Temple Emanu-El, Canterbury United Methodist Church and the Birmingham Islamic Society are co-hosting a comedy night designed to bridge gaps, increase understanding, and foster better relations among the three faiths.
On April 19, comedians Rabbi Bob Alper, Azhar Usman and Nazareth Rizkallah will bring a different kind of religious interchange to Canterbury Methodist — “Building Bridges in Birmingham… With Laughter.”
Alper has appeared at synagogues throughout the South over the years. Originally a congregational rabbi, he dabbled in comedy before pursuing it full-time. A Steve Martin lookalike, he calls himself “the world’s only practicing clergyman doing stand-up comedy — intentionally.”
Alper originally did an act with Ahmed Ahmed, calling themselves Comedy’s Odd Couple, at the suggestion of a publicist. At first, Alper wasn’t sure about traveling with Ahmed — not because he was Muslim, but because of professional difficulties when comedians tour together. He saw a tape of Ahmed, then decided to give it a try.
Their first appearances were in 2002, mostly in synagogues. Ahmed would begin by introducing himself, then adding, “and I can’t fly anywhere.”
After Ahmed had to devote more time to his film career — including a role in “Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” Alper found Usman, a lawyer who toured with an “Allah Made Me Funny” theme. Usman is a native of Illinois.
Recently, they brought Rizkallah aboard.
Rizkallah, which he says is pronounced “Smith,” is an evangelical Christian who grew up in Ohio after living in Gaza and Kuwait. Born in Nazareth, he is regarded as “only Middle Eastern Christian comedian in the United States.”
Their interfaith shows are often done on campuses, with co-sponsorship of Hillel and Muslim Student Associations.
While they often take questions at the end of their performances, they shy away from politics, because they are there to make people laugh and to have a better appreciation of other groups.
Emanu-El Rabbi Jonathan Miller said “we extend our thanks to the Odess Family Lecture Fund and the Rabbi Milton Grafman Endowment Fund for making this event happen.”
The program will begin at 6 p.m. at Canterbury Methodist. A reception with the comedians will follow the program in Canterbury Hall.
The event is open but seating is limited. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students. Any proceeds, in excess of expenses, will go to Greater Birmingham Ministries.
For tickets and additional information, contact Ashley Neal, Canterbury United Methodist Church, (205) 871-4695; Dina Glass, Temple Emanu-El, (205) 933-8037 ex. 244; or Saadia Malik, Birmingham Islamic Society, (205) 879-4247.
A nursery will be provided for preschool children, though reservations are required. Contact Amanda Fuller at (205) 874-1546 by April 16.