Think it’s easy being a frum comic? “I’ve got a lot of extra stringencies when it comes to non-Jewish music,” riffs Ashley Blaker, who bills himself as “the UK’s only Orthodox Jewish comedian”… “I never listen to Bread during Pesach. I wouldn’t listen to The Doors before putting up a mezuzah.” Rim shot from the ’60s counterculture.
While Orthodox comics here such as Mendy Pellin, Leah Forster and Mike Fine have crashed a field that previously was the province of secular Jews, the London-raised Blaker is a rarity in England.
Blaker, 42, probably the only comic whose unusual career path received the blessing of a prominent charedi rabbi, will perform next month at the Gramercy Theatre here (127 E. 23rd St., thegramercytheatre.com).
Blaker sellout shows around England and appearances on the BBC over the last few years (and an Israel tour last year) have earned him the reputation as an A-list comedian. While he’s done a few small shows in the States, next month’s gig will be his first at a major venue in the U.S.
His Dec. 7 show is titled “Strictly Unorthodox” (a previous one was “Ungefiltered”). It will feature his well-honed blend of deadpan observational humor about Orthodox culture, tongue-in-cheek explanations of such topics as Jewish holidays and Jewish culture and riffs on the differences between Jewish and gentile lifestyles. “With some exaggeration.”
Think Jackie Mason, but still Orthodox.
Onstage, Blaker talks about Orthodox driving habits, in which bus stops are fair game for parking. And the sudden ubiquity of sushi as Jewish cuisine. And his unique approach to halachic observance, at least when it comes to non-Jewish music.
Blaker’s act, the London Jewish Chronicle wrote, “really is appreciated, notably by those who would ordinarily never have dared to giggle at their own rituals and behaviour.”
Blaker “is great for business” — the frum stand-up business, said Kenny Gluck, founder of the decade-old Kosher Komedy firm that arranges shows for Orthodox comedians. “He shows that comedy is not what it used to be.”
Blaker (ashleyblaker.com) and his Orthodox counterparts in the United States demonstrate that one can observe Jewish law, maintain a kosher lifestyle and be a success in a corner of show business. He billed an earlier show “Meshuga frum,” and he looks very Orthodox: beard, kipa, visible tzitzit, white shirt, black suit, severe glasses. You’d mark him as an Orthodox accountant.
Slaker crafts his shows to be accessible to any sort of crowd, he told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. His humor may be centered around the vagaries of his Orthodox life, but “Everyone can relate to it, from the most charedi to a non-Jewish audience.”
A resident of an Orthodox neighborhood of London, Blaker was raised in a typical traditional, but not strictly observant, British Jewish home. He hit the stand-up circuit at 16, got deterred by college studies, then adopted an Orthodox lifestyle in his 20s. This turned out to be a wise career move, making him familiar with all varieties of Jewish life in his homeland, and giving him a monopoly on charedi comedy there.
He attended both Oxford and Cambridge, with an interest in 17th-century Christian theology, receiving a master’s degree in philosophy before returning to comedy. A serendipitous meeting with a teacher led to a training program as a comedy producer with the BBC; success quickly followed; he now has his own TV company – Black Hat Productions.
His next project: “Ashley Blaker’s Goyish Guide to Judaism,” which is to debut next year on BBC radio.
“I’m a comedian,” he said. His job is to make people laugh. If his shows inspire or educate people, that’s a bonus, he said. “If they have a positive effect, that’s great.”