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A Man Walks Into a Room: “Just For Us” reviewed

The story Edelman tells in Just For Us – a story Edelman assures us is true – finds the Jewish comic, raised Orthodox, still observant, attending a smallish White Supremacist neo-Nazi gathering in a Queens apartment. Why he’s there and what he hopes to accomplish is the stuff of the show, but basically he was invited – by mistake – and decides to take the subway ride from Manhattan to Queens as a goof, or out of curiosity, or in the egotistical confidence that this very likable guy could win over a few hearts and minds with humor and affability.


What Edelman doesn’t say is that he probably knew the meeting would make a great story and fine material for a – this – stand-up routine. And it does. What begins as a lark, albeit one with jitters, turns ugly fast, though Edelman finds the humor throughout, from the benign-seeming, vaguely grouchy, jigsaw-puzzle-playing old lady who serves as the meeting’s door greeter, to the attractive young woman that Edelman quickly and foolishly hopes might be a rom-com meet-cute match.

Natural storyteller that he is, Edelman uses the unlikely anecdote as a winding roadmap, with excursions through his Orthodox Jewish upraising – an extended riff on his family’s sole attempt at a Christmas celebration is a highlight – and to his ongoing struggles with what it means to be Jewish, what it means to be white (despite what those Queens antisemites say) and whether empathy has, or should have, limits.

Edelman has a remarkable ability to walk right up to the abyss, peer in and walk away with jokes to tell – jokes that neither diminish nor romanticize what he’s seen. Among the teachings of his Jewish upbringing is empathy, and even sitting outnumbered in that racist, antisemitic gathering he struggles to remain true to those values. But self-deprecation is different than self-awareness, and what Just For Us has going for it in terms of structure and acute middlebrow observational humor is balanced out by a surprising lack of depth into Edelman’s privilege. Watching the show, one wonders if he has ever walked into a room where he wasn’t celebrated or protected. Nonetheless, he earns that treatment on the Hudson stage.