The first thing you notice are the metal detectors. Not typical at the Mark Taper Forum. Sort of jarring on the way into a comedy show. But Alex Edelman: Just For Us is about antisemitism in a time of increased antisemitism and the Taper can’t be too careful.
The second thing you notice is that they’ve added seats. There’s a front row in front of the front row, which means it’s beyond sold out. Not typical in theater these days.
Then you notice Alex Edelman himself, entering an empty stage. He’s also not typical, as he would be the first to tell you. He describes himself as neurodivergent and admits to being tested eleven times for an explanation of why he is the way he is. After that eleventh test, he overheard his mother say, “What do you mean, he’s fine?”
Well, he is. Alex Edelman has built a place in the world for an atypical, Jewish-forward, self-deprecating deep thinker who is emphatically hilarious. Because the final thing you notice, as you leave the theater, is that your cheeks hurt and you can’t stop smiling reliving the stream of one-liners that coalesced into a show that is not just a comedy routine, but a timely and much-needed tale.
Edelman quotes John Updike as saying, “If you’re lucky, the work you create will find itself in conversation with the times.” Considering that Just for Us follows the Hamas attacks on Israel last month, the ensuing war, and widespread antisemitic protests and violence, the word “lucky” works only ironically. In that sense, Edelman is most luckily in conversation with a “terrifying present” of antisemitism, White Nationalism more broadly, and personal comedy shows.
After an extensive antisemitic Twitter reaction to a BBC radio show he wrote, Edelman created a Twitter List of egregious commenters, so he could track what else they were saying. (Edelman calls social media “a terrarium of assholes.”) His list led him to discover that a White Nationalist open house was about to be held in Queens, for anyone with questions about their whiteness.
As an Ashkenazi Jew, Edelman says, he had some questions about his whiteness. And so off he goes, on the Number 7 train. He easily ingratiates himself with the jigsaw-playing doorkeeper and enters the inner sanctum. There he meets people he describes as “not life’s winners.” His time in the room where it most definitely doesn’t happen is the core of the show, and Edelman brilliantly builds toward it and through it.
Edelman offers hysterical insights on Jewish names, family relationships and wedding practices, as well as Christmas, Robin Williams, Boston (his hometown), empathy, and the Comic Sans font. His trick for surviving awkward conversations is genius. The show is like a Jewish Book of Why for the initiated and uninitiated alike.
The director of Just For Us is Adam Brace, who died right before its premiere. Edelman shares an emotional appreciation of the man and his role in crafting this complex dance between light and dark.
I drank thirstily from Alex Edelman: Just For Us, and feel like a better person for having seen it. The world feels a little less scary, too. Adam Brace would have been proud. Edelman’s father, not so much.
Finally, a local note: Windsor Square native Emma Jude Harris recently directed Antisemitism: a (((musical))) by Israeli playwright and composer Uri Agnon in a successful run. The daughter of Janna and Jim Harris, Emma is a theater and opera director based in London, where the show was produced.
Alex Edelman: Just For Us originally had a closing date of Nov. 26. Now, after a brief run in Boston, the show returns Dec. 19-23 for a total of six additional shows at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. Tickets range from $65-175 and can be purchased here.