Alex Edelman on why you should see 'Just For Us' this summer
The comedian talks about why his stand-up special is actually "just" for everyone.
This interview took place during the summer 2022 Off-Broadway engagements of Just For Us. Just For Us will run on Broadway from June 22 to August 19, 2023. Ticketing information has been updated for the current production; the content otherwise remains unchanged.
In case you haven't yet heard about it from its past two NYC runs (or its Melbourne or Scotland engagements, or U.K. tour), Alex Edelman's Just For Us is about how he received anti-Semitic hate from white supremacists on Twitter and, as a totally natural next step, went to a nearby neo-Nazi meeting to see what their deal really was. But did I mention this is a comedy act? Mere seconds after recoiling at the horrifically racist stereotypes they toss around, you're doubling over with laughter at Edelman's semi-satirical daydream about wooing one of the girls there and changing her for the better, rom-com style: "You never know!"
Having seen Just For Us back in January, I knew he's a master of flipping the script on expectations. And so he did during our interview, which he Zoomed into from a tea shop patio in L.A. He was on vacation from NYC before his next Just For Us run starts up on June 13. I asked how NYC audiences react differently from audiences abroad, and he said non-NYC audiences see Just For Us as a "New York story."
"But the audiences within New York think of it as a great story about empathy or a great story about... What did you think? What did you think the show was about?" And here I thought I was interviewing him!
Together, we decided the show was indeed about empathy, and finding that people's lived experiences are more complex than social media makes them seem. Edelman — who flew under the radar for a long while at that meeting — holds on to a glimmer of hope that he'd walk out of there having ever-so-slightly changed the other attendees' minds about Jews. He sort of still does.
"I really don't ever want to see any of them ever again," Edelman clarified when asked what he'd want those white nationalists to get out of the show should they, hypothetically, see it. "I don't think they'll ever come, but if they do, I'd want them to laugh and have a good time, and then they'd walk out liking Jews a little more. I think they would come out understanding [my] perspective a little more."
The underlying message here is that Just For Us welcomes everyone with open arms. Edelman shared this and more reasons you should catch his show, which was just extended through August 26 at the Greenwich House Theater.
Just For Us is on its third run in NYC.
"It feels like forever ago and also the blink of an eye," said Edelman. And if you've been hearing about this show, but all its runs have passed you by in the blink of an eye, too, this is the universe giving you another chance!
Just For Us played a split run at the Cherry Lane Theatre (it got cut short by pandemic complications in late 2021, then started up again a couple months later), moved to SoHo Playhouse for the spring, and now lands at the Greenwich House Theater through midsummer.
And if you have seen it already, you should still go again, because it's evolved. "I've been telling this story in some version or another since 2018," Edelman said, referring to its premiere in Melbourne, Australia. "You tell stories to audiences differently and in different places in different ways... and every time we move a venue, that changes the show a little bit." In other words, he'll make little changes all the time based on the space and the audience reaction, so all the details will never be the exact same twice.
Lots of celebrities have seen it and loved it.
And these are major celebrities — Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, and Ben Stiller are Just For Us fans. Billy Crystal and Sarah Jessica Parker have even dropped by to see Edelman while headlining their own Broadway shows (Mr. Saturday Night and Plaza Suite, respectively), and Edelman visited their shows in return.
These celebrities have also shaped the show throughout its run: "Everyone who's come has had words of encouragement," Edelman said. "Billy Crystal offered two notes, and Steve Martin offered a tag, and Seinfeld offered a note. Comedians are irrepressible in their nature to give constructive advice and feedback."
"That's been a wonderful thing because I feel like, even though it's a solo show, it's been built by so many great little ideas from other people who have come to see it. Now, almost every single chunk of the show has been thoroughly discussed with someone I admire," he added.
Just For Us is funny. Like, really funny.
That's probably a given. It is a stand-up comedy act, after all. But you might be skeptical if you just read the summary. Going undercover and putting yourself in the way of potential IRL harm as you meet your online haters face-to-face sounds more like a horror movie plot than the stuff of laughs.
"If there's one thing I'm proud of in the show, it's the jokes," Edelman said. Not only does he make gut-busting comedy out of a harrowing experience, but he also works in stories about things like a gorilla who knows sign language, his Olympian brother, and hosting Christmas (one time) as a Jewish family.
"It's a show that people tend to seem to be having a really good time at, which is really, really important to me."
Just For Us is all about nuance.
The other thing Edelman takes pride in, he said, is that Just For Us isn't black and white. The show is about stepping off social media, where there's little room for complex debates, and confronting the nuance that exists in real life. Edelman leads by example, staying after the show to talk to audience members about it.
He gave the example of the relationship of Jews to whiteness; in Just For Us, he talks about how his skin color allowed him to blend in at the meeting, but he was ultimately still an object of hatred for the white supremacists.
"I was hanging out after a show and this guy came outside and was like, 'I always thought Jews are white until I saw the show.' And then this guy next to him went, 'Wait, I always thought Jews were not white, and then I saw the show,' and she said that Jews are white. I was like, 'You're both correct.' I think that's a really interesting thing: two people saw the same show, and people are like, how can they have come out with two different opinions? I was like, they came out with the same opinion. They came out with doubt. They came up with a push toward nuance or a shade of gray."
"It's a show for people who are eager for nuance," Edelman continued. "That's really important and also missing in today's discourse. If you love nuance, come see the show, and if you're radically something or other, also come to the show, because it makes the case for nuance that not everybody agrees with."
The show is part of a recent spring of Jewish theatre.
Just For Us joins shows like Mr. Saturday Night and Funny Girl on Broadway, and the recent Harmony off Broadway, that center the stories of Jewish people. All these stories, though, aren't just for Jewish audiences. "I'm really thrilled to see that it's not just Jewish audiences," Edelman said of the people who have come to Just For Us thus far. "It's a very mixed, very diverse audience."
Alex Edelman is a theatre nerd.
Theatre nerds have got to support fellow theatre nerds, and Edelman is right up there. He cited multiple funny musicals as the reason he got into comedy: The Producers, Spamalot, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
"It was flawed, but really exciting and ambitious," Edelman said of Bloody Bloody. "And stand-up comedy, to me, has always been flawed, but exciting and ambitious." Doing stand-up, for him, was simply a more "portable" and "manageable" way of performing the theatrical comedy he grew up loving.
"I won't, but I can do it right now in this park! I don't need a set," he quipped. "It's theatre that just happens. That level of accessibility to me really was exciting; that level of being able to write and star and edit and direct yourself was what got me into it initially."
Edelman has since gone on to collaborate with big Broadway talent — one recent example was co-writing for Saturday Night Seder, a streamed variety show co-created by Dear Evan Hansen co-writer Benj Pasek and starring Jason Alexander, Bette Midler, Idina Menzel, Beanie Feldstein, and more. The experience was so fun that..."I'm going to write a play," he teased. He hasn't revealed what it'll be about, but Just For Us is certainly just the beginning of Edelman's NYC theatre career.
You'll be among the select audiences that get to see Edelman live.
As with many comedy specials, Just For Us might be getting the filmed-for-streaming treatment. "We don't know for whom yet, but there was a plan at some point to make it into a special," Edelman revealed. With its smash-hit success, a streaming special almost seems guaranteed — and you can say you saw it in NYC first!
There are affordable Just For Us tickets.
Edelman wants to find a seat at Just For Us for all types of audiences. Regular tickets begin at $46. There are also rush tickets for Just For Us available on TodayTix every performance day.
"I really want people who are my age or younger to see the show because all of us have sat in audiences that are exclusively comprised of people who paid $300something a ticket and we snuck in somehow... not that I've ever snuck into a theatre to see the second act of a show!" Edelman said with a mischievous grin. "I don't ever want to do shows where people are paying $250 a ticket; that's not appropriate. I couldn't afford that when I was young and starting theatre."
So no matter your age, background, or budget, Edelman wants you at his show. Just For Us is just for you — that is, just for everyone.
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