April 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Q&A With Ashley Blaker: His Life, Comedy and Newest Show

Ashley, you’ve been in comedy for many years. When did you find out that you are “funny”?

My parents tell me that when I was 3 years old, while waiting for my brother’s school carpool to arrive, I would start the day with something called Rude News. This basically involved me sitting on a stool we had in the living room and, in the style of a BBC news reporter, I would say things like “The Queen is currently sat on the toilet.” Pretty sophisticated for a 3-year-old and some would probably claim the funniest stuff I’ve ever done. How sad would that be, peaking aged 3!

Is being a comedian your full-time job? What did you do before you decided to become a funnyman?

Yes, it is my full-time job. Until around four years ago I worked as a producer and writer of TV and radio comedy. I worked with a who’s who of British comedy including James Corden, John Oliver, Russell Brand and lots of other people that some readers will have heard of and the more frum readers will pretend not to have heard of!

Where do you find your best material?

I guess daily life. Most comedians are inspired by everyday life no matter what that entails. For some that’s super-observational, Seinfeld-style stand-up, for others that may be political comedy, but it still comes from their daily life and the world they interact with. There are no secret sources out there. I dream of one day finding a buried joke book. Something like the lost joke book of the Kohen Gadol which was stolen by the Romans and is now hidden in the Vatican. But I think the chances of this are pretty slim.

You became frum 20 years ago. What made you change paths and what challenges did it present?

I touch on both of these things in the new show so I won’t spoil it. Readers will just have to come along and hear it all in person!

You’re English but have done stand-up in South Africa, Israel and now in the United States. Does comedy differ depending on the country the audience is in? Do you have to tailor your act for different countries?

And don’t forget Australia and Canada! I tailor shows for every audience of course. The new off-Broadway show is probably the most complex because not only is it for Americans but is for both Jews and non-Jews. So just as I must make sure I always say sidewalk instead of pavement, I also need to say Sabbath instead of Shabbos. Not easy but I hope I can remember it all.

Your new show is called “Goy Friendly.” Tell us about it.

Where to begin?! Well the first thing to say is how incredibly proud of this show I am. It is so totally different to my first off-Broadway show, is a much more ambitious show and theatrical, and in my opinion is a lot deeper, yet at the same time funnier. It tells the story of how a new friendship changed my life and made me reevaluate everything in my life. And with anti-Semitism on the rise here in New York and New Jersey, I feel this is a very timely show, using humor to break down walls and demystify Judaism to the outside world. The show aims to make the audience laugh but for them to also understand a little bit about why we do what we do.

How do you prepare for a show?

Well this show has a large team of people working on it so that’s great. In fact I just saw the Playbill and I loved seeing the Who’s Who and the biographies of all the people involved. There’s a director, script executive, coordinators, lighting designer, costume supervisor, artistic director, producers… and on it goes. I am very much across everything because I clearly have OCD (in fact I talk about this in the show) and am a total control freak. However having a good team around me, with lots of people I trust, helps me prepare correctly.

How long does it take to come up with a bit?

I don’t really work in terms of bits. It’s one 80-minute thought, so needs to be written as such, with a start, middle and end. Otherwise it wouldn’t really work. I wrote this show in a month but it has been through draft after draft after draft. I hate seeing more than 15 seconds without a laugh being offered so I am always combing through the script to see where I can fit another joke in.

Who is your favorite Jewish comedian?

Ah, an easy one. Me. Next question…

Who has influenced you—in this area or in other areas of your life?

I am very influenced by the people around me. When you have a team you trust then you take their opinions seriously. In truth I am influenced by so many people, and not always those I like. Sometimes I’ve seen comedians do things I didn’t enjoy and it’s made me go back and change how I do something to make sure I don’t do the same.

Why do you think Jews are famously able to laugh at themselves?

Ha, you’ve obviously not met some of my audiences! Let’s say most of us can laugh at ourselves. There are always those that take themselves a little bit too seriously!

Do you have any advice for aspiring comedians?

Yes, do you want to commit the sin of hasagas gevul (unfair competition)?! Then don’t even think about it!! I am doing this and if you start trying to do it yourself, then you are taking away my livelihood. Stick to property or accountancy. There are no Jews in that.

Can you make any situation into a humorous situation?

I think one can, yes. There’s humor in everything. One needs to sometimes work quite hard to do it in a tasteful way, that’s for sure, but it is there.

What’s the best joke that you’ve made and how did it come to you?

Ha, probably one I can’t repeat. But there are some jokes in this new show that I genuinely can’t wait to say every day (and twice on Wednesdays and Sundays). They make me laugh and I hope will make the audiences laugh too.

Do you have any final message for readers?

Well maybe let me quote directly from the Performer’s Note in the Playbill. “Comedy is an incredible art form. Not only does it have the power to make us laugh and think, it can unite people because when we laugh together, there is nothing else like it.” I really hope readers will come to the city to see the new show and my deepest gratitude in advance to those that do. I hope you enjoy it as much as I love performing it.

Ashley Blaker: Goy Friendly runs February 3-23 at SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, New York, NY 10013.

Tickets from www.sohoplayhouse.com or phone 212-691-1555.

This article was originally published in The Jewish Home.

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