The UK’s Only Ultra-Orthodox Stand-Up Comedian: Ashley Blaker

Ashley Blaker is really funny.

This London based, international award-winning comedian has headlined off-Broadway’s “Strictly Unorthodox”, recorded a radio show for BBC, written and directed acclaimed comedy “Little Britain”, and performed stand-up on four continents. Next stop, a synagogue near you*.

Lucky for you, we scored a one-on-one interview with Mr. Blaker so you can get to know the man behind the kippah.

Oh, and if you’re in need of an afternoon pick-me-up but are desperately trying to avoid having another cup of coffee at 5:00pm (no, just me?) check out these videos of Ashley talking about sushi, driving, and music.

*Mr. Blaker will be performing at Sixth & I on Sunday, February 10th at 7:00pm. Get $10 your ticket price with this exclusive promo code for GatherDC-ers: ASHLEY.


Photo Courtesy DDPR

Allie: You didn’t grow up as an ultra-Orthodox Jew. Why did you decide to become frum later in life?

Ashley: I compare [my relationship with religion] to drug addiction. I have an addictive personality, and the rabbi [at the Orthodox synagogue] who was kind of a pusher tricked me into a free sample. When I got married the rabbi gave me a free membership for a year and I kept going. I was hooked.

Allie: What inspired you to become a stand-up comedian?

Ashley: It happened entirely by accident. I’ve only been doing it for four years. Before that I was a writer and producer of comedy for TV and radio. I’ve always wanted to do stand up, and when I was 16 or 17 I performed a bit, but was too young to take it too seriously. Someone once suggested I speak at an event and I found myself getting back into [stand-up comedy]. I wasn’t thinking I wanted to do this as a career. Now, it’s all I do. Soon, I will have performed comedy on five continents!

Allie: What is your favorite part of performing stand-up comedy?

Ashley: The feeling of performing for an audience if they’re laughing. If they’re not laughing, it’s not so fun. I love bringing people together. I’ve done a lot of shows where you see an incredibly diverse group of people in one room. I did a show in Newcastle where there was a traditional Jewish audience, some non-Jews as well, and sitting across from them was a female rabbi from a reform synagogue 20 miles away.

Allie: What are the biggest difference between performing in America and performing in the UK?

Ashley: Americans are unforgiving with language differences. I know when I come to America I have to say flashlight when I mean torch, or cell phone when I mean mobile. British people tend to watch American TV so we’re more forgiving with [linguistic differences]. Also, Americans don’t tend to like puns or word play so much. But our Jewish experiences are universal no matter where i go in the world.

Allie: How do you come up with material?

Ashley: Just through my daily life, I see things and make notes. I talk about things that interest me.

Allie: Your Wikipedia page says you grew up with Sacha Baron Cohen, is that true?

Ashley: Sacha and I were at school together, and Matt Lucas who I work with. The water in my high school produced a lot of comedians.

Allie: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Ashley: I really don’t know. Four years ago, I could never have imagined that I would have my own BBC show. I’ve compared myself to a gambler at the tables in Vegas. I’ve been on a winning streak for sometime. As long as I’m winning, I’ll keep playing. One thing I’d love to achieve is to go to Antarctica, and perform on all 7 continents. Even if I’m just performing for a few penguins.




You can see Ashley Blaker perform on February 10th at Sixth & I. A pre-Valentine’s Day date perhaps?! Get your tickets here.



The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

See DC Like Never Before!

Camp Nai Nai Nai and Sixth & I are teaming up for an ‘Uncover DC Scavenger Hunt.’ Clues and ridiculous tasks await all daring individuals as you uncover DC treasures. Using a mobile app, teams will traverse Chinatown and explore Jewish history, art, and culture in our beloved metro scene. Come with your friends and a ready-made team or be adventurous and join a team of new friends when you arrive. P.S. This scavenger hunt uses a super cool app developed in Berlin, no pieces of paper and markers needed!

Expect the Unexpected!


Random acts of kindness? Yup! Food from a country you’ve never visited? Yup! Jewish Deli in DC? YUM and most definitely yup!

Wrestle with clues, discover historical sites, and compete in absurd team challenges!

Ever invented an odd job and tried to get paid for it? How about cheering on strangers for simply crossing the street? As you venture through Chinatown, we promise to show you a side of DC rarely explored!

What will YOU find?

Do you like puzzles and logic games? Do you like to dance in the streets like nobody’s watching? Synagogues become churches…and back again? Uhhh, yup! Several synagogues in DC have become churches over the decades and some have even come back to the tribe. We promise you will see the same streets you walk every day in a brand new light.

Camp Nai Nai Nai & Sixth & I believe that Jewish ritual and culture should be vibrant, relevant, and exciting. We don’t know how many clues you’ll solve, but we do know that you’ll find  a group of people who enjoy spending time together in this beautiful city of ours. “Uncover DC” is an opportunity to meet fun new people and become a part of a brand new community.


$$$, SWAG for the Winners

Why do this? First of all, everyone that shows up will get a Sixth & I tote bag, and we ALL need more tote bags for walks home from Trader Joe’s! Second, it will be a guaranteed raucous good time. Third, the winners will get exclusive and fabulous Camp Nai Nai Nai swag and 50% off registration for Camp Nai Nai Nai.


Camp Nai Nai Nai is a Jewish Summer camp for adults, taking place over Memorial Day weekend, May 25 – 28, 2018, in Waynesboro, PA (1.5 hours from DC). Camp Nai Nai Nai gives you a chance to relive the curious and courageous days of youth through spirited song sessions, creative play-shops (there’s no work at camp), color wars, festive meals, and more. This inclusive and pluralistic weekend getaway is your canvas to connect with new and old friends and recharge your city-worn spirit. Camp busses will be leaving from DC, and we would love to see you all there!


RSVP and Invite Friends on Facebook

Sign up for the Uncover DC Scavenger Hunt

Sign up for Camp Nai Nai Nai

Check out Sixth & I


The above is a sponsored blog post. The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

James Vincent McMorrow: The Irish Bard Plays the Bimah

James+Vincent+McMorrow+JVM18I’m Jewish and a DC native, but this was my first time visiting Sixth & I.  The historic synagogue opened in 1908 and spent 51 years as a Methodist church before being restored and reopened as a 21st century Jewish community center of sorts in 2004.  Today, it plays host to comedians, musicians, and other performers, as often gentile as they are Jewish.

I decided to make my first trip for purely non-religious reasons.  James Vincent McMorrow was playing, an artist described by more than one publication as “the Irish Bon Iver,” and I’m a big fan.  McMorrow went to New York and then Coachella in the days after playing Sixth & I, but on a warm April night, a friend and I saw him in a show more intimate than those could ever be.

Stepping into the building from I street, it felt as though I’d entered any other religious or civic center with a small and uninteresting reception area distinguished only by the presence of a makeshift beer and wine bar.  My friend and I grabbed a drink and walked up the flight of stairs into the main sanctuary.  Stained glass windows lined one wall, and an eerie, hazy light filtered through them into the auditorium from the street.  Numbered pews faced a raised stage with balcony seating providing the feel of a concert venue, but a large menorah flickering to the side refusing to fully complete the image.

Glen Hansard, best known from the movie Once, wouldn’t be a bad superficial comparison for James Vincent McMorrow.  They’re both bearded Irishmen with a deeply emotional, lyrics-driven catalogue.  However, McMorrow’s voice is a tool entirely his own.  Like Justin Vernon, McMorrow lives within the falsetto, but he pushes his voice and volume further than Vernon to both his detriment and his triumph.  In many ways, he reminds me of the other geniuses of the falsetto who have been among my lasting favorites: Jeff Buckley, Andrew Bird, and Freddie Mercury come to mind.

When McMorrow and his three countrymen stepped on stage after a stirring acoustic culmination to opener Aidan Knight’s set, they seemed nervous.  They didn’t go right for their most popular songs.  The house was packed with a young crowd, many of whom had clearly never been to Sixth & I either.  Most concerning of all, the band didn’t seem like they had played together for long or formed much chemistry – a suspicion I later had confirmed.

But then they got a feel for the place.  A light show kicked in behind them.  It grabbed attention, with a textured screen and series of amorphous, slowly pulsing video projections.  The band picked up their pace, and McMorrow began to unleash.  He started hitting his best material, and reminded fans that it’s unbelievable how many solid songs he has on only two albums.  The audience had clearly been won over as well, finally getting in a groove with the alternating pattern of material from Post Tropical, McMorrow’s most recent album, and his first, Early in the Morning.

The band closed out their main set with “Cavalier,” a highlight and personal favorite from Post Tropical, before leaving McMorrow to break out a soulful solo cover of Steve Winwood’s 80’s jam, “Higher Love.”  Applause rained in, McMorrow took his bow, and then performed the shortest encore break in history, barely letting the doors close behind him.  He came back by himself and played “And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop,” bringing his voice louder with each chorus.  The soft-spoken guy, who described himself as doing “a poor job of looking like a lumberjack,” then told a story about feeling guilty for sleeping in and not getting to see much of DC.

The rest of the band came trotting out shortly after for their finale.  They hit their stride immediately, carrying over from where they left off before the intermission, and nailed the Mumford and Sons style build-up on “If I Had a Boat.”  The house (of worship) erupted in applause, and the band said their goodbyes.

I was left behind with images of “eight crazy, happy Irishmen” cruising the monuments on bright red Capital Bikeshares, as McMorrow triumphantly decided on stage they would be doing after the show.  Though he may not be the best at counting — there were only three other people in the band — there’s no doubt he can play, and with a few more albums as quality as his first two, I’ll be there to see him.

Listen to a clip Max recorded from the show:


America the Beautiful: Reflections on James and Deborah Fallows’ “American Futures” Collection

AmericanFuturesCOVERSmall (1)The audience arrived early vying for good seats. The crowd was comprised of mostly grey-haired couples. If the people who asked questions were indicative of the majority of the group, many of the spectators had followed the work of James and Deborah Fallow for decades as they documented life and language for the Atlantic both internationally and in the States. The couple took the stage with a smile, accompanied by the night’s interviewer, the Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief, James Bennett, to share insights from their cross-country travels.

Since last August the Fallows have undertaken a project of national importance. They have piloted themselves around the nation at 2500 feet by propeller airplane to visit America’s small towns and uncover their stories. The small towns that they seek must meet a certain criteria, not merely a low number of permanent residents, but also places typically out of the national spotlight. They land in the small towns of the flyover states and report to rest of us what should be recognized by the whole of us.

The couple apologetically interrupted each other as they eagerly shared their favorite stories from the far-flung cities across the plains and the coasts, spanning from California to Maine, Michigan to South Carolina, South Dakota to Vermont. Their stories gave away their earnest surprise to discover high levels of national pride in every town. Each place also exhibited a go-hung ho attitude that expected and desired solutions for its successes to come from within its population, not from Washington or their own respective state capitols.

Listening to tales of the nation there were trends that stood out, things that as a country we should applaud and issues that we should all work together to overcome. In cities all across the nation there were entrepreneurs vying to not only create businesses that would allow them to remain in the small towns that they loved, but there are business innovators who are changing the economic markets by revolutionizing local industry. In Maine seaports are being reinvigorated, in South Carolina there is tech boom whose creative environment and designs rival that of Silicon Valley.

These places are transforming through collaboration between old populations and new residents and there is a strong desire to retain their younger generations. Change is good, but it comes with its challenges. There are clashes between PFAs (People From Away) and those who were born in the town. There are ideas about a sense of propriety and identity that outsiders are often expected to conform to which is sometimes difficult for Americans from other places and no more easy for immigrants.

In America today, many immigrants are skipping large cities as ports of entry and heading straight to small towns and suburbs. Some places, such as Sioux Falls, South Dakota, are on the map because they have extraordinary refugee integration programs. Economically immigrants are a boon to society but sometimes there arrival is wrought with complications that challenge communities to be adaptive. In many places across the United States ESL (English as a Second Language) classes are taught by teaching English to students via another language, often Spanish. This model is becoming useless in areas where there are more diverse immigrant populations and Spanish may only be spoken by 30% of the population and the other 70% is comprised of native speakers of various languages from across the globe. The schools are experimenting with various teaching models that have been previously underused in this country such as ulpan teaching method, where the instructors only speak the language that they are teaching without any translation into the students’ native language.

“American Futures” presents a country that is adapting to life in the 21st century but is also grappling with its past. Though the Fallows’ reports present a mostly positive view of American life across the country they are careful not to be too Pollyannaish, and with good reason. Many towns are still coming to terms with their violent histories of racism. There are still stark divides in perception of the advances areas have made when residents of different races are asked about their impressions of and experiences in their town as it relates to progress and opportunity.

There is hope for the United States’ future. The large cities tend to overlook small towns but the small towns have big personalities. They are hard workers and patriots, generous and innovative. They may be understated but they are not sitting idly. The entrepreneurial spirit and the imperative to confront problems head on offer lessons that the rest of country would do well to heed. “American Futures” offers lessons on humility and teamwork. Together city and town, large and small, known and unknown, we can advance impressively if we overcome our provincialism to embrace and celebrate our national strengths.

Courtney D. Sharpe is a world traveler who has spent extensive time in the Middle East studying, traveling and working with the Peace Corps. She is a graduate of Northwestern University where she pursued a double degree in International Studies and Religion. 

Max B. regains his title at the Sixth Annual Sixth & I Pickle Eating Contest

photo (1)After dominating the Fourth Annual Sixth & I Pickle Eating Contest, Max B. lost his title in the Fifth Annual contest by 2 ounces.  last week he won it back in a glorious feat of pickle eating.


It was a frigid January morning when I bought a jar – neigh, a four pound drum – of pickles from Costco.

It’s now almost May and that barrel of Vlassics is still taking up half of my refrigerator.  Those resilient green soldiers have survived a pregnant friend’s visit, a rainquester shut-in, and even a slew of St. Paddy’s day pickle shots.

That being said, what’s taken me five months to eat, I ate in five minutes on Wednesday night.


To become the two-time Sixth & I pickle eating contest champion.  I have a gift and that gift is the ability to devour, decimate, and metabolize entire crops of cucumbers in one sitting.  I want to share that gift with the world.

Do you have a particular method you use?  Do you practice?

919149_10100717745284497_1175466803_oMy opponents employed different methods, from the two-handed scoop and stuff to the no-handed spit and spew vinegar shower (namely, Ben S).  Every meal for me is practice for an eating contest.  I have no method.  I do no training.  I just simply eat what’s in front of me… all the time.

How did you feel after?

I had a 5-hour flight at 7 AM the next morning.  I got off the plane under the 90 degree Vegas sun with sodium and dill still coursing thick through my veins.  Worth it.

What’s next for the champ?

You tell me.  Anyone, anywhere, anytime.  Whoever thinks they can take on the skinny guy in any other food challenge, I’m in (disclaimer: no pork/shellfish and I hate mayonnaise).

Chutzpah in Motion

Ollie-w-bible-text-lighter-border“My So-Called Jewish Life” was at 8 PM, Saturday, December 15th at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue

The story of the Maccabees is one often told during Hanukkah, but that was not the story those at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue heard on Saturday night.  The stories told on that last night of Hanukkah were similar to the theme of the Maccabee tale as they all featured the presence of perseverance and meaning.  Stories were told courtesy of SpeakeasyDC, a non-profit whose mission is “to give voice to people’s life experiences, support artistic expression, build community, and contribute to DC’s cultural capital and creative economy by promoting and teaching the art of autobiographical storytelling.”

The Saturday evening event, titled “My So-Called Jewish Life”, was the fourth annual event of its kind.  The speakers were invited by founder and Director, Amy Saidman.  Their stories, tones, and styles varied, but a pride in their heritage (whether born into or adopted later in life) was there.  The snarky, self-defeating style typical of Jewish humor also rang true and loud, giving the event an authentic Jewish feel (though the synagogue setting also helped.)

Bonnie Benwick, interim Food Editor of The Washington Post, used audience participation to tell an age old tale, all too common to Jewish hardship: how to make the perfect brisket.  Andy Pollin, co-host of The Sports Reporters on ESPN980, led the audience to gasp as he told the tale of receiving a phone call from Sandy Koufax.  Sara Polon, aka Soupergirl of the (delicious!) DC soup delivery service, recounted a camping trip gone awry with Jordanian Bedouins.  Meleia Egger, returned Peace Corps volunteer liaison, spoke of a dear friend who showed her comfort in Judaism and later inspired her to find prayer.  Hillah Culman is a Program Manager for Pro-Active Performance who met the perfect “NJB” only to realize he wasn’t a Jewish boy at all – leading them to search for an interfaith solution to their relationship.  The story told by Eliot Stein, Managing Editor of Living Social, had the room in hysteria.  He told the story of lying to impress his teacher, writing to her that he became a man when he had a Bar Mitzvah.  Here lays the catch: Stein (despite the suggestion of his name) is not Jewish and never had a Bar Mitzvah.  He tugged on heart strings as he explained how the confusion his name often causes has brought him experiences to be gained from.  John Donvan, an ABC News correspondent, closed the night.  Mr. Donvan, a three-time Emmy winner, told of finding himself at his daughters’ Bat Mitzvah wondering just far he’d go “with this Jewish thing.”  Mr. Donvan was not born Jewish, but always held a deep curiosity for Judaism.  Married to an Israeli, he found he was clinging on to his own heritage as his family around him delved deeper and deeper into Judaism.  He realized, though, that this was the “Jewish thing to do,” holding onto his own heritage.  Also, noted from his storytelling, he speaks excellent Hebrew for a goy.

The storytellers closed the night by lighting a menorah together on stage with Stein controlling the shamash in good humor.  After the show, Stein credited Saidman with being a “tremendous force” in the success of the night. “The night was great.  There was a variety and a good message.  It was a well-rounded event, very telling of the Jewish community.”  His father, who was by his side afterwards, also noted that he “experienced the same name confusion Eliot has his whole life.  It was like hearing my own story, but dramatized.”

Those statements envelope the theme of the night, and a theme of Judaism: we are all in this together, all sharing and living similar stories.  It is up to us to listen and learn from each other.  Everyone who attended the fourth annual “My So-Called Jewish Life” did just that.


Shabbat: Pure and Simple: An Interview with Rabbi Scott About Upcoming Events at Sixth&I

Shabbat: Pure and Simple will debut on December 15th. Click here for more information.
Rachel: How long have you been in DC now?
Rabbi Scott: I’ve been in DC four months now. I love it. In L.A., walking 15 minutes gets you to your mailbox.  Here, you can enjoy the entire city.
Rachel: What is your favorite part of DC/the DC Jewish community?
Rabbi Scott: Right now it’s a tossup between my amazing job at Sixth & I (not to mention having concerts and authors in house) and the Dupont Farmers Market. Dolcezza is a close third.
Rachel: What programs/events/services do you provide?
Rabbi Scott: You can expect more from me in the coming months, but we’re starting a series called What It Takes- short term, high intensity classes with friends, designed to get practical, useful Jewish knowledge so that you can connect to services, holidays, life cycles,  and learning -and feel comfortable in them all.  With Sarah Lawson and Josh Cogan’s help, Sixth & I is starting Havdallah with the Three Star Collective- a chance to hear great music and poetry inside Havdallah (the service separating Shabbat and the rest of the week).  It’ll be the perfect way to start a Saturday night.  Jamming is encouraged. We’ll be relaunching the Sixth Street Minyan in February.  The details aren’t out yet, but expect an extraordinary new Friday night opportunity.
Rachel: Your service is called, “Shabbat: Pure and Simple.”  What do you mean by “pure and simple”?
Rabbi Scott: It’s hard to step in Judaism cold.  Our kind of prayer is thick and rich, moves quickly, and assumes a lot of knowledge.  I know people who’ve been coming to Shabbat every week for 30 years, and still don’t know the service.  It’s not easy to learn by osmosis.  Shabbat Pure and Simple does two things: it slows the service down so that participants can focus more deeply on what they’re doing and saying, learn to understand why things are, and, even for the pro’s, simply have enough time to concentrate; it also provides an important opportunity for those who’ve never experienced Shabbat morning to come in, know what’s going on, even help lead the service if they want to.

Rachel: This is Sixth and I’s first Saturday service.  Why did you choose to lead a Saturday service?
Rabbi Scott: We created a Shabbat morning service because of demand.  After reaching out, our people told us that they were looking for a morning experience.

Jewish Guy of the Week – Aaron

What brought you to your current position?
Honestly, the initial thing that brought me to this position was I wasn’t even sure I wanted to work in the Jewish community at that point in my life, but I was working at a sleep away camp the summer after graduating college and my director pushed me to look at the site and see if anything might interest me. I decided to give it a shot and applied to Sixth & I. After meeting the people at Sixth & I (which was only a staff of 4 at that point), I was immediately impressed by their commitment to creative thinking and infusing arts and culture with contemporary religion. A few interviews later, I was hired as the Family Programming Director (due to my camp background) and the Finance Associate (due to my business experience). Not long after, I passed off those duties and became involved in a couple of areas that were more appealing to me: Live Entertainment (music, comedy, film) and Young Professional programming.


Many know you as “The 6th and I Trivia Guy.” What goes into the preparation for trivia nights?
I have to give credit where credit is due. The format I have established for the Sixth & I Trivia Night came from a Trivia Night that I used to attend every week during my senior year of college at a local bar run by a friend of mine. The range of questions was just right and the relevance to our age group and interests was always spot on. That’s what I try to offer here, always with new interesting twists. After more than three years of offering a monthly trivia contest, it gets harder and harder to find new, quality questions each time, but we do our best to search the web, pick each other’s brains and try to develop new, attractive rounds and questions for trivia veterans, as well as people that are stepping into Sixth & I for the very first time.

When you’re not working, where can we find you?
Working at Sixth & I has a lot of great perks, but also comes along with a lot of long hours, so when I can get away, I like to.  Whether that’s a trip to the Bahamas, hiking in the Shenandoah or visiting friends and family in Philly or NYC, it’s a nice change of pace. When in town, I love to try out new restaurants, see shows at the 930 Club, see a new movie (often at the E St Cinema) or just hang with friends. And on Sundays during football season you can always find me at a sports bar cheering on my beloved Buffalo Bills.

What would your dream event be for 6th and I?
We often talk about this, and it’s generally in terms of what we do. As the Director of Live Entertainment and a huge Counting Crows fan, I have always wanted to get Adam Duritz (lead singer of Counting Crows) here to do a solo piano concert.

What new initiatives will we see this year?
Last year you saw us unveil Sixth & Rye, the first kosher food truck in D.C. This initiative actually came from a contest we ran called “Sixth & I’s Next Big Idea.” We received hundreds of submissions last year and the food truck became our winning idea. It just so happens that we’re currently running the contest for 2012. You can find more information about it on our website. The winner gets a $500 Visa gift card! There will be plenty more new, exciting things in 2012, but unfortunately, I can’t reveal anything yet…stay tuned!