Why can’t we all be more like Koko the Gorilla – smart, sensitive, communicative, and loving, and never a member or ally of the White Nationalists? Her heartfelt reaction in sign language to the death of Robin Williams – and imagined response to the loss of other celebrity favorites – is just one of the many relevant anecdotes interwoven into comedian Alex Edelman’s hilarious and insightful exploration of human identity, empathy, and acceptance (or the lack thereof) in the Broadway debut of his solo show Just for Us, playing a limited engagement at the Hudson Theatre, following hit runs in London, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Boston, DC, and Off-Broadway.
Directed by the late Adam Brace (who passed away suddenly in April at the age of 43), the naturally animated and consummately likeable Edelman moves actively around the bare stage, gesturing expressively and directly addressing the audience, recounting and recreating encounters he had with friends, family, and foes, using only one, then three stools to help tell his story (scenic design by David Korins, enhanced with lighting by Mike Baldassari and sound by Palmer Hefferan), and through it all, recognizing that laughter is the best medicine to help us survive the absurdities of prejudice and hatred, and the ludicrous beliefs in white supremacy, racial segregation, and all forms of bigotry and separatism.
The fast-paced high-energy show’s central theme was inspired by a real-life incident experienced by the now 34-year-old stand-up comic in the winter of 2017, when he bravely (or, as it might have turned out, very foolishly) decided to attend a meeting of the right-wing extremist group at an apartment in Queens (yes, New York!!!), following a chain of anti-Semitic messages directed at him on social media, when an upset listener to a radio comedy program for which he was writing in England found out he was a Jew. Using an algorithm on the digital platform to generate a list of anti-Semites to access what they were tweeting, Edelman, who tells us his full name is David Yosef Shimon ben Elazar Reuven Alex Halevi Edelman, subsequently saw an invitation to a gathering of the group and crashed it, covertly, without revealing his Ashkenazi heritage, Orthodox upbringing and education, or Jewish identity. (He didn’t have to; they figured it out pretty quickly).
What follows are his sidesplitting descriptions of the people, riotous call-outs of their odious opinions, and amusing reflections on how he convinced himself that he was contributing to the conversation and charming them – responding to uncomfortable comments and questions with his go-to four-word catch-phrase that works every time (no spoilers here, but it’s brilliant – go to the show to find out what it is). He also intersperses seemingly random memories triggered by the incident – about growing up in a racist neighborhood in Boston (“called Boston”); his brother AJ, an Olympic athlete on the Israeli skeleton team, which didn’t impress him at all; long-time friends who chose not to have their new baby vaccinated; a Christmas celebration his mother held at their home, over the objection of his strictly Orthodox father, to help a widowed neighbor through the holidays; the reaction of his yeshiva when they heard about Santa’s visit; and then back to Koko – all presented with Edelman’s signature no-holds-barred humor, uninhibited openness, and thoroughly engaging storytelling, ultimately tied together with his thoughtful musings on why he went, what he hoped to accomplish, and how it all relates, and ending with the surprising and funny little win he took away from it – literally!
Alex Edelman is a top-notch comedic talent whose incisively witty show, vibrant command of the stage, connection with his audience, and uproarious observations and recollections will not only keep you laughing out loud for the duration but will also leave you thinking about how best to combat bias – or if it’s even humanly possible.
Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, without intermission.
Just for Us plays through Saturday, August 19, 2023, at the Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $44-255, plus order processing fee), go online. Masks are no longer required but are recommended.