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10/17/2006 12:50:37 PM

Laughable differences

Muslim, Jew unite with comedy

Christena OBrien
Leader-Telegram Staff

Sporting an FBI sweatshirt, Azhar Usman stood still Monday night as fellow comic Bob Alper patted him down at UW-Eau Claire.

“Profiling has been going on for years,” Usman quipped later during their program, titled “One Muslim, One Jew, One Stage, Two Very Funny Guys.”

“Profiling has been going on for years,” Usman quipped later during their program, titled “One Muslim, One Jew, One Stage, Two Very Funny Guys.”

For decades, “the black man in America (couldn’t) get a fair trial,” said Usman, who was born to Indian Muslims and raised in Illinois. “Today, the Muslims … can’t even get a trial.”

The sold-out crowd of more than 600 people erupted with laughter in Schofield Auditorium during the second event of the 65th season of The Forum lecture series at UW-Eau Claire.

During his part of the performance, Usman, who has a law degree from the University of Minnesota, blended satire, social commentary and wit, dealing, in part, with what it’s like to be a Muslim in America.

Alper, a rabbi and the first Jewish person to earn a doctorate degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary, focused on his family, his religion and life in general.

“How do you sign, ‘Idiot’s phone going off in the back?’ ” Alper asked a woman translating his comedy routine in sign language after an audience member’s cell phone went off.

Most of his religious sermons last 16 to 18 minutes, but occasionally they’ll run longer, Alper said.

“I don’t mind looking out and seeing someone (looking at his or her watch), but when someone does this,” he said, finishing the joke by holding up his arm and tapping on his wrist where a watch would rest.

During a wedding he performed on a hot day, a couple asked him to keep it short because of the heat.

“I asked them, ‘Do you want to be married?’ ” he said. “They said, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘You are.’ ”

Before closing, the pair said there could be healing if Jews and Muslims could learn Irish dancing and broke into a simple dance.

Their performance hit a positive note with a number of those who attended the show.

“I loved it,” said Jose Valero, a UW-Eau Claire associate professor who brought one of his Spanish classes to the show. “It was good to see a Muslim and a Jew have fun together.”

Angela Busse, a freshman theater major at UW-Eau Claire, also attended as part of a religion class.

“I knew nothing about it coming in,” she said after the show, “but these guys were great.”


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