Just for Us | 1hr 15mins. No intermission. | Hudson Theater | 141 West 44th Street | 855-801-5876
How many crackers came to see Alex Edelman’s Just for Us? (I don’t usually gauge audience demos, but…) That crowd was white. How white was it? It was so white you could clear the hall by rolling a jar of allspice down the aisle. Okay, leaving the jokes to the pros: Get your ass—whatever its race and ethnicity—to Edelman’s smart, funny, and surprisingly poignant solo about white resentment and balancing an Orthodox Jewish and goyim-adjacent childhood. Like an Upper West Sider finding his way to a sad, hate-filled apartment in Queens, it goes places.
A few years ago, goaded by a stand-up colleague to write about “the way the world is right now,” Edelman put aside anodyne gags about Robin Williams and Coco the gorilla to lean into random antisemitic remarks his posts sometimes attracted on social media. Scanning his curated Twitter list of bigot accounts (“my digital terrarium of assholes”) Edelman learns of a #whiteness meeting in an apartment in Queens (NYC’s most, ahem, diverse borough). He attends. Does not introduce himself as Jewish. There are muffins. This 75-minute account of the Caucasian confab, with flashbacks and fantasy tangents, is the delightful yet disquieting result.
To tell the truth, I’m only catching up now. Comedy cognoscenti know how damn good Just for Us is. The piece had a couple of well-received, extended runs downtown at the Cherry Lane Theatre a couple years ago. Still, no regrets for tardiness: the production, directed by the late Adam Brace, is exceptionally tight, the material tweaked and buffed to gleaming perfection, with the 34-year-old comedian bopping around the stage using a trio of stools to conjure up multiple locations and figures—from a cute girl at the neo-Nazi mixer to Edelman’s pious father, who serves as a straight man to his son’s puckish interfaith queries.
Edelman gives off a distinct gifted-child-class-clown vibe, a self-described “good boy” with a subversive streak. His jokecraft deftly alternates one-liners (“Yeshiva is a Hebrew word that means miserable”) with longform, crisp vocal characterizations, and high-energy but precise floor work. The stage persona is a witty, neurotic, and urbane Millennial delighted with language. He seasons sentences (possibly improvised and gone by now) with verbal spice like dithering, higgledy-piggledy, and hodgepodge. You can’t spell his relatives’ Hebrew names, he explains, “because there’s no letter for phlegm.” I particularly enjoyed Edelman’s jaunty abbreviations: an old woman working on a 12,000-piece jigsaw puzzle wrestles with a “tonnage of puzz,” Jared Kushner is “the Kush,” and one’s periphery becomes “periph.” Between the wordplay and Edelman’s youthful swagger, he’s like an Ashkenazi Bertie Wooster.
Since the suspense and payoff lies in Edelman’s masterful, empathetic telling (with a killer final laugh) I won’t go into much detail. At issue is the tension between Edelman’s sense of identity that is factually not white (goyische), but at the same time benefits from white privilege. And what part, he asks, does self-loathing play in the paranoia of white supremacists, who can always blame their troubles on an international cabal of Jews who control world events, the economy, and presumably the Covid vaxx microchips? Just for Us is very much about hierarchies and the gray zones within them—what flavor of white is most desirable in Boston society, how Jewish should Alex’s life be, are bumbling, blue-collar racists laughable or dangerous—and if it fits together to make any human sense. The “tonnage of puzz” that a bitter old lady is staring at in Queens is civil society, actually, and I don’t think she will ever complete it.