Stand up comedian Alex Edelman has been working on his one man show Just For Us for years, going back to 2018, updating it as necessary, having successful sell out runs in London, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, as well as sell out runs in Washington, D.C., Melbourne, Australia, and his hometown of Boston.
Now the show has opened on Broadway to sell out crowds, running through Aug. 19 at the Hudson Theatre at 141 W. 44th St. in New York City.
Directed by the late Adam Brace, who died earlier this year, Just For Us, primarily focuses on actual events from 2017 when Alex, after trolling some anti-Semites on Twitter sees a tweet from a white supremacist inviting people to join a meeting for people who have questions about their whiteness.
Alex, being Jewish and also curious to a fault, decides to infiltrate the white supremacist meeting.
On the surface, this all feels like a potential horror story or thriller in the making, and yes there are moments of significant tension throughout, but Alex’s slightly awkward charm and wit dominates the narrative as he lays into the absurdity of the situation, from his infatuation with a girl he meets at the meeting to trying to convince a suspicious other guest that he isn’t Jewish. It’s his own continued surprise that he did what he did that helps the audience invest into the story with a certain curious but gleeful disbelief.
Something Alex wisely does to cut the tension is intercut the story about the meeting with other incidental stories that have remote connection.
For example, at one point, he takes a break from talking about his time at the meeting to speak about his family having their one and only Christmas when he was a child, something his mother encourages them to do as a favor to a Christian friend of theirs who had suffered significant loss earlier that year and was otherwise going to be spending the holidays alone. Their mortified father eventually concedes to the idea, and we end up with a rather endearing, sensitive but also hysterical interlude.
There’s another great interlude where he pokes fun at his brother, Olympian Skeleton racer AJ Edelman, and the absurdity of the sport.
But the crux of Alex’s story is that there are significant hard truths in Just For Us about attempting to empathize with hardline extremists, whether it be political, racists, bigots, or whomever. Though we may pity them and better understand who they are and why they have become who they are, there is no way to find a compromise with those who are so stiff necked that they can’t see anything that isn’t what they put right in front of themselves.
It’s this element that elevates Alex Edelman’s show from what could be mostly a screwball concept into a deeper look into the human condition. It’s unflinching and scary at times. But Alex guides us through the experience with his “aww shucks” smile and a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
This is his first Broadway show, and at 34, I look forward to him returning for future engagements.