Life & Culture

Just for Us theatre review: A frenetic ride through the mind of a Millennial Jew

Alex Edelman's one man show is now playing at the Menier chocolate factory


You know those stories you have, the ones that you whip out every time you’re in public with more than two people? The crowd-stoppers, the ones that can assemble a semi-circle of people all waiting to hear what happened next, the once-in-a-lifetime how-the-fuck-did-this-happen-to-me type stories. Well, Alex Edelman made his into a one-man show.

Just for Us takes us back to the Trump years in New York City. Edelman, by then already a pretty accomplished comedian, becomes obsessed with his Twitter mentions, adding his haters and detractors to a list that he reads to torture himself. Then, one day, he sees an invite to a gathering of neo-Nazis, which he inexplicably decides to attend.

The result is a hugely effective, anecdotal ramble through a Neo-nazi meeting in the New York suburbs but also through Edelman’s frenetic razor-sharp mind. It’s a story told in typically Jewish fashion, in that it takes over an hour to get to the punchline, but when the story’s this good, you don’t mind waiting.

On the face of it, Just for us is a play about Alex’s own internal conflicts around his Jewish identity, the thoughts that many Jews have on a daily or hourly basis - Am I too Jewish? Not Jewish enough? Am I white? Is vaccination against the Torah? but in practise, the way he rattles through these big questions means Just for Us is far more than a gratuitous self-reflection, it’s also a study in how to make the personal universal.

But the point of this show isn’t really the story he tells. The story is a vehicle that takes us through Edelman’s life as part of a hyper-successful family, (his brother is an Olympian and his dad is a Harvard professor) and how that has shaped the way he views the world. While being jam-packed full of Jewish in-jokes - it’s done in the Seinfeldian tradition, careful not to totally alienate the gentiles in the audience, bringing them along for the ride, rather than leaving them in the cold.

Just for Us is half standup, half monologue, a sort of adderall-fuelled 700 Sundays (Billy Crystal’s rather more sedate one-man show about his childhood) that while feeling slightly dated (it was first performed in 2018 at Edinburgh) is a consistent deliverer of proper full body laughs, as well as the sort of smirk you do when you read a particularly droll New Yorker cartoon.

Just for Us is very funny and very Jewish, which is a combination that our New York cousins seem to do far more effortlessly than people this side of the pond. Be prepared to laugh at the absurd spectacle of someone that looks like a Talmudic Paul Mescal trying to fit in among white nationalists, and laugh even more when Alex’s Modern Orthodox father has to try and explain to a Yeshiva headteacher why his family has celebrated Christmas.

Edelman is the sort of young Jewish comedian I wish we grew over here, someone who has the capacity to be incredibly Jewish, but also appeal to the non-believers. Until we get our own homegrown version, Alex Edelman is an excellent substitute, go see him if you can.

Just For Us is playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory until the end of February.

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