Back in October 2021, acclaimed storytelling comedian Alex Edelman hit the stage of the Den Theatre for a series of shows that were the workouts for the creation of his third one-man show, “Just For Us.” The performances paid off big-time, as megastar comic Mike Birbiglia came aboard as executive producer as the show went on to a highly successful Broadway run.
Edelman is bringing the full ninety-minute show back to Chicago, making the leap from a comedy club to a ten-night run, February 15-25, at Steppenwolf. Ahead of this residency, Edelman took time to describe his creative process and the meaning behind it all.
The show is an exploration of identity and the collective capacity for empathy, rooted in the amazing and hilarious central story of the piece. In it, Edelman—who is Jewish—tells of surfing on his phone one day and stumbling across an invitation for anyone questioning their whiteness to come to a white nationalist meeting.
He crashes the meeting pretending to be clueless about the anti-Semitic nature of the group and amazingly getting through most of the evening without them figuring out he’s Jewish. Edelman recounts the colorful array of unsavory characters who participated, all the while interweaving that experience with other hilarious life stories, including the incredible way his Modern Orthodox father handled his children’s curiosity about Christmas and Santa Claus.
“I guess to me the show is more about assimilation than anti-semitism, though I can see why some people focus on that aspect of it,” says Edelman. “I always think the show is more about identity and what it means to be like an outsider in a wide variety of situations.”
“It’s nice that Jewish audiences have found it and embraced it, but it’s largely been just a big array of theater and comedy fans.”
The show’s earliest incarnation scored big at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018, and praise there built off the success of his prior solo shows. His first, “Millennial,” had won him the Best Newcomer Award at the event in 2014, making him the first American to do so since 1997.
Since then, he’s explored the theme of loneliness in 2015’s “Everything Handed to You,” and also became the host of a BBC Radio 4 program “Alex Edelman’s Peer Group,” where he spent four years comically analyzing twenty-something life before ending the show upon hitting his thirties.
With appearances on the Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and Conan O’Brien late-night shows, Edelman’s become an all-around success in comedy. He looks forward to his Windy City return because he has an affinity for Chicago audiences.
“The very first club to ever headline me was Zanies, and the audiences in Chicago are so smart and quirky,” notes Edelman. “I’ve always just loved it there, because it reminds me of Boston, which is my hometown, but it’s also in some ways completely underappreciated in the comedy world.”
“I’ve spent more time there doing comedy than anywhere outside of L.A., New York and Boston, and to take it to the Steppenwolf is something I just can’t wait for.”
Alex Edelman performs “Just For Us” February 15-25 at the Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater, 1650 North Halsted. Tickets are $72-$88. Call (312)335-1650 or visit Steppenwolf.org/justforus.