Ashley Blaker might be the only person who goes to the dentist and prays for cavities. He might be the only person to work in the television industry without owning a TV. And he is certainly the only haredi comedian from London to fill a venue in New York City.
The 42-year-old, who is a ba’al teshuvah, had a sold-out crowd at The Gramercy Theater laughing at jokes that only he could tell due to his experience of becoming religious. He delivered poignant punch lines with precision timing and a palpable pleasure. He explained that while many Americans think the British never get their teeth cleaned, he does, and there are television screens to distract or relax patients.
“That’s fine for normal people who are used to watching TV,” said. “The trouble is for me, it is such a rare treat, so as soon as I start watching it, 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.’ ”
One joke that was a knee-slapper was told in Seinfeld-like fashion, as he described opposing reactions to bad weather.
“In the non-Jewish world, a guy looks out the window and sees it’s raining, and thinks, ‘Oh, it’s raining, don’t want to get my hair wet. I better get a hat,’ ” he said. “In the frum world, a guy looks outside the window and thinks, ‘I don’t want to get my hat wet, I’d better get a plastic bag.’ ”
He said Pesach and Sukkot offer plenty of humor when you stop and think about it.
“We celebrate our freedom from slavery by giving ourselves horrendous constipation and spend another eight days shaking a stick and a lemon, which for some reason has cost me $250,” he quipped.
He also spoke about how financial and insurance institutions are required to ask a customer a question for security purposes. Sometimes it’s your mother’s maiden name. Sometimes it’s your favorite color. Blaker did better than that.
“Before I 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?”
He also said that ba’al teshuvas often feel the need to prove their seriousness. He spoke about how he and his wife were trying to determine where they would live.
“We really needed to move somewhere with an eruv, so I could show everyone how frum I am by not using it,” he said.
One of his best jokes involved questioning why sushi has become a craze in the kosher world. He said Jewish food used to be prepared by a sweaty man with a long beard dipping in chicken soup but now it’s made by a Japanese man who can be found at any simcha and at any kosher restaurant.
“Where are they gonna be next?” he asked. “I’m sure the Judaica stores aren’t gonna be free of them for long. You got your section of chumashim, section of siddurim, tzitzit, Jewish History books, Japanese man making sushi.”
His tempo and inflection showed that he was well-polished. The one thing missing was some political humor, but he may be saving that for another time.
In an interview with The Jewish Press, he explained how he became religious. There was free membership in a shul and he figured he would go once. The rabbi was friendly and kept asking him to come back the next day and the next day.
“I have a hard time saying ‘no,’ ” he said. “By the end of the week, I was going every day.”
He has six children and admitted that his marriage proposal story was a bit different. He was supposed to do something special like take his girlfriend out for a fancy dinner for their two-year anniversary and couldn’t get his act together.
“I kind of proposed to get out of an argument,” he said, adding that it was the right decision.
Blaker, a television writer and producer who has worked for BBC, was confident and connected to the audience. At one point, he brought a member of the audience up on stage to try on a baseball cap. In his routine, he noted the absurdity of some men who wear fancy suits but then wear baseball caps because they don’t want their yarmulkes to be seen. He recommended screaming out the most Jewish name you could think of at them.
He performed in clubs in London in his late teens, but soon stopped. After giving a talk at a melaveh malka about his work experience a few years ago, people told him he had enough material to do a standup routine. They were right. He’s toured his native England, Israel and South Africa and this was his New York debut. His show kept a smile on my face from the beginning to the end. He is someone to watch and it is also clear that he is proud of his Judaism.
He said the main disadvantage of being a religious comedian is that he often thinks of the best jokes on Shabbos, but unlike others who can jot down jokes in a notebook, he has to wait till Shabbos is over to write them down. But while most would think being religious would kill a possible career in standup comedy, he said it actually allowed it to be born.
“It’s funny, I had to become frum in order to become a comedian,” he said. “I didn’t have my own experience so what are you gonna talk about? I have a lot of material now. I think it was divine providence.”