After setting the tone of the show with a high-energy jog onto the stage, Alex Edelman begins “Just For Us” by describing his jokes as “dumb and small” and his humor as “benign silliness.” And although this may seem true on the surface, the following well-crafted story of his absurd experience as a Jew attending a meeting of Nazis in Queens, New York, is full of insightful questions into Jewishness, whiteness, privilege, and empathy. Before attending this Nazi meeting, Edelman did not do political comedy. However, after the 2017 meeting in Astoria, he realized that he had experienced something deeply political.
Following a torrent of anti-Semitism directed at him on Twitter in late 2016, Edelman compiled the handles of everyone who had tweeted at him into a Twitter list titled “Jewish National Fund contributors.” He declared emphatically “let them be on a list for once!” This joke is a reference to the historical film “Schindler’s List,” set during the Holocaust. That list consisted of over 1,000 Jews transferred from Auschwitz, the death camp, to a factory owned by Oskar Schindler so they could live.
As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I thought the joke about the list was hilarious. I’m the type of person who makes jokes about the Holocaust as a way of bringing at least a little bit of lightness to an extremely dark part of history that profoundly impacts my family to this day. I don’t have many Jewish friends, so my own Holocaust jokes are often met with uncomfortable giggles, and I rarely get the opportunity to hear these types of jokes from others.
Edelman’s show was an absolute treat in this regard: I counted at least two Holocaust jokes, and plenty of other jokes about Jewishness in general. Those unfamiliar with Judaism and the culture that surrounds it were not left confused. His structure and delivery made it so that my non-Jewish friend sitting next to me was laughing right along.
One day in the winter of 2017, Edelman saw a Tweet on the list saying, “If you have questions about your whiteness,” come join us for a meeting in Queens. Having grown up an Orthodox Jew “in a racist part of Boston called Boston,” he thought to himself, “I have questions about my whiteness!” He headed to what he assumed would be some sort of Nazi bar on 27th Avenue in Astoria, Queens. When he arrived, he realized that it was actually an apartment building. What happened once he entered that building and attended a meeting of Nazis became an exceptionally well-told story.
Throughout his telling of the event, he introduces several seemingly tangential tales. However, by the end of the tangent, you’re led right back to where he left off in the story of the Nazi meeting. Not only are you transported to that apartment in Astoria, but each of Edelman’s asides helps the audience gain a deeper understanding of the comic’s viewpoint and values.
Edelman takes time to highlight the irony of having a Nazi meeting “in New York City… in Queens… in the most diverse borough in the city… in the world!” Case in point: “You can’t even have 17 Nazis in a room without there being a Jew!”
This line made me think of my own experience reporting on Drag Story Hour in Queens, New York, earlier this year. When I first attended a rally in support of Drag Story Hour outside of the Jackson Heights branch of the Queens Public Library, I was struck by just how few protesters there were compared to supporters. There were dozens of counter-protesters dancing, playing music, singing, and escorting families to and from the library’s entrance. Whereas at the protest’s height, there were only two supporters across the street.
Edelman’s experience in Astoria and my own in Jackson Heights demonstrate that while New York City is among the most liberal cities in the U.S., there are still white supremacists and right-wing extremists. But our experiences also indicate that liberal New York City residents won’t back down, whether that means a Jew attending a Nazi meeting, or Drag Story Hour supporters drowning out the anger of those right wingers with disco music.
“Just For Us” runs on Broadway through Aug. 19; get tickets here.