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Two Comedians—One Muslim, One Jewish—Share a Stage. And a Life.

Eman El Husseini and Jess Salomon take the bima at L.A.’s oldest shul

Jonathan Zalman
March 27, 2017
Jess: Facebook/ Eman: Facebook.
L: Jess Salomon, R: Eman El Husseini. Jess: Facebook/ Eman: Facebook.
Jess: Facebook/ Eman: Facebook.
L: Jess Salomon, R: Eman El Husseini. Jess: Facebook/ Eman: Facebook.

Last night I stepped into a shul.

Get it?

No, really, I did. And, all joking aside, I had a good time, my conscience and stomach put to the test not once.

Los Angeles’s Pico Union Project, housed in the city’s oldest synagogue that now functions as “a multi-faith cultural arts center and house of worship,” played host to a night of comedy featuring Eman El Husseini and Jess Salomon, both of whom live in New York City, which is really just a place filled with people who are considering a move to L.A. where, according to my observations, people are more frequently buying cars with matte paint-jobs, a good look for nobody. Through Eman and Jess, and host Noël Elgrably, a local comedian, in a space that was once featured in Transparent, I was finally able to hear how the word “kike” would go over to a crowd in a synagogue, as well as a hook-up story about a fast-ejaculating man from Sierra Leone. It’s the stuff Jews dream of hearing at temple, right?

When I first arrived at Pico Union, awaiting a friend, some dude was finishing a J in the parking lot. It smelled fresh and nice and medical, which reminded me that weed is just way too serious now, and L.A. feels like ground zero of that seriousness, and made me reminisce about the days when weed was just weed and not space weed. Anyway, the dude finished his J in the way that Js are finished when they get shorter and shorter, and I walked in behind him.

I sat in the front row and drank water. I was wearing a black “Citizen Dick” t-shirt in homage to that super niche Cameron Crowe flick Singles. Then Elgrably took the stage in a black shirt that said “Black Shabbas” written in purple letting on it. I later asked him where he got it. He told me a company makes them, the same company that also made his “Guns ‘N Moses” t-shirt.

Onstage, Elgrably—who performs around Los Angeles and whose brother directs Markaz, “a hub and safe space for diverse communities to gather, listen, learn and share our arts and humanity,” which produced the show—told some good stories, as fine comedians do. Among other anecdotes, some of them a bit too stereotypical for my tastes (think Jewish bagel jokes) he talked about being a Jewish (Sephardic) schoolkid surrounded by Catholics, bending some rules along the way, like dropping a “kike” bomb to accentuate that lonesomeness.

He then handed the mic to Eman, whose parents are from Yaffa and Gaza, and who is Muslim but doesn’t care much for religion. To a crowd of, say, 65, Eman wondered how a Muslim strip club might function, and what it must be like for her parents’ neighbors to watch her family celebrate on 9/11 every year with a barbecue (it’s their anniversary). She also talked about the foibles of being Arab (she has a lot of hair—everywhere—for example), and shared numerous anecdotes about what it was like being married to a Jewish woman who just so happened to be the next act.

Jess, a bisexual Jew with Peruvian and Egyptian roots, according to her routine, didn’t focus on much on religion as much as her wife. She talked about attending the women’s march in D.C., where she held a sign that said “My Muslim Wife Is Registered at Bed Bath & Beyond” on one side, and “Jihad Me at Hello” on the other. She also told a story about attempting to hook-up with a classmate in college who is from Sierra Leone, and who doesn’t like sex stories? I won’t give away the punchline, suffice it to say that it didn’t go according to plan, i.e. he didn’t walk down “the red carpet.”

But perhaps the most hilarious if touching moment of the evening, which produced a bit of magic if you will, occurred when Eman handed the mic over to her wife of two years, and shared the stage with her for a spell. The interplay between them was so fun, and so natural, that I didn’t even take notes and instead just watched two married comics fuck with each other on stage, spreading love all over the place in the process which, perhaps, was the point of the show in the first place.

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.