Ashley Blaker is a comedian like no other, as is evident by his sold-out performances as well as the accolades he has garnered from both the secular and Jewish media. With his black hat, white shirt, black pants, beard, and payos, he hardly fits the image of an internationally acclaimed comedian. But appearances to the contrary, the world-class performer has had two stellar UK tours and also performed in the U.S., Israel, South Africa, and Canada. Last summer, Ashley completed a highly successful five-week run on off-Broadway, which the New York Times called “a slickly funny stand-up show.”
Last August, he also made his debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with a sold-out run of his show, “Observant Jew.” This summer, Ashley will arrive Down Under, where he will undoubtedly take Australia by storm.
Happily, the British are coming! We mean Ashley, who will be returning to New York to perform a limited run of “Strictly Orthodox” at Stand Up NY, March 4-7. This is a final opportunity to see this hilarious show direct from off-Broadway. Those who have already experienced the comedic brilliance of this world-class performer will want to attend an encore performance. With nary a moment to spare, Britain’s only frum comedian is already working on another project, featuring fresh and exciting new material, to the delight of his discerning audiences and the critics who wax enthusiastic about his performances.
“Imagine John Oliver in a yarmulke,” wrote the New York Post.
“A special vein of comic material,” commented the Financial Times.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Blaker “has audiences rolling on the floor.”
Daring to tread where no successful comedic performer has before, Ashley offers kosher, non-offensive entertainment to Jews and gentiles, frum and secular alike. How does he craft his material to perfection and captivate his audiences each time he takes center stage?
According to Ashley, “Someone once asked me ‘Am I going to like the show? Is it kosher?’ I don’t advertise my show as being 100 percent kosher. Sometimes a newspaper will advertise me like that, but I never said that. Every person has his own standard of what is appropriate for him. I perform a show that I would not be ashamed for my rav to see, but I’m sure there will always be people who feel I pushed it too far. Comedy in frum circles is all about knowing the fine line and having good judgment.”
He adds, “I never tell a joke that I couldn’t go on radio or TV and justify. I am very meticulous about what I say. My favorite part about what I do, besides for making people laugh, is that I get people thinking. The gold standard in comedy is to talk about something in a way that when the audience hears it, they’ll never see things the same way again.”
Blessed with an abundance of talent, Ashley 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.
For Ashley, who holds degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, performing standup comedy represents a lifelong dream brought to fruition. Raised in a traditional home in the UK, he attended the same private school that Sasha Baron Cohen went to. Already as a teenager he harbored dreams of being a comedy performer, and he honed his talents by performing in comedy clubs as well as doing 40-minute skits in the school lunchroom. Additionally, he appeared on TV several times, competing as a contestant on game shows. Despite his comedic talents and media visibility, it would take many years for Ashley’s aspiration of becoming a comedian to materialize.
Ask Ashley to tell you the source of the “big break” in his career and he will respond without hesitation. “It’s all a matter of hashgachah pratis,” he declares. “I had finished studying and was unsure of what to do next. One of my professors suggested that I buy the Guardian, which is a newspaper I had never read. This was on a Monday; four days later, while perusing the paper, I found an advertisement — Do you have funny bones? — seeking a comedy producer for the BBC. Not only had I not read the paper prior to that week, it was the only week the advertisement had been placed.”
But the element of hashgachah pratis did not end there. After not seeing one another for several years, Ashley had chanced upon an old school chum, Matt Lucas, a rising star in the comedy industry, one week prior. “Let’s make a show together,” they decided. After responding to the ad, Ashley was hired by BBC. Working in tandem, the dynamic duo impacted the industry with their respective talents, producing the wildly successful “Little Britain.” Ashley became a successful writer and producer on many hit comedy shows in the UK, working with comedians such as James Corden, Russell Brand, and John Oliver.
What inspired the sought-after producer and writer to embrace the lifestyle and attire of a chareidi Jew?
“After my wife and I got married, we were given a free membership to the synagogue closest to our house, which is offered to all newlywed Jewish couples in England.” The shul happened to be Orthodox, and Ashley felt comfortable attending services within its warm and welcoming atmosphere and friendly rabbi. Responding positively whenever he was needed for a minyan, Ashley soon became an integral part of the shul, growing in his Torah observance with each day.
At the outset, Ashley’s growing observance was disconcerting to some of his colleagues in the entertainment industry. Initially, upon noticing the kippah atop his head, some inquired whether it was a holiday or some other special day. “It was a gradual thing,” he recalls. “One day, I came in wearing my kippah. Several months later, I turned up with my tzitzis hanging out. Then came the white-and-black clothes, followed by the hat, and then the payos growing longer. There was something new happening almost every day.”
To defuse the tension that inevitably arose at meetings, his good friend Matt Lucas began introducing them by saying, “I’m Jewish, but this guy is a real Jew. He’s not gonna shake your hand. Go on; stick it out. Watch what he’ll do.”
The majority of his colleagues and clients have tremendous respect for Ashley’s religious beliefs and values and the Kiddush Hashem he performs each day by living his life according to the tenets of the Torah.
Ashley credits becoming frum as the reason for his success as a comedy performer. “From age 16, my dream was to be a comedian and I had never given up that dream. One day, I received a call from a rabbi who invited me to speak at a melaveh malkah,” he recalls. “I asked him why he was interested in having me speak, since I am not a rabbi. The rabbi replied, ‘The people will be interested in what you have to say. You work at the BBC with all the big stars. You have a beard and payos. You wear your tzitzis out and you wear a black hat. You don’t shake hands with women.’”
Despite Ashley’s initial apprehension, the rabbi felt the audience would be inspired by hearing about how it is possible to remain steadfast in one’s beliefs amid success in the secular world. “I accepted the rabbi’s invitation and spoke at the melaveh malkah, and I enjoyed the experience immensely. It went very well. I discovered it was like something I hadn’t tasted in a long time and I got ‘hooked’ right back in. I realized that it was hashgachah pratis — that I had to become frum to start performing again. As a 16-year-old, I really didn’t have a defined, proper subject to talk about. That all changed when I became frum; the experience gave me something to talk about.”
Since 2018, the prolific performer/producer/writer has had his own show on the BBC called “Ashley Blaker’s Goyish Guide to Judaism” which has been recommissioned and shown this spring. He also has his own production company, Black Hat Productions.
From the moment he took center stage on off-Broadway at each performance last June, Ashley formed an instant bond with his audience, igniting a connection that maintained its power throughout the entire enchanted evening. With his charismatic stage presence, spot-on material, and impeccable delivery, Ashley’s performance was pure gold.
“What I’ve discovered over the last few years is that Jews are very much the same, no matter where we live,” he explains. “We all share similar experiences. Many people have commented, after viewing my performances online, ‘Wow, I thought that was just a Crown Heights thing!’ and ‘I thought this only happens in Boro Park!’ It turns out that we triple-park and leave the car with the hazard lights on everywhere! Our obsession with sushi is universal; it’s the same in Golders Green and Stamford as it is in Flatbush and the Five Towns.”
Ashley Blaker’s essence is multifaceted, infusing lives with light and hope and inspiring others through exemplary chesed. Truly an extraordinary couple, Ashley and his wife are the proud parents of six beautiful children, two of whom are autistic. They adopted their adorable little girl, who has Down syndrome.
Unpretentious and gracious, he is humbled by his success and never fails to express his appreciation to Hashem. For Ashley, the most rewarding aspect of performing is his ability to bring people together through the message of his comedy. “Last year, I did a show in Newcastle. We had ten yeshiva bachurim from Gateshead sitting in one row and a female rabbi sitting in the next row. I’m proud to be able to bring people together like that.”
For ticket information, visit AshleyBlaker.com.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.