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HomeBollywoodAlex Edelman On Jonathan Glazer Oscars Speech, Ending 'Just For Us'

Alex Edelman On Jonathan Glazer Oscars Speech, Ending ‘Just For Us’

On Easter Sunday, comedian Alex Edelman completed his final performance of Just for Us, bringing six life-changing years with the solo show to a close.

“After the show, I had a real sense of like, ‘Okay, it’s done now,’ and I really felt a deep connection to all of the people that have worked on it…and seen it, and all the people who gave it gentle or firm nudges,” the NY-based comedian shared earlier this afternoon. “I just felt the real comet’s tale of people and things and experiences that have come behind the show, and it was a sort of equal parts mixture of gratitude and sadness.”

First put on its feet all the way back in 2018, the show’s plot is thrust into motion as Edelman recalls being subjected to antisemitic comments on the platform formerly known as Twitter. Rather than blocking the offenders, he chose to keep tabs on them, until the moment when a tweet crossed his path that he couldn’t let be: “Hey, if you live in NYC and you have questions about your whiteness, come to 441 27th Avenue tomorrow night at 9:15.” It was thus that this Boston native, raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, wound up at a white nationalist gathering in Queens that left him contemplating themes of empathy, identity, belonging and community.

Set to hit HBO tomorrow in the form of an awards-contending comedy special, the show centered on this stranger-than-fiction experience of Edelman’s opened off-Broadway in 2022 before making its way to Broadway and touring around the world, winding down with a recent run of shows at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum.

In conversation with Deadline, Edelman reflects on takeaways from his experience with Just for Us, and the creative contributions of its original director Adam Brace — his longtime creative partner, with whom he worked on three one-man shows, who died tragically of a stroke last summer, at just 43 years old. As he touches on encounters with Jared Kushner at synagogue, his experience learning sign language for the show and the extent of his show business ambitions, he also offers his thoughts on the Oscars speech from Jonathan Glazer that’s divided Hollywood creatives.

DEADLINE: What did you learn about yourself from working on Just for Us?

ALEX EDELMAN: I think first of all, I learned as an artist that I prefer ambiguity. I like to ask questions rather than pose answers, for some reason. I really like discussion with smart people, so I think conversations with smart people were the most pleasurable parts of the show and also kind of informed the show.

DEADLINE: How is your life different now than it was when the journey with this show began?

EDELMAN: I mean, I’m Jewish now. Back then, I was a devout member of Opus Dei, so this is a real departure for me. No. Oh God, what’s changed? I mean, look so much. I think I started the show kind of as a child, and finished a show a bit more of an adult.

DEADLINE: You’re saying you got bar mitzvahed with the show?

EDELMAN: I was not going to be the one to say that, Matt, but I absolutely thought of saying it and then decided not to. But yes, I got circumcised on the show every night, which is why it had to end. Because I only had so much left.

No, no, I’m joking, obviously. But honestly, I’ll say this. I think the show was formed with me having come out of a writers’ room on a CBS multi-cam, and as silly as this is, the grasp of structure that I was learning, as I started thinking about and writing the show, that really was helpful.

This is sort of a synthesis of my solo show, or my stand-up beginnings, with my TV writing of a more middle adulthood. I took a break from the show for a year to go into a room on a Netflix show that Jenji Kohan put me in, and the lessons I learned from Jenji came to bear on the show, also. So, I think I grew as an artist and a writer, besides just as a person. Who’s to say what’s more important?

DEADLINE: Could you talk about the show’s title and what it means to you?

EDELMAN: I mean, I just told somebody that there are 20 different reasons that could be the title of the show. I’ve always liked the ambiguity of the title…within the context of a conversation about assimilation or whiteness. My director Adam Brace used to [say] that a good solo show can oftentimes ask the question, what is our place in the world? And I think the questions about what Just for Us might mean is an extension of that.

DEADLINE: Brace was clearly very important to you. What did be bring to your work and life?

EDELMAN: For 11 years, I got to be in good conversation with the person who was one of my closest friends, and then towards the end of his life, definitely [we had] a really nice partnership. [I had] a deep and abiding love for this guy who I met as a college student, and I’ll always be so grateful to him for this thing.

Towards the beginning of the time period where Adam was no longer here doing the show, it felt like a dialogue with him, in a way, to be close to him. Then, it [became] a catechism, a dialogue with this guy who’s no longer here. That was sort of how it felt at the beginning, and even at the end, it felt like that.

Although, by the way, the community of people that was there after he passed away — his family and his partner Becca [Fuller], especially — they kept a really good grip on me and made sure that I didn’t fall completely apart. They came over for the opening of the show on Broadway.

But yeah. I got to make this crazy, beautiful thing with my closest friend, and it was our most involved work together. He came over to the U.S. four or five times to help mount it, and then he passed away, and then I had to keep doing the thing. I loved doing the thing, and I’m happy that it gets to sort of be frozen in celluloid amber. But also, I wonder how much I’ll miss that repeated dialogue with him, if that makes any sense.

DEADLINE: On a lighter note, there’s a bit in the show about you learning sign language for a joke. Have there been any bonuses to having that education that you didn’t expect?

EDELMAN: Oh yeah, it’s fantastic, genuinely. I only know a few words of sign language. Also, I’m not perfect at it, and people at the show who speak ASL or British Sign Language or European sign languages, oftentimes the attitude I get, which I love, is sort of like, “Nice try.” Sort of like “You speak sign language like you learned it from someone who’s not deaf,” which is true. But it’s given me a crazy appreciation for how interesting and funny the language is. My favorite [expression in sign language] is “Thank you.” It’s weirdly a gesture that feels very intimate, in a way that “Thank you” in English doesn’t quite.

DEADLINE: You also reference Jared Kushner in the show, as someone you’ve seen at synagogue, who’s very loud. Any good anecdotes there?

EDELMAN: First of all, a lot of Kushner relatives have come to see the show, with varying affection for the Kush. And he’s around. I see him sometimes. I think they live in Miami now; I don’t think they’re in New York as much anymore. But I’ll say this. I hear that he knows of the joke, is what I’m told. I don’t know if I’m going to expect a tweeted endorsement from Ivanka [Trump] anytime soon.

But when Ivanka started to convert, she was in synagogue. It was really interesting, and the rabbi who did their conversion is a very venerable rabbi in New York. When he came to the show, literally 20 people called me to tell me he was coming, and then when he came to the show afterwards, he had written a letter, and then someone had faxed the letter to someone else, who scanned it and emailed it to me. So literally every form of communication, other than telegram, was deployed in getting me the rabbi’s thoughts on the show. But he liked it, it seemed.

DEADLINE: This show has so many layers of implications for the world — particularly in a heated election year — in terms of the discussion you lead about empathy and the challenge of breaking out of our individual echo chambers. What do you think it will take for more people to at least hear those on the other side of the spectrum for them, as you’ve made a point of doing?

EDELMAN: Whenever I’m asked a question about empathy, I always ask people to consider a question themselves, which is, do you want to be right or do you want to be effective? Because the two things aren’t always the same thing, right? Sometimes, your truth, the facts that you know to be true and are sure are true — and maybe empirically, objectively true — are completely different than the reality that somebody else lives in. How do you square those two things? How do you find a way to acknowledge someone else’s lived experience without being completely delusional, to an extent that you lose yourself?

It’s a really difficult balancing act, so I think the best that you can hope for is to try to put yourself in a space where you can show up and expect to be listened to, and also show up, expecting to listen — and not with the intent of convincing, but with the intent of just being there to understand the other’s perspective.

I take a lot of my cues on stuff like this from Stephen Fry, the writer and actor, who has spoken and written really beautifully about this concept, and also always infuses it with an element of celebrating doubt — doubt in yourself, doubt in others, in strongly felt opinions loosely held. Stephen always quotes someone as saying, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.” Nice little joke. I think taking yourself lightly and trying to genuinely hear the other’s opinion, it can be really useful, and that’s not being milquetoast or kumbaya. There can be a really charged element to trying to understand the other side.

There’s a really great interview that Christopher Hitchens did with Sean Hannity, two people who could not be more diametrically opposed, and Sean Hannity’s really going at Christopher Hitchens. And Hitchens says, brilliantly…I’m misquoting here, I’m sure. “I don’t mean to be rude” — which was a lie, by the way — “but you give me the impression of someone who’s never read the opinions of those that he disagrees with.” Because Hannity, of course, didn’t understand wherever Hitchens was coming from. And maybe Hannity would’ve been like, “Oh, no, I read this, that, or the other.” But the truth is that understanding completely the perspective of that which opposes you creates empathy, creates discourse, creates a grounding in reality, and also can sharpen your own opinions. All of those things.

DEADLINE: Expanding the conversation on empathy to the Israel-Palestine conflict, I’m curious to hear what you thought of The Zone of Interest filmmaker Jonathan Glazer’s highly polarizing speech at the Oscars. Thousands of prominent figures in the arts and elsewhere have publicly denounced it, with thousands more today taking his side. Generally speaking, how do we open a dialogue on topics this sensitive that’s constructive?

EDELMAN: I mean, Israel and Palestine is the issue that is so treacherous, and so hard to get your arms around completely, that it’s immediately become a third rail. Third rails are inherently interesting, right? All the power’s in the third rail, and that speech in particular holds such intrigue because it’s such a high-profile moment and such a challenging piece of work that he’s accepting that award for. The work and the subject matter means so much to so many people, and so watching everybody’s discourse over it, I think I long for a more interested conversation about it. Not interesting, but a more interested conversation, in terms of why we’re reacting to this the way we are. What questions does it raise? What opinions does it change? Because any answer to those questions is pretty fascinating.

I have a lot of friends who feel very strongly about it on different sides of the issue. When it comes to Israel and Palestine right now, I become very much a listener. As soon as October 7th happened, I was like, “Oh, this is going to be nightmarish. This is just going to be a freaking disaster,” and I think it has been. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that it’s just been a wrenching experience.

But again, talk about strongly felt opinions loosely held. I go back and forth. I’m extremely pushed to and fro by the news, and the opinions of my friends who feel very strongly on all sides. My friends who live on the ground, my friends who are of Palestinian descent, my friends and family who live in Israel with wildly differing political opinions. Really tough, fascinating thing.

I always said that my next show was going to be about Israel and Palestine; I think that’s probably still the case. It may take a long time to put that show together, but I’ve always been really fascinated by this thorny, poisonous topic. So, I don’t know. I watched the speech live and now am starting to get a little caught up on the reactions to it. But I’ve seen people that I love and respect on both of those letters. So, hard to square that.

DEADLINE: You’ve said you’re developing a film based on a section of Just for Us, which explores the time you and your family unexpectedly found yourselves celebrating Christmas. What can you tell us about your broader ambitions in film and TV?

EDELMAN: I want to act more. I really like being in front of the camera, which is something I wasn’t sure that I wanted, and then I got to do it a little bit, and I was like, “Oh gosh, this is really fun.” I had so much fun on Seinfeld’s movie, doing a little bit in Unfrosted. It was such a blast.

I have some writing stuff for television that I’m psyched about. I have a thing I co-wrote with Jenji Kohan, an adaptation of [the Chaim Potok novel] My Name Is Asher Lev that I’d love to get made. I’m writing sitcoms and fielding some thoughts and offers for various new work. So, like everybody else, I just want to do fun and interesting and fulfilling stuff. What a revolutionary thing to say.

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