‘Just for Us’ Comedian Alex Edelman Talks HBO Special, White Nationalists and Why His Sexuality Journey Could Be Focus of Future Show

It’s an early Friday morning in May and comedian Alex Edelman is on a Zoom video call from a Los Angeles hotel. He has a bit of a bed head and says that he had to borrow the socks he is wearing, a detail he shares when I tell him I’m nervous about our interview because he’s a really “smart comic.”

“That is so nice but.. I’m not a smart comic. I had that realization today when I figured all the stuff that I forgot to pack for my trip to Los Angeles,” Edelman says. “I forgot dress shoes, a belt. I forgot to pack socks.”

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Edelman traveled from his New York City area home for the premiere of Jerry Seinfeld’s Pop Tarts movie, “Unfrosted.” He makes an appearance in the film as the Apple Head character.

“Jerry called out the cast’s name yesterday. We all stood up and to have Jerry Seinfeld even say your name, goodness me,” Edelman says. “When I was a kid, I used to sneak downstairs after my parents had gone to sleep and my brother AJ and I would watch ‘Seinfeld.’ And then I got to know his stand-up when I started doing stand-up. His documentary ‘Comedian’ was one of the reasons I decided to take comedy seriously.”

Seinfeld is one of the many comedy legends who attended a performance of Edelman’s “Alex Edelman’s Just for Us,” his one-man Broadway show about the night he went to a meeting of white nationalists in Queens, New York, after he was the target of online antisemitic rhetoric about seven years ago. Edelman, who grew up in a modern-Orthodox Jewish family in a Boston suburb, insists he went to the meeting out of curiosity more than he was looking for stand-up material.

“I didn’t know it was going to be content. I thought it was just a fun story I could tell my friends.” But then his pals convinced him it was “a great premise” for standup. “Just for Us” toured Europe and the U.S. before landing on Broadway in June. A filmed performance of the show that premiered on HBO in April was attended by Billy Crystal and Mike Birbiglia.

“Two of my favorite solo show artists standing there watching me do my solo show?” Edelman says. “If I wasn’t a lunatic for pretty much all three months I was on Broadway, I’m sure I would’ve been terrified.”

The morning after we talk, it was announced that Edelman will receive a special Tony Award for “Just for Us” when the top Broadway honors are handed out in New York on June 16.

I ask Edelman if he has any interest in reconnecting with the neo-Nazis for a sequel show. Probably not, he says. Edelman was recently walking in New York’s Union Square when he thought he recognized someone from the white nationalist meeting he attended.

“I wasn’t going to go up to them and be like, ‘Excuse me, do I know you from a meeting of neo-Nazis in Queens because you look exactly like this person…?’” Edelman deadpans.

The comedian, who performed “Just for Us” the last time during a limited run at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum in March, would like to write a musical.

“I love ‘Parade,’” he says of the show about the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish American factory manager in Georgia, who was convicted of raping and murdering a 13-year-old employee. “At the Tonys last year, I embarrassed myself in front of composer Jason Robert Brown because I had never met him. I went up to him and I was like, ‘Excuse me.’ He’s trying to celebrate his Tony win and I went, ‘Your show’s amazing. It’s a document, but it’s entertaining.’ And my friend was like ‘Come on, Alex.’ And I went, ‘It’s like “Schindler’s List,” but it slaps.’”

Edelman is unapologetically himself. There’s fan chatter about one particular line in “Just for Us,” in which Edelman says if he was raised secular he would identify as bisexual, but because he grew up religious, he’s “straight with some secrets.” I tell Edelman that I went on a deep dive online to try to find out how he identifies. Edelman believes everyone’s sexuality exists on a spectrum.

“I’m 35 and still thinking about it,” he says. “If someone said, ‘Are you a gay or a bi comedian?’ I wouldn’t necessarily tick the box. But if someone’s like, ‘That’s a straight guy,’ I don’t know that I necessarily tick that box. I’m thinking. I’m still thinking about it, is what I’d say.”

Perhaps he’ll address it more on the stage someday. “It’s a big line,” Edelman acknowledges. “Maybe it’ll be a future show.”

You can listen to the full conversation with Edelman on the “Just for Variety” podcast above.

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