Ashley Blaker: Born to kvetch

Ahead of his shows in Israel next week, the UK’s only Orthodox stand-up comedian riffs on food, not owning a TV and being ignored by Roger Waters.

December 27, 2016 20:33
Ashley Baker

Ashley Baker. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Ashley Blaker is a walking contradiction. He works in the television business in London but does not have a TV at home.

He performs stand-up comedy, but as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, he shuns anything unclean.

And he is so frum (religious) that he won’t even eat Cadbury Chocolates, because they are not Cholov Yisrael (containing milk under the supervision of an observant Jew).

Now he is coming to Israel for a week of shows in which he will reflect on those oddities, and eat plenty of Israeli dairy delicacies.

“I am very excited about coming,” he says in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post. “It’s overdue. People have been asking me for a long time when am I coming to Israel.”

His shows will be Sunday in Netanya, Monday in Yad Binyamin, Tuesday in Beit Shemesh, Wednesday in Jerusalem, and Thursday in Ra’anana.

Blaker says that after years of people telling him to come do his routine in Israel, Israelis are now upset at him for not performing in more locations, such as Modi’in.

“Jews are never happy,” he laments. “If I came to Modi’in, they would ask me: Why aren’t you coming to my street? Why isn’t it in my living room?” Blaker’s shows are being produced by Dena and Jeremy Wimpfheimer, the husband and wife team behind the Comedy for Koby tours. Blaker admits he resents the comedians who come on Comedy for Koby.

He kvetches: “What do they do? 20 minutes each? I’ve got to carry an entire show all on my own!” Blaker jokes that Comedy for Koby makes it hard for other comedians to come, because that tour happens twice a year, and there are so many Jewish holidays and mourning periods on the calendar that this was the only week that worked.

He will be leaving behind a cold and rainy Britain to come to the better weather of Israel. But he says he never opens blinds in order to avoid knowing the weather.

To adapt his show to mixed audiences in Israel, Blaker has taken out of his routine humor that only British people would understand, such as jokes about different accents.

“I want to make sure everyone can enjoy it,” he says. “Everything I do, I do with an open mind.

I did a tour, and I had no idea if people would come, and it sold out and then it happened again. I have no idea if people will come. I hope there’s an audience.”

Blaker is billed as the only frum comedian in the UK, but he admits that “it depends on what you call a comedian and what you call frum.”

Regarding religious comedians in Israel, he is aware of Yisrael Campbell and was happy to hear about Jerusalemite David Klimnick, who reached the finals of the World’s Funniest Person Competition but did not compete for the top spots because the voting took place over Shabbat.

Aiming high, Blaker says he “doesn’t want to be just a heimish guy who entertains in shuls (synagogues).” His first stand-up tour – Ungefiltered – played to sell-out audiences the length and breadth of the UK and was seen by 5,500 people.

The Jewish Chronicle in London called the tour “Hilarious. A perfect balance of religion and popular culture.”

Another claim to fame for Blaker was that he attended the same school north of London as movie star Sacha Baron Cohen, the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School. Baron Cohen is most widely known for creating and portraying the characters: Ali G, Borat Sagdiyev, Brüno Gehard and Admiral General Aladeen.

He was four years above Blaker, and there were other lesser known future comedians and comedy writers at the school at the same time.

“There must have been something in the water,” Blaker says.

Blaker does not remember Baron Cohen being particularly funny at the time.

“I don’t think he was doing much comedy then,” he says. “I used to do big shows at school.

But I was on the stand-up circuit from the age of 16. I think Sacha started doing comedy later at university.”

When he is not doing comedy, Blaker has a production company that works with the biggest names in British TV.

As a radio producer, he was responsible for first unleashing the comedy phenomenon Little Britain on the nation and he has worked with a who’s who of TV comedy. His company, Black Hat Productions, is currently making several new series for BBC Radio 4.

Asked why he does not own a television, he says “The schools my children go to say you’re not allowed to have a TV, and I’m very happy to not have one. The truth is I don’t have time, and anyway, I’m good at bluffing when someone brings up a TV show.”

Blaker has six children: four boys and two girls, including a daughter with Down syndrome that he and his wife adopted. But his children do not play a central role in his stand-up routine.

“Everyone’s kids say the same stupid stuff,” he says. “My show will be on the uniqueness of my life: For instance, about how to deal with the challenge of not shaking hands with women.”

Blaker will go through the 10 commandments of what you have to do to be considered meshuga frum (crazy religious).

A baal teshuva (religious penitent), he grew up eating dairy and fish in non-kosher restaurants, but not meat. He says he misses the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream he cannot eat in Britain because he keeps Cholov Yisroel, and confesses the last time he came to Israel, that was all he ate for a week.

Asked if he has come under pressure not to perform in Israel due to the BDS movement, Blaker sounded disappointed that he had not.

“No one has tried to tell me not to come,” he laments. “[Pink Floyd singer] Roger Waters hasn’t been in touch yet. He sang the song ‘We don’t need no education,’ so you would think he would like the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools in Israel.”

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