“Most serious things deserve to be talked about”
What would you do if you got hate on the internet? Would you ignore it? Block and report users who attack you? How about going to a White Nationalist rally in New York? For Alex Edelman American stand-up comedian, that was the answer.
Just For UsEdelman’s newest solo show, coming to London on January 11, tells a relevant story about today’s world through thought-provoking comedy.
BroadwayWorld recently had a chance to speak with Edelman about his show and what he’s looking forward to as he brings it to London, where the first workshop was held.
How did you first get into stand-up comedy?
I loved a guy named Brian Regan when I was a kid, and I was 16 or 17 when I started trying to do it. Brian Regan wasn’t the only comedian—there was Mel Brooks, and there were others. But when I went to England for my last semester of university and got into the Edinburgh-style comedy scene quite seriously. Then after college I started making it happen and it all came together!
So what made you want to create Just for Us?
I wanted to explore more interestingly what was happening around my Jewish identity. And I had done this – I had gone to this meeting of white nationalists. When I told my friends about it, they were like, “Oh, wow!” The guy I talked to about it before I left, then he went, “You know, you should talk about it.” Then my director, Adam Brace, heard about it and made some interesting diversions. So everything builds from there.
Did you feel comfortable speaking on stage and discussing not only the meeting of white nationalists, but also your past and heritage?
Not really! I’m always nervous about discussing something on stage, but sometimes I’ll discuss something on stage and decide not to discuss it too much. I’m a really big fan of having a performer like Mike Birbiglia, who is the show’s spiritual uncle, open and difficult at the same time—he developed the play in New York and was a huge influence on it. He likes to say that comedy shows and solo shows are poetry, not prose. And so I found a way to talk about things. There’s a joke in the show about my romantic life, but it’s a quiet joke that hints at something and doesn’t really go into it. I got my head out of my shell a little in certain ways.
I’m also not of the school where comedians don’t joke about serious things. A lot of serious things deserve to be talked about. Someone said to me, “How about making jokes about anti-Semitism?” I was like, “It’s too big a subject to joke about. It’s too serious not to joke about. We live in this really weird, difficult time – all topics that deserve to be discussed deserve to be part of comedy discourse. I think people think too much of comedy. They they think that saying something in a comedy way means making fun of it or not taking it seriously. I take most of the things I joke about very seriously.
You hope people will go Just for Us and do you have discussions about the topics you talk about on stage?
Absolutely, absolutely. I design things within the show to ensure that. This is one of my favorite things about the show; sometimes I’ll leave a show in DC and go to one of the few restaurants in the area that’s open after 10pm and people will come up and say, “Fix the argument for us.” And I said, “No. You have to argue about it!”
I did my part – you paid to hear me speak. Now you go about your business.
Exactly! Sometimes I’ll make two jokes to support opposing points. It’s not for me to say, you decide.
So you’re doing a show in Washington right now. Have you noticed a difference in audience reactions compared to New York?
Yes, every audience is different from night to night. But DC has some things they’re more interested in, and New York has more things they’re more interested in! London will have more of what they care about on the show. . . It will be fun. I love doing it in different places, different places.
So do you expect it to be different in the UK than in the US?
Oh yeah, definitely. And I’m excited! London is where the show started at the 2018 workshop. “Bringing him home” is simply a great joy. It’s really, really cool.
How did you create the unique cover art for the show?
This is one of the great artists of our time, Tristan Eaton. He is one of my favorite artists, so I asked if he would do the art for the show and he said yes! It’s just the best – It’s so sophisticated and sophisticated. He’s just great. He has done all my art so far, but he is so busy that I have to wait months, months, months! But he is the best at it.
So, you mentioned in your previous interviews that this show is the one you are most proud of. Why is that?
You know, it really resonated with people, and it’s a really complicated show. It has grown in many ways, but hasn’t lost its original spirit—it’s deeply personal. It has contributions from many of my favorite comedians. . . comedians come in and offer notes, quips, one-liners and performance wisdom. I love the show because I grew as an artist and writer while doing it. And it’s fun for people! People really laugh at the show, which is nice and I’m doing something that people and peers enjoy. I am very proud of it! I want to make a good product that people will really respond to and I’ll do my best – That’s what it really feels like. But at the same time, I care a lot about the subject and people care about it. And not just Jews, but non-Jews as well, it’s really warm and thoughtful. I really enjoyed it.
What’s the best advice you’ve received from comedians?
Mike Birbiglia made six saves, but all were big. He encouraged me to star the story a bit more. I had all these jokes that I made while I was doing the show, and he stripped them all down, and I was like, “Mike, but they’re really good!” He said, “It doesn’t matter, it’s not related to the show.” And I was like, “But it’s about him,” and he was like, “You know.” And he was right! It’s no surprise to anyone who knows Mike Birbiglia or his work, but he’s really, really smart.
And finally, how would you describe it? Just for Us in a word?
Fun. I think it’s fun. That’s one thing I want – people having fun. I’m sure people were like, “This motherfucker thinks she’s having fun!”
But that’s it!
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity as of December 2022 Just for Us in Washington, DC.
Just for Us It will run from January 11 to February 26 at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London.