(New York Jewish Week) – When Alex Edelman arrived at a senior living home for a conversation about his solo Broadway show, “Just For Us,” in which the central narrative is what happened when the Jewish comedian infiltrated a white supremacist meeting in Queens, attendees were ready with questions.
But first, they had to get the important stuff out of the way.
“Where are you from?” one senior asked. When Edelman said Massachusetts, they specified what they meant — “No, what part?” “Brookline,” he answered. But that wasn’t enough either. “No, what street?”
Having cleared that up, attendees moved on. The conversation between Edelman, who sat at the front of a dining room of around 60 residents of Inspir Carnegie Hill, a luxury senior living facility on the Upper East Side, went a little something like this:
“Where did you go to camp?”
Edelman: Seneca Lake, Camp Yavneh, a hockey camp and a few others.
“Where did you go to college?”
“Did your parents ever want you to be a doctor or a lawyer?”
Edelman’s father is a doctor and his mother is a lawyer, “and they wanted me to be happy.”
“What does your shirt say?”
Edelman: “Jesus, the savior of a new generation,” written in the style of the Pepsi logo.
The lesson of the day seemed to be that even a comedian who has ostensibly made it all the way to the top — that is, a major solo show on Broadway, national acclaim, a New York Times Critics pick and various celebrity endorsements on social media — can find a tough crowd.
A cohort of residents at Inspir had attended 34-year-old Edelman’s show on Broadway as a group earlier in the summer. Inspir is not a specifically Jewish home, but about 80% of residents are Jewish, Executive Director Sloane Limoncelli told the New York Jewish Week. Edelman’s show was the 18th that Inspir residents attended this year.
On Tuesday afternoon, Edelman paid a visit to answer questions and talk about the show, and once the crowd were satisfied with his bona fides, they asked questions about antisemitism, Israel, Broadway and how he got into comedy.
When asked what surprised him the most about doing a solo show on Broadway, Edelman answered that it was harder physically than one might expect.
“It’s actually so much harder to do the show in 1,000 seats than it is to do it in 200 or 100 seats,” he said. “It requires a lot more energy. Every two days my body gives me another sign that it would like to stop. Like I have a stye right now and I’ll get a headache or something in me will try to explode and I can feel my body being like, ‘Would you like to please stop with the cortisol already?’ I just need to hold on for another two weeks.”
(Edelman’s eight-week run at the Hudson Theater will close Aug. 19.)
Edelman also talked about the unexpected death, at age 43, of his director and collaborator, Adam Brace, shortly before the show moved uptown.
“My director, who was my closest friend, passed away a month and a half before the run started, so that has injected a sad amount of meaningfulness into it,” Edelman told the Inspir residents. “So it’s been a nice little tribute to him. I’m surprised when I think about him. I’ll be on stage a lot and think ‘Adam would like this’ or ‘Adam would be really annoyed by this.’”
Guests also wanted to know if it was uncomfortable for Edelman to make a comedy show about a topic as heavy as antisemitism and how his show stood in contrast to “Parade,” the Tony-winning musical about an antisemitic lynching that closed earlier this week.
“Right now, people have an appetite for levity,” Edelman said, while also lauding “Parade” and saying he was both excited and nervous that its writer, Alfred Uhry, came to see “Just For Us.” “I think the world needs a little more comedy, especially about complex issues. They’re too important not to joke about.”
Edelman only had time to stay at Inspir for half an hour, which was confusing for guests who were told he would be there for a full hour and also that he would perform. After the talk, Edelman left for work and the seniors moved into the lobby for snacks, chatting and live piano music.
For Maggie, the talk was underwhelming. “He was not prepared,” she said. “I thought he would have something else to say.” She told this reporter to give the audience a lot of credit. “If we hadn’t been asking our questions, I don’t know what he would have talked about,” she said.
Plus, Maggie was offended at an apparent error on Edelman’s part. “He said my friend Alfred Uhry was 93 — he’s only 86!” she said. She said she was involved in Uhry’s play “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1987.
Myra, a woman who attended the Q&A, said she saw “Just For Us” and said she enjoyed it. However, she was “disappointed” by the conversation that afternoon.
“I thought it was going to be funnier than it was,” Peggie, a woman standing nearby, said of the Q&A. “That was kind of a big letdown.” Peggie said she had not gone with the group to see the show.
“Not everybody in the audience is Jewish. I realize that that’s the crux of his jokes, but why not lighten it up just a little bit,” added Peggie, who is not Jewish.
“We were proud to welcome Alex Edelman in for an intimate follow-up Q&A with our residents, many of whom were thrilled to have attended his show, “Just For Us,” on Broadway earlier this summer,” said Evan Rossi, the director of resident experience at Inspīr Carnegie Hill.” Alex’s visit was part of our ongoing series to bring Broadway experiences to our residents, who appreciate the caliber of talent we’re able to regularly secure for them. Our residents are a sophisticated and discerning group, and they value these unique opportunities to engage with the talent.”
As for Edelman, when asked by the New York Jewish Week if this was his toughest crowd yet, he said “Oh my God, yes.”
He added, however, that it was “a very fair room,” and that the crowd was “tough but fair.”