Ashley Blaker balances many worlds with great aplomb. Professionally, he is an award-winning comedy writer and producer for BBC by day and a highly successful British stand-up comedian by night. At home, he is a member of a close-knit Orthodox Jewish community outside of London and father of six, including two children with autism and an adopted child with Down Syndrome. In both worlds, he appears in modest Orthodox garb, sporting a beard, peyot behind his ears and exposed tzitzit.
His current production, “Strictly Unorthodox,” is playing in a limited run at the Jerry Orbach Theater at Broadway and 50th Street. In a one-man, 90-minute performance, Blaker regales the audience with glimpses into the humor of his experiences as an ultra-Orthodox TV producer and comedian. His comedy is clever and uncompromising. He is careful not to cross the line into impropriety and yet he is thoroughly engaging and cleverly humorous. He bonds with his audience through warmth, sincerity and at times actual interchange.
Blaker grew up in a non-Orthodox home in London. He attended both Oxford and Cambridge universities, concentrating on 17th-century Christian theology. When he was unable to land teaching positions in his field, he answered an ad seeking comedy writers for the BBC. To his great fortune, a former classmate, Matt Lucas, was already successfully working as a comedian for the BBC and soon the two were collaborating on “Little Britain,” a highly successful British sketch comedy. Eventually, Blaker formed his own production company, calling it Black Hat Productions, which is currently producing several new series for BBC Radio 4.
In his personal life, Blaker and his wife, Genna, were moving closer to Orthodox Judaism and soon became entrenched in an Orthodox lifestyle. In adherence to his newly adopted way of life, the Blakers do not own a TV and their children are being raised Charedi.
Prior to his current “Strictly Unorthodox,” Blaker had traveled on two sell-out tours with his two previous shows, “Ungefiltered” and “Meshuga Frum,” which he performed in Israel and South Africa as well as throughout Britain.
Recently, in an attempt to lose weight, Blaker discovered the “Fitbit,” the little pocket-sized gadget that fits conveniently in his pocket and counts the number of steps he takes each day. Fortuitously, he discovered that by “shukkling” (swaying back and forth) rigorously in shul during davening, he can easily add steps to his daily count!
Blaker also admits that he is a follower of those Jews who add 613 to their passwords, email addresses, etc., believing this to be a badge of honor and a sign of inclusion in the special hierarchy of observant Jews. But he admits to taking it a bit further. His car boasts the license plate “Blaker620,” advertising his ultra-adherence to the 613 plus the “seven mitzvot of Bnei Noach!”
“Strictly Unorthodox” is a charmingly humorous and appropriate theatrical experience not to be missed! To buy tickets, just go to Ticketmaster.com.
By Pearl Markovitz