It was back in 2018 that Alex Edelman brought Just For Us to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and even then it was clear that this was something different to Edelman’s usual offering; more a theatrical monologue than a stand-up routine, but still with a healthy dose of hilarity. Since Edinburgh, the show has undergone some changes, had two successful, sell-out, runs in New York, and now Just For Us opens in London, at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Edelman tells us early on that politics are usually best avoided in comedy, because it ‘bums people out’. That may well be true under normal circumstances, but this vitally political show is the exception to the rule.
Born in Boston, Edelman had an Orthodox Jewish upbringing, educated from an early age on what it means to be Jewish, and the importance that faith will have. Just For Us begins with a simple joke, Edelman tells us that dumb jokes are his comfort zone.
But soon a more complex tale emerges, after being on the receiving end of anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter, Edelman becomes intrigued by the nature of the white supremacist. Eventually he finds himself walking into the lion’s den, attending a meeting of white nationalists in a Queens apartment.
As Edelman describes the precarious situation, he branches off into hilarious anecdotes that give more context to why he’s there; his Olympian brother, or that one time his family celebrated Christmas.
The self-depreciating brand of humour works well, and immediately bonds performer to audience. It also goes someway to explaining why Edelman felt the need to be accepted by the group, quipping that things were going so well he worried he might be offered a job.
Just For Us is a brutally honest depiction of anti-Semitism, and indeed all forms of racism and prejudice. Yet, it’s wildly funny. That might seem incongruous, but the truth is we find ourselves laughing at the racists and bigots, their unfounded conspiracy theories and empty rhetoric dissected and laid bare by Edelman’s easy-going charm and intelligent wit.
Directed by Adam Brace, Edelman commands the stage with ease; always in control and carefully guiding the audience. Unsurprisingly, there are many references to Judaism, the language, religion and customs all featuring heavily, but Edelman performs an inclusive show so that audiences of all faiths, and none, can understand what’s happening.
It’s easy to see why the show has been such a success over the last few years, and on both sides of the Atlantic; Alex Edelman: Just For Us is a triumphant ninety minutes of storytelling perfection. It also happens to be side-splittingly funny.