Curiosity killed the cat, but perhaps said feline was unlucky not to have the armour of white privilege. High on the spirit of inquiry after an exchange with an anti-Semite on Twitter, Alex Edelman decided to attend a meeting of white nationalists in New York. What could be a greater example of entitlement than walking into a lions’ den like that and assuming it will all work out fine? It’s a hell of a hook for a comedy show, and Edelman does it glorious justice in one of the finest hours at the Fringe.
Edelman rejects the claim that he’s a political comedian, claiming only an encounter with Bridget Christie led to him talking about anything other than “dumb bullshit” this year, but even his sideways glances at the discourses that dominate the headlines are illuminating and nuanced. How can white privilege and Jewish identity co-mingle? Is it possible to see the good in a room full of Nazis? From where does the societal urge to fit in appear, whether it’s with royalty or people who would cheerfully see you killed? Edelman may not have concrete answers but they give some clues as to how the insanity we find ourselves embroiled in can happen.
His biggest asset though? Taking all the above and making it consistently, achingly hilarious from start to finish. Just For Us is rich in comic detail, punctuated by Edelman’s faux-naive, bug-eyed pretense at indignation. His depiction of the meeting of Nazis is as jaw-dropping in the mundanity of their hatred (jigsaws! muffins!), as the views they hold. The central tale is interspersed with diversions like his brother competing for Israel at the Winter Olympics, an old school friend choosing not to vaccinate his child, and being accused of fraud by his own bank (“You don’t like Calvin Harris, Alex!”). These aren’t mere comic decoration, but mesh in with his theme of identity; how you see yourself, how you change over time, and how you’re seen by others.
There are echoes of Louis Theroux‘s documentaries and Jon Ronson‘s superb Them: Adventures with Extremists in Edelman’s sheer chutzpah in willfully poking a hornets nest; even a cozy New York apartment-sized one. Although every second of the scenario is studiously rifled for laughs, there can be no doubt come the climax of the story how deeply it affected him as those wild eyes brim with emotion. As the last piece drops into place, it’s clear Just For Us is a nigh-on perfect mesh of storytelling and standup with the wider themes it explores; exceptional on every level, and more than deserving of its Comedy Award nomination.