The Menier’s programming is nothing if not eclectic: after reopening last year with an existential comedy about swinging, the next show up at the pocket-sized Southwark theatre will be a haunting sci-fi called ‘Marjorie Prime’. Before that, though, it plays host to ‘Just for Us’, from US comic Alex Edelman, directed by Brit Adam Brace.
‘Just for Us’ is very much stand-up comedy, but it’s very theatrical within that, an almighty piece of raconteurism that sees the very awkward, very Jewish Edelman recount the time when he whimsically decided to attend a white nationalist meeting in Queens.
What the show is really about is Edelman’s own Jewishness and Jewish identity. As he says at the beginning, he’s not a particularly political comedian, and he’s not especially here to have a pop at the racists, whom he mostly seems bewildered by. Indeed, part of the reason his description of the white supremacist meeting is so funny is because he’s chronically incapable of being judgmental – he becomes fascinated by an old lady who’s sat there doing a 12,000-piece jigsaw, and finds himself drawn to a hot young racist called Chelsea.
But his detached, overanalytical approach to the meeting makes his description of it a fine jumping-off point for sundry amusing musings on his own past, from ridiculing his brother for making the Israeli skeleton bob team to numerous yarns about his orthodox Jewish upbringing in Boston, including one absolutely joyous section in which he recalls the year his parents reluctantly agreed to let them celebrate Christmas in order to cheer up a distraught non-Jewish family friend.
It’s this simultaneous evisceration and celebration of his background that defines the show. That an account of the time he awkwardly infiltrated a white supremacist meeting is the route into a fond consideration of his Jewish roots is indicative of the way Edelman’s mind works – he takes an almost masochistic delight in making things even more difficult for himself. If he were an arch, prickly nerd it might all be a little grating. But he’s got a gawky warmth to him that really sells his strange adventures to us. I’m still not 100 percent clear why he went to the meeting, and I don’t think he is either. But against all odds, it seems like a good idea that he did.