It’s unheard of for an up-and-coming entertainer to land their own solo show on Broadway. Add on praise heaped on by the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Barrymore and other celebs, and it is even harder to believe.
Who the heck is Alex Edelman and how did he get his own show on Broadway? Speaking on “The Drew Barrymore Show,” he revealed that it was only supposed to run for three weeks.
His show “Just For Us,” which focuses on his unexpected meeting with neo-Nazis, ran in London, Boston, Washington D.C., and off-Broadway in New York City, and is now at the Hudson Theater until August 18. Edelman told Barrymore that the show’s success has been one of the coolest and most surreal experiences of his life.
The comedian, 34, from Brookline, Massachusetts, attended Modern Orthodox day schools and a yeshiva in Israel. Although the New York University graduate appeared on “Conan” in 2018, he was by no means a household name before his show first opened off-Broadway.
“I do think I am obsessed with comedy,” Edelman told CBS, adding that while attending Jewish hockey camp, he was inspired by listening to a comedy recording of Bryan Regan. He also shared in the interview that he worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
He said that his grandfather is “one of the places I get my sense of humor from.”
“My grandfather was this great man who somehow projected stoicism, devoutness, good humor, love of Judaism, and a healthy disregard for authority…He embodied all these great contradictions,” he explained, adding, “There’s so much comedy in inherent paradox.”
Did he think he could be assaulted or killed at the white supremacist meeting?
“There was only one moment where I felt like I was in real danger,” Edelman told CBS.
Edelman opens his show by noting that Koko, a female gorilla who understands spoken English, uses sign language and became friends with comedian Robin Williams. A worker at the zoo tells Koko the comedian died.
“My comedy barely works if you’re not from the Upper West Side,” Edelman says to laughs. “Robin Williams crossed the species barrier…Did they have to tell the gorilla that Robin Williams had passed away? She wasn’t gonna see it on CNN or anything like that!”
Edelman shares with the audience his past work on radio comedy shows for the BBC, which he humorously describes as “a podcast, but for the dying.”
He explains he received antisemitic hate mail, posted a list of “Jewish National Fund donors” on social media made exclusively of antisemites, and messaged them thanking them for their donations.
He sees an announcement for those who have questions about their whiteness to meet at a specific location. After arriving at the apartment in New York City, he meets a woman doing a jigsaw puzzle who serves as a metaphor for the experience. There are 16 others at the meeting.
Edelman divulges a secret of what to do if a conspiracy theorist or person who spreads misinformation tries to take you down a rabbit hole of absurdity. He also says he has seen Jared Kushner at his childhood synagogue, who, when called up to the Torah, “walks up like he wrote it.”
He also refers to a racist part of Boston “called Boston” and divulges his full name of Dovid Yosef Shimon ben Elazar Reuven Alexander Halevi Edelman. He tells a funny story about his brother, AJ, qualifying for the Winter Olympics for Israel for bobsled and skeleton in 2018.
Edelman continues the story of what transpired at the meeting with some twists and turns, recalling his effort to keep his Jewish identity a secret. Would they harm him if they figure out that he is Jewish, and his cover is blown? He becomes attracted to a woman named Chelsea, who objects to a racist term, prompting him to wonder if there is a “spectrum of Nazi.”
He provides an alternative theory of why Jewish grooms break the glass at weddings and says he would be played by Jesse Eisenberg in a movie. There’s also an unexpected scene involving pizza, where he recalls how his grandfather told him he would never be happy.
So, what does he feel for these people? Hate? Disgust? Pity? Sympathy? Some mixture of these? Sadly, a neo-Nazi meeting in New York City might have seemed improbable 10 years ago, but not today.
The white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, who yelled “Jews will not replace us!” must be furious that some of their New York colleagues inspired a hit Broadway show. Without resorting to violence, this show is the next best revenge. Who does the “Us” in the show’s title refer to? It can have more than one meaning.
Financed and produced by Mike Birbiglia, the show is a juggernaut for the ages. Edelman’s performance is a stunning and masterful display of comedic storytelling, the likes of which have seldom been seen before. The 90-minute show feels more like 20 minutes.
Other than a few Christmas jokes, nearly every effort hits the mark. Some entertainers bring magic to the stage, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. What Edelman does with “Just For Us” is akin to pulling a shofar out of a time machine.
He has mentioned that Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Martin each offered him a suggestion for the show. Yet, upon observing his masterful performance, it’s clear that Edelman needs no coaching — he certainly knows how to command his own show.