Ashley Albert, the creator of The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, The Matzo Project, and the kids’ band The Jimmies, had just adopted Elliott, her pup, a few weeks before we interviewed her. When we weren’t oohing and aahing at him, we managed to dig deep with Ashley into her unusually independent childhood, how she happened upon a long and successful career as a voice actor, how anti-Semitism has had an impact on her, what’s so great about stews (literally and figuratively).
How would you describe your kid personality?
I was really independent. It’s actually very similar to how I live my life now, where I know lots of people, I have tons of acquaintances and goodwill amongst men, but I didn’t belong to any one group or have my own social circle. For a long time, that was a source of sadness to me. I had a therapist tell me that a large group is sort of like a stew and everybody has to contribute to the stew without being any one standout flavor. She said, “You are a very robust flavor.” That was a nice euphemism. I thought, “Sure, that’s all it is. I just have a robust personality.” She was like, “So, you can’t really work your way into the stew in a way that feels like you’re a cohesive part of the group. You can pop in, you can sprinkle yourself on top every once and awhile, but you’re never going to be part of the stew.” And, frankly, she’s right. I’d rather spend time with someone I really connect with than spend time with a group of people just to make me feel like I’m not by myself.
How did Judaism play into your life growing up?
I definitely identified as Jewish. In my elementary school, I was the only Jewish kid in the school, in Miami, which is weird. There was this one kid, Tommy Miller…his parents must have been really anti-Semitic, because he would sing, “You’re gonna get Tay-Sachs Disease!” And he would sing, there were these Natural Valley chewy granola bar commercials, and he would be like, “Jewy, Jewy, Jewy, Ashley Albert’s Jewy.”
He was a good bully, though.
He was a great bully! Tay-Sachs! How did he know what Tay-Sachs Disease was in 3rd grade? Impressive.
I went to super Jew-y summer camp. We did a prayer before and after every meal and we did Shabbat services and everybody wore blue and white and we did havdalah. I looooved it. Even now, when I’m somewhere and somebody sings the hamotzi, I’m so proud of myself that I know all of the words. My stepmother is from a Southern Baptist, Christian, Texan family. Her family truly believes that my dad and I are going to Hell. My dad is cynical to a fault. Any time we’ve been in a religious setting, he’s playing tic tac toe on the back of whatever religious piece of paper he’s supposed to be reading from. When I went to high school in Israel, they had you go visit relatives for Shabbat one night. It was my grandfather’s family, and they lived in Mea Shearim, in this very ultra conservative place. They turn the lights off, pre-cut toilet paper, the whole thing. I was thinking, “Please, no gefilte fish. Please, no gefilte fish, please, please.” They brought over boys from the yeshiva to meet us. I got very angry because the men got served first, the women weren’t even supposed to talk at the table or make eye contact. The real reason for getting angry: she proclaims, “I have a special treat for you girls…homemade gefilte fish!” and put down a mountain of what was now the centerpiece of the meal that we had to eat. The next day, we went to shul and I hated that the women were in a balcony. We went to the Wall, and I got in a lot of trouble because I tried to go to the men’s side to dance. They were like, “Oh My God, get on the bus. You are going home. This is not OK.” I was so angry. It did not make me feel in any way like it was something I wanted to connect to. But, you know, the gefilte fish wasn’t as bad as I thought it was gonna be.
What’s important to you in a partner?
I moved here in 1992. I met my husband my first month in New York. He was an Irish Catholic, blue blooded, Mayflower Society, Massachusetts, the whitest pilgrim-y people you have ever met. They had a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas. I didn’t realize that it was important to me to date someone who was Jewish. He would try. I’d say something like, “Agh, it’s gonna be such a schlep to go.” And he’d say, “It’s not a slep.” One time, I saw an ad: “Learn Hebrew. Come one, come all, you don’t have to be Jewish.” For free! It was at a temple in the West Village, so we went. We sat down and the the guy started, “OK, let’s all go around the room and introduce ourselves by our Hebrew names.” My husband was sitting 2 or 3 seats down from me and the two of us are like, “Oh God, I don’t know what we’re gonna do here, we’re gonna get found out.” The other people go and it’s Moshe, and it’s Ahava, and then they get to him and the teacher goes, “I guess we don’t have to ask Adam what his Hebrew name is!” And he’s like, “Haha, yes.” So, he tried. Adam was lovely, but there was a general sense of anti-Semitism in that family. His grandmother had never met a Jewish person. One time, his dad had bought a piano for his niece and he said, “I Jewed ’em down to $300” or something like that. I got in the car with Adam and I said, “I canNOT believe your dad just said that.” He was like, “What?! He had no idea what he was saying.” And I said, “Exactly.” It was one of the biggest fights we ever had. I wasn’t angry, I was just blown away by it. Once we broke up, I realized that that was actually a key factor in what I needed in a relationship for it to work.
What do you value in your friends?
I was really relieved a couple of years ago. I’m talking to a friend of mine and she’s like, “Well, it’s because you’re an introvert.” And I thought, “I am?! I’m an introvert? This explains so much! This is exciting!” I always thought I was just really bad at being an extrovert. What I am is an extroverted introvert. I’m not afraid of people, I don’t necessarily get recharged by being alone, but I don’t necessarily get recharged by being around people. It really depends on the day. I have a spectacular garden of friends. Over the years, I’ve figured out what it is that I look for in a friend. It’s easy to find somebody who’s smart and funny, and it’s easy to find somebody who’s smart and nice. It’s very hard to find somebody who’s nice and funny.
I have somehow managed to find this group of smart, hilarious, viciously kind people.
Do you have a personal mantra?
Yes, SIT, which stands for Stay In Today. I think I’ve really started to achieve that. Maybe to a fault. I don’t even look at what tomorrow’s calendar is until tomorrow. Sometimes I’ll write it on my hand when I’m having a particularly frantic day to remind myself to just focus on what’s in front of me.
What’s something that you have figured out?
That the secret to everything…[drumroll] get ready!…is follow through. It’s one thing to have the idea, and it’s another thing to actually see it through. For a very long time, I didn’t follow through on things because I was so afraid of failure. I didn’t want to find out that I couldn’t do it, so I just didn’t try. And now I think I know that as long as I’m willing to actually put it into motion, then I haven’t failed. I heard somebody say something like, “Don’t give up. You don’t fail until you give up.” If you own a business, the business doesn’t fail until you stop. That, I thought, was a really great idea.
What’s something that you have not figured out?
I’m still working on learning how to make mistakes. I’m an aspiring good enough-ist. I’m not quite a recovering perfectionist yet. I still really value things being perfect in a way that feels pathological. It feels like it’s about my worth. If it’s not so out of this world spectacular, somehow it makes me less loveable, as opposed to just trusting that whatever it is, nobody cares more than I do.
What has been your greatest achievement or proudest moment thus far?
The Jimmies. I have a rock band for kids and I write all the music and produce the albums and the music videos. It is the truest, most accurate expression of me. There is no place that I feel more like myself than when I’m writing and singing those Jimmies songs. I make myself laugh when I write them. I get letters from parents, especially of little girls, who say, “I love that my daughter is watching your videos and pretending to be you and not pretending to be a princess and she knows that it’s OK to be funny and silly.” I’m so proud of that.
Do you have a favorite Jimmies song?
It’s a country anthem about getting through hard times. It’s called “Bonfire.” “The world’s throwing sticks on me, and they don’t know, the sticks they throw, will only make my fire grow.” It’s a really meaningful song to me. I record in Miami with my dad at his studio. We produce them together, and that’s been amazing. Even if nothing ever came of The Jimmies, it’s transformed our relationship in a really meaningful way. I was in the studio singing it and getting choked up, and I got out of the booth, and he asked, “How do you come up with these things? Grape on fire? What does that even mean?” I was like, “Grape on fire?” He totally misheard and now I can’t listen to that song without hearing “grape on fire” instead of “great bonfire.” We slapped together a holiday album that has a whole Jewish Hanukkah medley. It has a song called “Chrismukkah.” I worked hard to keep it more about Winter and holidays and less about Christmas and stuff. I wrote a song called “Nogturne in C Minor” that’s pretty special. “Mama Said Nog You Out” is the name of the album.
How does Jewish culture play into your life now?
I’ve got this matzo company now. I always have to give the caveat to people, I’m actually not religious. The culture is something that I relate to and have always related to, but I didn’t put the label of Jewish on it. I have always felt pride about being Jewish. There was something fun about being a member of this club. I have the least Jewish name of all time. I don’t know what my parents were thinking. It’s Ashley Paige Albert. People are always surprised when they find out that I’m Jewish. I had a friend who was staying with me and she’s like, “I didn’t realize how much of a Jewish mother you were until I stayed with you,” and I’m asking, “Did you eat something? Maybe you should wear a sweater?”
What’s your favorite Jewish food?
Noodle kugel. But, like, sweet. Not with the frosted flakes on top. I’m talkin’ pineapple, cream cheese, like a really kind of dense, creamy noodle pudding.
Worst Jewish food?
Gefilte fish. Obviously.
Photos by Bridget Badore.
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