tue 31/01/2023

10 Questions for comedian Alex Edelman | reviews, news & interviews

10 Questions for comedian Alex Edelman

10 Questions for comedian Alex Edelman

US comic talks about bringing 'Just For Us' to the Menier Chocolate Factory

Alex Edelman won Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 Monique Carboni

US comic Alex Edelman first came to the attention of British audiences in 2014, when he was named best newcomer in the Edinburgh Comedy Awards for his show Millennial, in which, said one critic, “he regales us with tales of smart-arsery and backchat”. He has since toured with more of his clever and erudite observational comedy in Everything Handed to You and Just For Us, as well as performing them in the West End.

Edelman is also a comedy writer and has contributed to The Great Indoors and Teenage Bounty Hunters, as well as Saturday Night Seder, a virtual celebrity Passover seder held during the Covid pandemic and shown on YouTube; it has so far raised $3.5 million for charity.

Edelman grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Boston and, remarkably, Just For Us is largely (although not entirely) about his experience of attending a white supremacist meeting in New York. He is bringing a revised version of the show to the Menier Chocolate Factory in London in January 2023.

VERONICA LEE: You have appeared very successfully at the Edinburgh Fringe and in the West End before and now have another London run. Why do you think your comedy appeals to a British audience?

ALEX EDELMAN: Because my influences are British and American in equal measure. I started taking comedy seriously in 2012 when I was studying in England, and folks like Josie Long and Stewart Lee and Nish Kumar and Andrew Maxwell and James Acaster and Alfie Brown and Aisling Bea and Romesh Ranganathan have had such a profound impact on me and the way that I do comedy.

VL: Just For Us debuted in the UK in 2018 and the Covid pandemic has happened since. Is it substantially the same show, or have you reworked some elements – and if so, why?

AE: It's... very reworked. Very, very. It's both the same show and almost unrecognisable. I attribute that to being kinda freed from the constraints of an Edinburgh show and also the keen advice of my director, Adam Brace, who is one of the straws that stirs the drink at the Soho Theatre and the best stand-up director working, and my producer Mike Birbiglia, who is the unquestioned master of the American stand-up/theatre blend. He's the greatest.

VL: You are performing in a theatre rather than a comedy club or a large arena. Are you more comfortable with the intimacy the Menier Chocolate Factory can provide?

AE: I can't fill a large arena! But also, yeah, the show is an intimate one, thank G-d. It's a fun story that chugs along best in a small, contained space that can mirror the room that it takes place in.

VL: You have said that other comics, including Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal, gave you notes on the show when it played in NYC. How did you respond to their (constructive) criticism?

AE: I'd take it, you'd be an idiot not to. But British comics helped shape it early. Josie Long, Bridget Christie kind of urged me in the direction of the show. My friends who are comedians – folks like Danny Jolles and Nick Callas and Adam Brace, pushed me in the direction of doing it as stand-up once I told it to them as a story shortly after it happened.

VL: Talking of Seinfeld; you have been described as the "new Seinfeld". What are your thoughts on that?

AE: Flattered. I don't think Jerry would characterise me that way. I think folks are really eager to compare artists to each other and it's nice but maybe a bit of a fait accompli? He's one of the great comedians of all time, in any case.

VL: A substantial part of the show relates to your experience as a Jewish man. How important is your Jewish identity to you, and in your comedy?

AE: Incalculable. I couldn't even tell you, honestly. What is the importance of Dumbo's identity to him as an elephant? I get into that a lot in the show. Removing your identity from its natural habitat is a great way to examine it. I also think the specific is really universal – you don't need to be Jewish to love the show, but it helps if you've ever felt uncomfortable anywhere or out of sorts in the environment you're supposed to be feeling good in.

VL: Did you go to the white nationalist meeting with a germ of a new show in your mind? If not, when did you know it could be a striking story to tell on stage?

AE: Not really, but I live my life kinda that way. I fill every day with stuff that might be fun or interesting. I'm not that interesting myself so I kinda need to collect experiences so I don't bore people. I don't know. I never plan to talk about anything on stage but pretty much everything besides my relationships are fair game. And I knew when Adam Brace and various friends of mine told me it would make something worthwhile, so I started writing it.

VL: What are the other things you talk about in the show?

AE: A ton of stuff! My own various identities, Koko the Gorilla, a jigsaw puzzle. There are a lot of jokes in it.

VL: You also write for television and radio but are now doing an extended live run. Is live performance where you're happiest?

AE: I get itchy feet sometimes. If I'm performing, I want to be writing. If I'm writing, I want to be performing or getting out there doing stuff that's worth talking about.

VL: Who were the comics you admired when you were growing up and why?

AE: What a great question. I admired a lot of good comedians and a few bad ones. The stuff I loved were storytelling comedians and one-liner comics with really unusual, compact jokes. I loved Mike Birbiglia and Brian Regan and early Dane Cook and Gary Gulman and young Dave Chappelle and Bill Cosby before he was revealed as a monster. I loved Maria Bamford, Patton Oswalt and Eddie Izzard. Bill Hicks, Denis Leary and Robin Williams. I worshipped Monty Python, Ben Elton, Stephen Fry. Above all else? Mel Brooks. It's a joy to be able to make jokes for a living.

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