producing for the BBC. Probably as part of a clandestine BBC diversity programme to bring Jews and Muslims together. Looks like it worked, your license fee is being well spent.
Why did you choose to tour together?
Ashley: We thought it would be interesting for us to tour together and explain our lives and what made us the rather untypical Jew and Muslim we are today. And as the pun in the title suggests, it’s also about making money because I’m not that untypical a Jew after all!
Imran: Last year, we were both in Edinburgh for the festival and I went to see Ashley’s show on my day off, then after the festival we got chatting and Ashley suggested this format to corner the Jewish-Muslim narrative market as part of a new illuminati conspiracy. I thought it was a great idea and here we are!
A recent study by Stanford University found an 18.9% drop in anti-Muslim hate crimes since Mohamed Salah signed for Liverpool in June 2017. How do you think comedy can be a similar uniting force?
Ashley: Nothing we ever say is going to be as great as Mo Salah as he is our Egyptian King! But if we can bring people together for a night of comedy then that’s definitely a good thing. It’s definitely been encouraging to see such mixed crowds on our tour.
Imran: Comedy is a great way to bring people together and laugh at the same things. This act of laughter reminds us that we are the same creature choosing to have subjective experiences through the prism of our personal and collective narratives. When we can be in the same room and laugh at ourselves, the barriers that seemingly divide us dissolve and we realise how imaginary they truly are. I like to think Ashley and I are doing Liverpool’s good work in the world of comedy.
Religion has become an increasingly popular topic for comics in the past decade or so. What do you think of the Atheist rants of some comics?
Ashley: I pray for their souls! Please don’t tweet abuse to me now, I’m joking
Imran: That’s been hack for a long time now, but it was inevitable that it’d happen in our society. Organised religious influence has had a huge squeeze on us all for such a long time, it was only a matter of time before it became the subject of ridicule in a free(r) society. The next level is to learn about these religious narratives from the inside out and elevate the material to a higher level. Ironically, it’s now that ranting comedy that needs to evolve.
How does religion feature in your set?
Ashley: The show is very much about religion but you don’t need to be religious. It’s really about our crazy lives.
Imran: Very anecdotally, religion has been a huge part of my life and identity, there is no escaping it. I talk about my experience, ignorances, hypocrisies and endeavours to embrace religion to be a better part of that community and better serve the broader society I live in. Also, I offer four women to by my wives at the end of each show.
Are any topics off-limits for your comedy?
Ashley: Liverpool’s failure to win the league for 29 years.
Imran: I talk about what I know, so anything that isn’t my experience, I tend to stay away from.
What or who makes you laugh?
Ashley: Imran. He’s a very funny man. It would be super awkward if he didn’t reply ‘Ashley’ and said ‘Ricky Gervais’ instead.
Imran: Surreal comedy like Red Dwarf, that stuff makes me howl with laughter. I love surreal comedy and wish I did more of that. I think after this tour and my next solo show, I am going to work on my weirder ideas.
The evening sees you both do solo shows and then a 30-minute set together. How does your comedy differ as a double act?
Ashley: It’s great fun to be on stage together because even if they audience don’t enjoy it, we make each other laugh. Thankfully they normally do laugh too!
Imran: Sharing the stage with a fellow comic is good fun, we learn about each other and get to have a laugh about each other too. This is so much better than shouting across a panel on Newsnight to win applause.
What is the secret of always seeing the funny side of life?
Ashley: A rabbi once said to me that one should take your religion seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. I think a lot of people could take that advice and I don’t just mean the religious.
Imran: This life is an illusion, we are here temporarily and then we return to the mystery from which we have emerged. When I realise this, I relax and remember that I can work hard but in the end it’s all in heaven’s hands.
Read our interview with comedian Angela Barnes.