Comedian Alex Edelman is rarely known for his cutting edge material or political satire; his joke about Brexit, he admits, was to narrow it down to “The Great British Breakup.”
Instead, it’s an observational comic with an absurd streak in the vein of Mike Birbiglia (who serves as the host of his new show). In “Just for Us,” which opened Wednesday at the Cherry Lane Theater on Off Broadway, Edelman uses far more material than his usual riffs on Koko, the gorilla who uses sign language.
That’s because Edelman, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home in Boston and endured 12 years of yeshiva school, decided he wanted to face one of the most hostile audiences any comic book could imagine. He decided to disrupt a gathering of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Queens, New York, which he saw listed online for anyone who was “curious about his whiteness.”
There, he meets a blonde woman named Chelsea who he thinks he might chat with, as well as an old man who greets him at the door as he works on a 12,000-piece puzzle. (“Maybe white supremacist puzzles are harder because they can’t recognize faces,” he jokes). He hears rants about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s marriage, and audible objections as one of the attendees drops the N-word. (Some New York white supremacists seem to draw a line in the terminology.)
When he doesn’t know how to respond to the increasingly hostile comments from the 16 people in the meeting, Edelman retreats to his fail-safe answer in any potentially awkward situation: “Can you believe it?”
And that proves to be a useful creed for his entire routine, where Edelman graciously recounts not only his encounter with the white supremacists of the 21st century, but also veers off into funny bits about his Jewish upbringing, from his brother competing for Israel in the Games. Winter Olympics to how Hanukkah is “Diet Coke compared to Christmas black tar heroin.”
Throughout, Edelman emerges as a charming and captivating man who, as you might imagine, could ingratiate himself, for a time at least, even with people who oppose his own existence. And one who not only lived to tell the story, but tells it with wit and flare. Can you believe it?