The stand-up comic Alex Edelman is not ordinarily known for cutting-edge material or political satire — his go-to joke about Brexit, he admits, was to redub it “The Great British Break-Off.”
Instead, he’s an observational comic with an absurdist streak in the vein of Mike Birbiglia (who serves as a presenter of his new show). In “Just for Us,” which opened Wednesday at Off Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre, Edelman taps into much heftier material than his usual riffs about Koko, the sign-language-using gorilla.
That’s because Edelman, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household in Boston and endured 12 years of yeshiva schooling, decided that he wanted to face down one of the most hostile audiences any comic could imagine. He decided to crash a meeting of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Queens, New York, that he saw listed online for anyone who was “curious about their whiteness.”
There, he meets a blond woman named Chelsea that he thinks he might be able to chat up as well as a senior citizen who greets him at the door while working on a 12,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. (“Maybe white supremacists’ puzzles are harder because they can’t recognize the faces,” he jokes.) He hears rants about the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle — and audible objections when one attendee drops the N-word. (It appears some New York white supremacists draw a line on terminology.)
When stuck on how to respond to the increasingly hostile comments by the 16 people at the meeting, Edelman retreats to his go-to, fail-safe response in any potentially awkward situation: “Can you believe it?”
And that proves to be a useful credo for his entire routine, where Edelman amiably recounts not only his encounter with 21st-century white supremacists but also detours into funny asides about his Jewish upbringing — from his brother competing for Israel in the winter Olympics to how Hanukkah is “the Diet Coke compared to the black-tar heroin of Christmas.”
Throughout, Edelman emerges as a disarming charmer whom you might imagine could ingratiate himself — at least for a while — even with people who object to his very existence. And one who not only lived to tell the tale, but tells it with wit and flare. Can you believe it?