An Interview with Alex Edelman

Before I begin, I'll say I’m a fan of Alex Edelman. I don’t know what it was about his BBC Special that made me like him so much – his delivery was great, he’s got the perfect modern comedian look, and being a weird semi-transplant from the US to the UK feels familiar in a way. It could also be that we both have a deep appreciation for Greggs, although I think Alex has me beat on having been to the 24-hour one in Newcastle. Little did I know he had a history here in Edinburgh- his big award winning show was here in 2014, and he used that to spiral into a career in screenwriting, a successful comedy tour, and now, his second big show back at the fringe. I was lucky enough to get a chance to have a call with this dude, for a quick 15 minutes, and minus a lot of laughter breaks and a short chat about the Atlanta Comedy Scene, here’s what Alex had to say on Hometowns, Hecklers, Anti-semites, and a rivalry as old as Edinburgh.

You won the Newcomer award in 2014 – What’s it like coming back to the place that kind of built you up?

AE: It’s incredible my "career", with heavy air quotes, started here so to come back with a show that has already gotten awards in Melbourne, it really takes the pressure off a tiny bit. This is the first show I’m excited about performing at the fringe, not petrified.

So you’ve lived in Boston, New York, London, and have spent a significant amount of time in Edinburgh and Melbourne – where’s your favorite place out of those?

AE: Edinburgh for the month of august, hands down, you can do anything there. But part of that is because I get to see like 20 of my favorite people, I’ll wake up, get down to the venue, do a show, All these people who I’m very close with are there, which is a great opportunity for me. It’s basically a chance to be at summer camp, I hang out, I get crepes at 2am and it’s this month of intense comedy training. I have a little secret thing every day where I try out new material during the second half of the fringe- just sort of sneak that in there to see if it works. I mean it’s not secret anymore, but in every way, it’s awesome. I do my best stuff, I see my friends, my fans everything about it very much suits me.

What’s your favorite heckling story?

AE: I gotta be honest, I think hecklers, for the most part, are pretty dumb. I’ve never had a heckler I enjoyed cause... in the same way a prerequisite for being a rabbi is being Jewish, a heckler has to be dumb. I had someone heckle me the other day in Boston- I don’t love it, it’s when I only ever super engage in improv, but you just end up being really mean. I don’t love it – there’s so much I could’ve said to her, but honestly, I said to her what I’d say to anybody who heckles – I prepared all this stuff and I’m good at it, and why are you yelling cause you’ve had three drinks instead of two. Comics tend to look down pretty heavily on that for the most part.

Growing up in Boston, a notoriously salt of the earth town, how did a place like that build a lot of your comedic style?

AE: I performed in front of a bunch of tiny angry audiences for the first five years of my career, so that makes you as a comedian. People always ask: ‘Do you get nervous’ – and yeah, I get nervous before a show, if I do I know it’s gonna be a memorable fun one. And Boston is a place where I’m never not nervous. I’ve had the toughest audiences there and the most generous audiences there, and it was a great crowd when I performed earlier – a real welcome home crowd. It’s actually got a lot of similarities with Edinburgh- larger cities like New York and LA really suit me.

You worked as a staff writer on the Great Indoors – what’s it like writing standup vs the American studio process?

AE: It’s totally different, so so different. Almost like second cousins if they’re even related- standup has such an intense sense of authorship, and so solo. Writing for a sitcom is intensely collaborative. If people should know one thing about the studio system is that when you see “written by” it means an entire team of people wrote it. So you take a look at a script for any episode, we have a whole room behind it. But there is one thing that is really valent between standup and show-writing: when writing a show, you really have to service your character no matter what, you can never fail to set up the character, and that’s a great tip for standup. You can never really fail to set that character up. There’s a technical element to this- if you give your character a lot of different qualities you can get a lot more heightened comedy on the back end.

You’re one in a long line of jewish comedians but are relatively unique insofar as you were brought up orthodox. Do you see a lot of difference between your comedic style and that of Conservative or Reform Jews?

AE: So I hear people talk about it as their cultural identity. I talk about it because for some other jewish comics, it isn’t as central for who they are, it’s a discourse: The academic inclination, the lack of desire to express yourself, these are all Jewish values. For me, being orthodox or raised modern orthodox means something very particular about my life. So I don’t know about other comics, I’m good friends with many of them like I just flew in with Ari Shaffir, but for me, orthodox Judaism is my cultural reference frame.

One of the core pieces of your show is a moment where you deal with a group of anti-semites harassing you: With these elements growing in Britain and America, what do you think the role of the Jewish Comedian is?

AE: First of all – It’s important to talk about things like this. If something gets to me, it’s a part of the culture already. I’m not deep, If I’m getting harassment, there are people who are even less visible who get it. It’s this weird thing being Jewish, because on the one hand you’re seen as being white, but also a minority, so you get very special treatment that’s different from other groups, and it has been disheartening. Y’know I read an article the other day: a UK politician made a post on his facebook about Jews drinking blood- it’s called a blood libel, and it’s as old as the middle ages. But so many rumors contribute to a general misunderstanding of what Jews are and I still can’t believe this is a 21st-century conversation. Anti-semitic attacks have risen precipitously. So I think it’s important – they have no responsibility to say something, but I think to do successful comedy you have to have a bit of confessional comedy because it’s important. To not do it on stage almost feels disingenuous. That’s why I do it in the show, at least it’s a big part of it. Also, it was funny, which is kind of a big part of putting it in the show.

Any advice for new comedians to the fringe?

AE: Good Question! Do as many spots as you can – know which shows you need to kill on and to try new materials, try to perform as much as much as is possible. Before you do your first solo show, go see what the fringe is like – so many people make that mistake. I also prefer that you don’t think too hard about what a Fringe show should be, do your funniest, most authentic hour of comedy. See as much as you can of other comics, hang out with those you like, and try not to get too drunk.

And Finally: As you are the master of determining high quality low priced baked goods: Gun to your head: Greggs or Piemaker?

AE: I would pick Greggs 150 times out of 100, Greggs, Greggs til I die. I’m a sincere fan of Greggs, and I always get quoted on that joke, but I genuinely love it. I’m not a huge fan of pies either, to be honest.

But they do pies at Greggs too.

AE: I understand that, but it’s not the same. Besides, anywhere else you don’t get the pastry, the doughnuts, the affordable products, the service, whatever. Also, it does remind me of Dunkin Donuts, so it puts me right back home in Boston.

Related Listings

Alex Edelman: Just for Us

Alex Edelman: Just for Us

Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Alex Edelman returns to Edinburgh with his third solo show. It’s about jigsaw-loving Nazis and tribalism. Come. In the last year alone, Edelman has performed on Conan, supported Beck and Ricky Gervais and saw his special, Live at the BBC, released on Netflix UK...