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Serious-ly Funny

Comedian Alex Edelman’s ongoing conversation about Jewish identity returns to Los Angeles five years after its creation.

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Photo by Matthew Murphy

Comedian and Writer Alex Edelman's Just For Us, playing at the Mark Taper Forum this November, is a one-man show inspired by his experiences as an Orthodox Jewish man attending a meeting of White Nationalists in Queens, NY (and, somehow, tries to have a meet-cute).

Originally from Boston, Edelman has had a broad writing career—from writing for television to producing documentaries for the U.S. State Department to writing speeches for both the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers—alongside a robust career as an award-winning stand-up comedian and performer.

Just For Us follows the central narrative of Edelman's experience at the White Nationalist meeting, but diverts from the path to share anecdotes and jokes about everything from his Jewish family celebrating Christmas to jokes about horses. Through the main story and his tangents, Edelman told The New York Times in June he tries to, "have the conversation about Jews in their place on that spectrum of whiteness without having a conversation about victimhood."

Edelman is no stranger to unpacking his Jewish identity and heritage in his work. In his solo shows, Millennial in 2015 and its sequel Everything Handed To You in 2015 and 2016, Edelman also wrote about his experiences growing up and celebrating holidays with his family. Just For Us still focuses a lot on his family but is also both more introspective and broader in its musings on his place in the world.

"America is obsessed with binaries, but there are all of these [gorgeous] spectrums that we live on," Edelman said. "The reality of conversation about identity in the United States doesn't always take ... into account that not everything is a binary." He felt this was especially important to explore through the lens of Jewish identity—he decided to visit the meeting that inspired the show because of the rise of antisemitic sentiments online and throughout the county.

Despite the seriousness of the situation at hand, Edelman brings levity to it—even when things are uncomfortable or scary, like coming face to face with a puzzle-loving, racist, old woman.

Maybe white supremacist jigsaw puzzles are harder 'cause all the faces look the same," he says in the show after learning she has spent eight months on just one corner of her 12,000-piece puzzle. "I pull out my phone and I text David, 'If I die tonight, the woman that killed me loves jigsaw puzzles."'

Though Just For Us takes place in New York City (where Edelman is currently based), Los Angeles has played a large role in the development of the show and his career. Edelman's first reading of the show was at Âu Lạc LA, a vegan Vietnamese restaurant across the street from The Music Center. The show then went on to have a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018.

But fellow comedian and solo performer Mike Birbiglia encouraged Edelman to keep the show going. The partnership makes sense, as both Edelman and Birbiglia are known for their deeply personal storytelling and humor. Birbiglia just recently performed his own one-man show, The Old Man and the Pool, at the Mark Taper in 2022. But Edelman met Birbiglia a few years prior—after a performance of The New One at the Ahmanson Theatre in 2019. The two walked to Grand Central Market, where Birbiglia encouraged Edelman to continue developing the show, rather than moving on to new material.

"I was like, '[Just For Us] was my last show,' and [Birbiglia] went, 'No, it's your next show,"' Edelman recounted. "He helped me re-figure out the show, what I should be talking about, and how to tell the story."

From there, the show went to The Virgil and the Lyric Theater on La Brea in Los Angeles in 2019. There were plans to open the show in New York in 2020, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 shutdown. But the show lived on. ­Just For Us opened Off­-Broadway in 2021 and was extended six times before a successful run in London. The show finally opened on Broadway in 2023, playing its last performance in August. This fall, it returns to Los Angeles where it began.

"To be able to elevate the show from [a] little space to the best performance space in Los Angeles is really special to me," Edelman said.

Despite the amount of time since Edelman first performed this show, he feels Just For Us is continually changing and evolving.

"There's no script, the show winds in the direction it wants to have," Edelman said. "It can be a really fun and illuminating experience to have."

But Just For Us is, quite literally, for us-the audience. Edelman said it has also changed after every performance. He is keen to continue the conversation offstage as well—he stays to chat with audience members afterward.

Those conversations have informed the show," Edelman said. "I love being in literal dialogue with the audience and the world around me—I think it's an essential part of making something that's a living, breathing organism."

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