Bucking decades of Palestinian-Jewish conflict, comedians Eman El-Husseini and Jess Salomon have achieved a peaceful accord onstage and off. Their brilliant comedy duo, the El-Salomons, revolves around the women's marriage and the cultural and religious differences that mark their respective ethnicities.
The fact that they're lesbians and El-Husseini is Muslim adds yet more layers of rebelliousness to their act. Theirs is such an unlikely scenario, it almost seems as if they got hitched in order to mine such a union's potential mother lode of humor. But no. Spoiler alert: They married for love.
"We're very lucky that we got to fall in love with each other, considering how our identities are constantly a current event," El-Husseini says in a phone interview. "Just by living our life [we think], 'Oh my god, this is so great; we should include this, we should tweet this, we should turn it into a cartoon.' It comes naturally."
El-Husseini and Salomon met in a Montreal comedy club in 2009. El-Husseini was further along in her comedy career, whereas Salomon had recently left her job as an international war crimes lawyer in The Hague. "I did suspect that when I first met Jess that she might have been a Mossad agent coming to sabotage my career," El-Husseini quips. "I was in very good shape at the time," Salomon admits.
In one of her sets, El-Husseini related, "It's a beautiful love story. [Jess] makes me go through checkpoints in my own apartment." In a television appearance, El-Husseini joked that Palestinians are "the only ethnic minority that gets excited when a racist tells us to go back to our own country."
Despite the obvious affection, their creative life has not been conflict-free. El- Husseini says the first six months of their creative partnership "were a nightmare. Our work ethic is completely different."
"I work hard. I was a lawyer and I finished college and everything," Salomon states.
"I rely on talent," El-Husseini retorts. "I dropped out of college to pursue comedy. She's type A, and I'm not even a letter. But when we had to start working together, I was like... I've been doing my own thing for like 12 years. Now I'm gonna have her boss me around in comedy?"
While El-Husseini and Salomon are gradually ascending through the comedy stratosphere, they have encountered hecklers. For example, a patron once told Salomon she should return to law. "I said, 'You don't know how bad at law I was, lady.'" But, she adds, at least nobody's demanded that she show her boobs onstage. Offstage, the owner of a comedy club in New York accused Salomon of being a traitor because she married a Palestinian. "Sometimes Conservative Jews don't enjoy my humor... or my relationship," Salomon says.
El-Husseini parlayed her worst heckle into one of the most memorable laughs of her career. It happened in a shitty space in New York. El-Husseini was already nervous, and then after she announced her ethnicity, an Israeli man in the front row pounced onstage and grabbed the mic from her. She responded, "Why do you guys have to take everything?!" and devastated the room. "It was the talk of the town. That was how comedians got to know the Palestinian girl who got heckled by an Israeli."
Now, though, the El-Salomons comedy machine is running smoothly, with stand-up tours, television appearances, a comedy special out soon on Canadian streaming service Crave, and Instagram cartoons drawn by Jesse Brown that illustrate their pithily witty domestic situations. They hope to land an animated series or sitcom based on their relationship. "But our real larger motivation, obviously," Salomon says, "is a free Palestine."