Meet the Jewish-Palestinian lesbian couple who mine their relationship for comedy gold
Marriage of Convenience is Eman El-Husseini and Jess Salomon's first joint comedy special
Eman El-Husseini and Jess Salomon got a rehearsal for their career as a comedy tandem at an unusual occasion — their wedding.
"I want to give a special shout-out to Saddam Hussein," Salomon, who is Jewish, recalled saying. El-Husseini is Palestinian and was born in Kuwait.
"If not for Saddam invading Kuwait, she and her family would have never come to Canada. You might have never met fallen in love and gotten married."
That moment helped set the tone for their new comedy special The El-Salomons: Marriage of Convenience, which airs in Canada on Crave.
Both Salomon and El-Husseini are career comedians, but this is their first special performing onstage together.
They have performed separately at a single comedy show in the past, sometimes back-to-back. That allows them to drop hints about their wives in consecutive segments, giving the audience a chance to connect the dots.
"If I go after Eman, I'll just lead with that and I'll say, 'I'm Jewish, my wife is Palestinian. And then I'll pause, and the audience will immediately get it," Salomon told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.
"And then they'll get so excited ... that they don't want to hear any of my other jokes that aren't about my wife."
Watch: El-Husseini on CBC's The National in 2017. (Warning: some strong language)
Jokes about one's in-absentia spouse are a staple of standup comedy, but the dynamic necessarily changes when they share the stage.
"When you're talking about your wife ... and she's not on stage with you, the audience is maybe more likely to laugh," said Salomon.
"But when I'm standing there, sometimes you know, we've realized that: Oh wait, I'm standing right here. So maybe they're getting nervous or they think there is a real fight."
Salomon and El-Husseini like to joke that they were introduced to each other. However, they actually met while working the comedy circuit in Montreal.
Both their parents, they said, had a hard time accepting their relationship earlier on, but have since come around.
"I think both sides are shocked that we have succeeded in comedy. I think that was their first heartbreak — both of us coming out as comedians, before our relationship," said El-Husseini.
"Of course, your parents always want the best for you. And now that they're seeing that we're getting success, they're happy for us because they know that this makes us happy."
Politics through the lens of a relationship
Salomon and El-Husseini say their relationship and sometimes opposing viewpoints have helped them make sense of politics in the Middle East.
"Jess and I would often discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" even before they cemented their relationship, said El-Husseini.
"Which is how I flirt, ladies and fellas," added Salomon.
The debate even framed one of their first dates, after seeing The Gatekeepers, a documentary film about the Israel Security Agency.
"When we were leaving, we were, like, just discussing the movie, and then it got into a heated argument because we saw one scene from different angles," said El-Husseini.
"[When] we got to the parking car, the argument got so heated that we went back inside the movie theatre, bought two more tickets to go and watch the whole thing [again].
"Two more popcorns, of course; we doubled up on the food. So that was like a hilarious moment."
'A wealth of humour in this marriage'
Their differences are a great boon when working on their shared profession, however, as they workshop jokes and stories, acting as each other's sounding board and editor.
"Because of our relationship [and] how different we are — not just culturally but just personality-wise, [it's] always, you know, full of situations that happen on a daily basis that are so funny," said El-Husseini.
"There's a wealth of humour in this marriage."
According to Salomon, they also enjoy the advantage of being able to get a live audience to weigh in on whose jokes are funnier.
"There's no greater satisfaction than getting on stage and going for the joke that the other one thought would never work, and the audience exploding in laughter," she said.
"I mean, that is a sweet feeling. 'I told you!'"
Written by Jonathan Ore. Interview produced by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin.
To hear the full interview with Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini, download our podcast or click Listen above.