There’s something funny about Ashley Blaker – an internationally acclaimed comedian who has performed on five continents and appeared on TV and radio across the world. The New York Times called him “A skilled joke teller,” and that, “He is proof that even the most reverent enjoy a little irreverence.” As an Orthodox Jewish comedian performing for mainstream audiences, Blaker has previously enjoyed success on topics relating to Judaism. Now he is back in the spotlight in a different direction with the critically-acclaimed and widely-accessible four-episode BBC radio show, “Ashley Blaker 6.5 Children.” It has been the number one stand-up show on BBC Sounds and received “Pick of the Day” status from Daily Mail (which praised the show’s “warmth and wit,” RadioTimes, The Daily Telegraph and several more news sites).
Although he has had great success from doing so in the past, this time Blaker was proud to transition to a show that wasn’t solely focused on Judaism and was more relatable to the public at large. “You don’t see Orthodox Jews that often, certainly not in the UK, on a show just talking about sports or about politics…” He sees that audiences for “6.5 Children” are focused on enjoying the content, not just the fact that it was created by an Orthodox Jew. “That’s how it should be.”
Blaker started out in comedy, helping to produce television shows like “Little Britain.” He then became religious and transitioned back to working in comedy to appreciative audiences and critics alike. He played the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Festival and produced sold-out stand-up tours, including on Broadway. While his first few shows were about being an Orthodox Jew, this current show is all about the relatable trials of parenting, and specifically, a family of many children. From being home with an “illegally large gathering” during COVID lockdown, to adopting a child, to having special needs children, each episode focuses on a different aspect of Blaker’s parenting journey. “[Regarding] Coronavirus, it’s been such a unique period for parenting, and that’s also very relatable.”
The show came together quickly and easily with BBC Radio and is going to be debuting as a stage show too. There is now talk of turning it into a TV show and a book as well. “[The reception has been] beyond anything I could have imagined…I was really blown away and really grateful.” He notes that in the media coverage of the show, the focus has been on his being a “comedian” and not just an “Orthodox Jewish comedian. You don’t say ‘black comedian Chris Rock’, you say ‘comedian Chris Rock.'”
In terms of any antisemitism Blaker may have faced, he says, “I have performed big shows with my face looking very Jewish, photos of me with a big black hat and kippah and tzitzits, and all the rest of it, and on Broadway…and I’ve never seen them graffitied, I’ve never seen a swastika drawn on my face.” He feels blessed to have never seen Twitter comments that were derogatory either. “I don’t want to be one of those people that sees antisemitism everywhere…I’ve been very lucky in that regard.”
Although Blaker’s wife is played by an actress in the show, his real children appear in the production, as well as in all of the photos and promos. He hopes that their appearance could translate to the televised version as well. “It could be a bit like ‘My Unorthodox Life’ but perhaps [show] the other side of [Orthodox Jewish Life].”
Blaker wrote the entire show himself. He didn’t have to look far to get inspiration for the show, but he had to work to recall 17 years worth of parenting anecdotes in great detail. “I didn’t spend the last 17 years walking around with a piece of paper and a pen… It’s a lot to remember.”
Listen to 6.5 Children and learn more about the accompanying tour here.