Performer: Ashley Blaker Photograph by: Steve Ullathorne Show: Observant Jew Venue: Underbelly Daisy Promoter: So Comedy and Broken Robot Productions by arrangement with MLA
Tell me about your Edinburgh show
The show is about how I went from being a secular Jewish TV producer to being strictly orthodox and not even owning a TV (it’s forbidden!). And considering how crazy my life is now, hopefully I’ll be able to explain why on earth I still do it.
Tell me about your first gig.
Well I did some stand-up when I was 16 many years ago but I only got back into it again around three-and-a-half years ago on the night before my 40th birthday. It was completely by chance – someone asked me to do something for a local school – and it has been a complete whirlwind since then that’s included two UK tours, two Israel tours, a South Africa tour, a five-week run Off Broadway, a BBC Radio 4 show and now Edinburgh. Really not what I was expecting back in February 2015.
Do you have any rituals before going on stage?
Thankfully no because I’m quite superstitious like that and if there was something I’d once done I would become obsessed with repeating it. I do like to empty my bladder though.
Tell me about your best and worst review.
It was genuinely thrilling to get a great review on the front cover of the New York Times arts section this month which described my Off Broadway show as being ‘a slickly funny stand-up show’.
The worst review was from a rabbi who in a rabbinic WhatsApp group called me ‘hugely damaging’. (A friend who is a rabbi and is in the group sent me a screenshot).
During this Edinburgh run, do you plan to read reviews of your show?
Yes, I don’t see why not. Obviously, I hope they are good but if they aren’t you have to have faith in what you’re doing and not let things like that bother you too much.
How do you feel about reviewers generally?
I’ve worked in TV and radio comedy for nearly 20 years and I’ve seen positive reviews of shows I’ve made and completely savage ones. It’s part of the business. I suppose one always hopes the review is fair at least.
In April 2018, YouTube comedian, Markus Meechan (aka Count Dankula) was fined £800 for training his girlfriend’s pug dog to do a Nazi salute with its paw, in response to the phrase ‘Gas the Jews’. Do you believe Meechan committed a criminal offence, and why?
I’m not a lawyer so I can’t really say whether a criminal offence was committed. Personally, I don’t get very excited about these things. Some Jews become obsessed with this kind of incident but it’s really quite trivial in the grand scheme of things. No one will remember this in a couple of years.
Are there any subjects that are not suitable for comedy?
I don’t think so. The question I always ask myself, whether it’s stand-up or a show I’m producing for broadcast, is are you able to go on Feedback or Right to Reply et al and defend it. If a joke is gratuitous and relies on shock value and can’t really be justified then I would personally avoid it.
Have you ever gone too far?
I refer the honourable member to the answer I gave some moments ago. I’ve had lots of complaints and people have said they don’t like this or that line. However as long as I feel I am able to defend it then I am happy to stick to my guns.
Looking back over your time as a comedian, tell me about the best gig of your career.
I have had a very short career and only been doing this just under three-and-a-half years. However there have been so many highs. Playing a sold-out thousand-seater in Johannesburg was amazing and likewise my first sold-out show in New York at the Gramercy Theatre. My personal favourite though was a show I did recently at my own school with Matt Lucas. It was the two of us just talking about our school days and it was such a treat to do, a real one-off occasion.