I just saw the comedian Alex Edelman's show "Just for Us," on Broadway in New York City, a hilarious solo show about the time he, a Jewish man, infiltrated and attended a meeting of racists in an apartment in Queens. But it's also about so much more.
It's a form of comedy pioneered by comedian Mike Birbiglia, whose shows I've also seen and loved, and who served as a producer of Edelman's show. Edelman calls it a "comedy-theater blend," and I'd describe it as either stand-up comedy with a dramatic arc, or a one-man show performed with the sensibility of a stand-up comic. It's storytelling, with one central story, but lots of parenthetical, extended comedic bits, chunks, jokes, and anecdotes, all serving an overall theme.
And the central theme here is Identity. What does it mean to Edelman to be Jewish in America, and what does that mean to this group of 17 racists he sat down with?
The story of his attendance of this meeting of racists had been a "three- to four-minute joke" in his stand-up set, until Birbiglia "encouraged him to think more 'expansively' about the project." This collaboration is discussed by the two at length in this excellent episode of Birbiglia's podcast "Working It Out."
And Edeleman did expand this story. His telling of it on stage probably lasts longer than the racist meeting he's recounting. But he infuses it with very interesting thoughts about what it means to have a cultural identity, empathy, performative social interactions, vanity, alienation, anti-semitism, and white privilege.
But probably more importantly, he infuses it with absolutely hilarious side stories about everything from growing up in a very religious community in Boston, to Koko the gorilla, to the skeleton Olympic event, to Santa Claus. These bits are never less than fantastically funny stand-up, but are also never less than meaningful reflections on the themes of his show.
"Alex Edelman: Just for Us" started its run at the Hudson Theatre on June 22, and runs through August 19.