Ahead of his Off Broadway debut at The Gramercy Theatre on Thursday, December 7, The Jewish Link spoke to internationally acclaimed stand-up comedian Ashley Blaker.
So, first things first: your name is Ashley and you’re a man?!
Oh, not you as well! Yes, in the U.K., Ashley is a man’s name, OK? No, really, it is!
And when it comes to your Judaism, how would you label yourself?
I’m not a big one for labels, apart from the “this has been checked for shatnez” label inside my jacket. I guess if you really push me, then I’d say I’m an Orthodox Jew. Some call me charedi (aside from other charedim, who call me Reform). Look, I wear a black hat and have payos; I have six children and drive a minivan. If that’s not charedi I don’t know what is.
And being charedi, what does your rabbi think of you being a stand-up comedian?
Well, the good thing is my shul is really crazy frum and everyone calls each other by their Hebrew name. So the rav thinks my name is Chonon Blaker and probably isn’t aware at all of this Ashley Blaker character. It’s quite handy, actually; if Ashley Blaker gets into trouble, I tell the rav, “No, I’m Chonon Blaker.” And when the shul membership dues come, I say, “No, I’m Ashley Blaker.” Clever!
Where have you performed recently?
I have had two tours in the U.K.: “Ungefiltered” and “Meshuga Frum,” and I’ve also performed tours of Israel and South Africa. But I’ve been looking forward for a long time to coming to America and especially New York since people have been messaging me on social media for years with the same question: “When are you coming to New York?” I just hope they were asking because they wanted to come and see me rather than because they wanted to make sure they’d be on vacation when I was in town.
And you also perform on the BBC?
Yes, I have my own show coming in 2018 on the BBC—yes, the anti-Zionist BBC—remarkably called “Ashley Blaker’s Goyish Guide To Judaism.” I also have my own production company called Black Hat Productions (see, I told you: charedi), and as a writer and producer I have worked with pretty much everyone in British comedy, including James Corden, John Oliver and Russell Brand, who used to come to our house. My wife would actually make him dinner. While I was in the house, I should add. One thing you don’t do is leave Russell Brand alone in the house with your wife!
Has it been difficult to adapt your material to an American audience?
Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that I have been through the show with a fine-tooth comb, and every British word or phrase has been replaced. Every pavement is now a sidewalk, each mobile is now a cellphone, and nappies are now diapers. I even had to lose one of my favorite jokes of which the punchline is “On your head be it.” See, you don’t know what that means, do you? That’s why I had to remove it. But, trust me, it was hilarious.
Have you had to change the subject matter, though?
No, the good news is that it hasn’t had to be translated at all. Because, as I’ve discovered over the past few years, Jews are pretty much the same all over the world. In fact, when videos of me performing have been posted online, many people have commented, “Wow, I thought that was just a Crown Heights thing.” No, it turns out we triple park and leave the car with the hazard lights on everywhere! The Jewish obsession with sushi? Yep, that’s the same in Golders Green and Stamford Hill just as it is in Flatbush and the Five Towns.
What is the best and worst thing about your job?
The best thing is entertaining Jewish audiences. The worst thing is entertaining Jewish audiences. No one has had a drink and they’re all hungry.
Are you a bottle half full or half empty kind of person?
I don’t ask, “Is the bottle half full or half empty?” I ask, “Is it mevushal?”
What keeps you awake at night?
A horrible combination of fear of failure, fear of success and fear of mediocrity. Oh, and also yeshiva tuition.
Remind us one final time, where can readers see you perform?
My show “Strictly Unorthodox” is on at The Gramercy Theatre in New York on December 7 at 8 p.m. For ticket information, have a look at ashleyblaker.com or https://concerts1.livenation.com/event/00005328EE03546D?f_PPL=true&ab=efeat5787v1.