By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Don’t judge Ashley Blaker by his appearance! With his white shirt, black pants, beard, and payos, one might not initially take the soft-spoken father of six for a seasoned comedian who is setting the world ablaze with his brilliant material. But despite his Chareidi lifestyle–or quite possibly, because of it!–from the moment he took center stage at the Gramercy Theatre, he formed an instant rapport with his audience, igniting a connection that maintained its power as well as the audience’s enthusiasm throughout the enchanting evening. With his charismatic stage presence, impeccable timing, and spot-on delivery, one would be hard-pressed to believe this was the British comedian’s debut U.S. performance.
Make no mistake about it, Ashley Blaker is a world-class performer who has had two sellout U.K. tours–“Ungefiltered” and “Meshuga Frum”–and also performed tours in Israel and South Africa, earning international acclaim for his hilarious comedic routines.
Blessed with an abundance of talent, he is able to take whatever direction his life goes in and make it funny.
“With every new thing I do, I see the possibility of a comedy routine,” he says.
On that evening, those of us who were a part of the sold-out audience were afforded the opportunity to experience this relentlessly side-splitting humor as he took us by storm. Captivating the sold-out crowd, the 42-year-old performer told stories culled from his personal experience of embracing a Torah-observant lifestyle. Contrary to the fact that many Americans believe the British never get their teeth cleaned, he explained, he does, and there are television screens to distract or relax patients.
“That’s fine for normal patients who are used to watching TV,” he jokes. “The problem is, for me it is such a rare treat, so as soon as I begin watching, I am immediately hooked in, and I don’t want to stop… ‘No, gimme a filling…Do some implants, please. There’s only ten minutes left of Maury Povich…’”
Presenting precisely posed punchlines, Blaker described opposing reactions to inclement weather. “In the non-Jewish world, a guy looks out the window, sees it’s raining, and thinks, ‘Oh, it’s raining. I don’t want to get my hair wet; I better get a hat.’ In the frum world, a guy looks out the window and thinks, ‘I don’t want to get my hat wet; I better get a plastic bag!’”
Additionally, he discussed how financial and insurance institutions are required to ask a customer a question for security purposes. It may be your mother’s maiden name or perhaps your favorite color. Ashley, however, put his creativity and personal experience to good use and came up with something far more interesting and definitely unique:
“Before they can access my account, they have to ask me, ‘If an onion was cut with a milchig knife and then placed in a fleishig pot, cooking on a stove, what is the law concerning the contents of the pot?’”
Performing each joke with impeccable timing, in the tradition of Jerry Seinfeld, Ashley masterfully describes the humor in each of his many personal experiences, garnering fits of uncontrollable laughter and enthusiastic applause from the appreciative audience who had come from the tri-state area and beyond to see Ashley perform. He spoke about how he and his wife were deliberating where they should live.
“We really needed to move somewhere with an eruv, so I could show how frum I am by not using it.”
Joke after joke elicited side-splitting laughter; no sooner did the audience “recover” from a bout of hysterical laughter when Ashley was at it again, holding his audience captive with an even funnier punchline, thereby causing them to erupt in yet another round of hysterics.
One of the evening’s many favorites described the kosher world’s affinity for sushi. Blaker described how kosher food used to be prepared by a sweaty man with a long beard dipping in chicken soup and is now made by a Japanese man who is featured at every simcha and kosher restaurant.
Inquiring “Where are they gonna be next?” he responded, “I’m sure the Judaica stores aren’t gonna be free of them for long. You got your section of Chumashim, Siddurim, tzitzit, Jewish history books, Japanese men making sushi.”
At one point, Ashley called up an audience member to try on a baseball cap. Launching his routine, the comedian discussed the absurdity of some men who dress in upscale suits and wear baseball caps, lest their yarmulkes be visible. In jest, Ashley recommended “name-shaming” these individuals by calling them in the most Jewish-sounding names possible!
From beginning to end, it was evident that Ashley had written and selected his material with meticulous attention to detail. His performance was polished and professional and he commanded the stage with facile. Smiling faces, unabashed laughter–this was an extraordinary evening of mirth and merriment, raising the bar in kosher comedy.
Since his U.S. debut at the Gramercy Theatre, Ashley has performed in Chicago and will perform at the Annual Dinner of Young Israel of Lawrence Cedarhurst on Motzaei Shabbos, February 10. He will begin an extended run off-Broadway after Lag B’Omer.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator. She writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.