In comedy timing is just about everything. “Just For Us” opened on Broadway last June. It is a one man standup woven around comic Alex Edelman’s going to a Queens apartment to observe a meeting of White Nationalists. In Edelman’s words to the New York Times, he was trying to “have a conversation about the jews in their place on that spectrum of whiteness without having a conversation about victimhood.” I have privately marveled at how I have morphed from minority, to practically mainstream, and an unpopular minority once again. Hey, if he can explore it with humor, I am up for it. The thing is, Hamas had not yet attacked Israel, college campuses were not erupting with pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel, anti-Jewish vitriol. Last June, yes, antisemitic sentiment was being propelled on the internet, and by public figures like Trump’s comment, “There are good people on both sides.” But, since May 7, the volume has increased geometrically, and spilled out on to the streets seemingly endorsed by masses. In his opening comments, Edelman gives a nod to concerns as to the timing of this presentation.
Make no mistake, Edelman is a funny guy with a lot of energy. He identifies himself as a member of the “overmedicated ADHD generation” and appears to have forgotten his meds this morning as he is in virtually constant, slightly pigeon toed, motion across the Taper stage. Edelman was raised in an orthodox Jewish home in Boston, sent to yeshiva for schooling. Now he is in his 30’s, not so orthodox, and footloose in New York. His Jewishness is still central to his identity.
The punch lines are fast and furious with a fair amount of Jewish schtick. In New York, it was presented on a small stage defined by a proscenium, more like a comedy club. But what can you do? The Taper is the Taper. One can question ‘why am I watching a comedy club act at the Taper?’ I am just happy to see it open again.
Spotting an announcement for a meeting of White Nationalists his curiosity propels him to attend. He is just going to “observe.” He is ingratiating, self-effacing, friendly – especially with a very cute woman who is part of the group. He is guided by his religious upbringing which has told him to empathize with a stranger because you know what it feels like to be in his or her place. So there he is, starting to empathize with the others sitting on chairs in their “antisemicircle.”
Although the percentage of humor far outweighs the message, the message is there loud and clear. The problem is, it no longer feels like there are small klatches spewing hate. With all that has happened over the past month the scene he describes is almost quaint. He is funny, his material is funny but it cannot stand up to the turmoil on campuses and elsewhere in the streets. The timing is off.