Live Review: Ashley Blaker & Imran Yusuf, JW3

Live Review: Ashley Blaker & Imran Yusuf, JW3

Double acts are usually all about contrast. Tall and short. Fat and thin. Stupid and clever. How about Jewish and Muslim? Ashley Blaker and Imran Yusuf are not strictly a double act – they only get together for the final third of this show cannily titled Prophet Sharing – but have recently been touring together to unite two religions that maybe aren’t that different after all. For example, you won’t be seeing either of them grabbing a bacon sandwich. So much for the contrast then.

First on was Ashley Blaker, very much playing to a partisan crowd at this Jewish cultural centre in north London. In fact the gig was so close to Blaker's childhood home that when he badmouthed one of his schoolteachers a member of the audience who had been a fellow pupil immediately shouted out the name of the teacher in question. Blaker, a passionate Liverpool fan, joked that this was like a home fixture, particularly compared to a recent gig in Bradford. 

His set is the story of how he went from secular Jew and successful TV producer to orthodox observer of his religion, married with six young children (which he quips is seen as a small family letting down the side in the circles he now moves in). Old pictures onscreen show him as a hip 1990s clubber and in one snap when he appeared on University Challenge resembling a kosher Ross Noble.

Yet a visit to a synagogue seemed to turn things around. He doesn’t fully explain about this epiphany, suggesting that it was something to do with his love of detail – and boy does Judaism like detail, from what you can wear to what you can eat. In some ways his commitment to his religion is similar to his commitment to Liverpool FC, in other ways it is on another level. 

There are plenty of laughs here as he guides his audience through his journey, starting out with a Jew-O-Meter so that everyone can work out where they are on the Jewishness scale. There is a Muslim-o-meter too for the few Muslims in the audience (I assume the crowd mix was different in Bradford). There are a few topical digs at Jeremy Corbyn, but generally this is easy going, thoughtful comedy that is personal rather than political and maybe all the better for it. Certainly all the funnier for it.  

Imran Yusuf’s set was both similar and different. He’s a much more seasoned club stand-up and despite being an outsider on the night immediately struck up a rapport with the full house telling his story of how his family ended up in the UK from India via Africa.

By contrast to Blaker Yusuf is not orthodox, more “Muslim-ish” so his story has a slightly different angle. It was more about how he has travelled and seen how everyone is essentially the same. If Blaker has stock gags about Corbyn, Yusuf has stock gags about the emnity between India and Pakistan, either in politics or on the cricket pitch. 

If Blaker was the funnier of the two, Yusuf probably had the tougher gig through no fault of his own. But he went down extremely well. Apart, that is, from when he talked about visiting Palestine for a charity, when I’m sure I sensed something of a frisson in the audience. But he has such an enthusiastic, engaging personality it is impossible not to warm to him.

At the end Blaker came back on and as a duo they compared experiences and shared anecdotes about growing up and life on the road. The banter between them was an entertaining mixture of what felt like honed anecdotes and spontaneous riffing. 

Actually now I think about it this is not the first time there has been a double act like this. A long time ago, when I first started seeing comedy, Ivor Dembina and Omid Djalili did a show called The Arab and the Jew. Maybe two thousand years ago there was also an act like this doing the clubs in the Middle East. If there wasn’t maybe there should have been and perhaps we wouldn’t have the problems we have today.  

More dates here.

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