‘Just For Us’ Star Alex Edelman On How The Lessons He Learned At The Edinburgh Fringe Festival Evolved Into An HBO Hit — Fresh Face

Alex Edelman, the comedian behind HBO’s Just for Us special, was studying in London when he walked into a pub in Soho.

“About a month in, I was at the bar and this lady was standing next to me when a fella on the other side of me grabbed my ass,” Edelman says. “I look at the lady and I said ‘Can you help me? This guy’s got a rather firm grip on me.’”

More from Deadline

The lady? Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

“We’ve been friends since then. I stayed on Phoebe’s mother’s couch. She’s a big part of my artistic incubation; I went to the first previews of Fleabag, I saw it more than a dozen times in small rooms with less than 30 people. Then I saw it in Edinburgh where it was a phenomenon.”

Edelman similarly created something that played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that has recently become a phenomenon.

Just For Us launched on HBO in April but it was incubated in London and Scotland. In the 90-minute special, Edelman goes from telling jokes about Koko the Gorilla’s love for Robin Williams, to tales of his Winter Olympian brother and his unconventional childhood Christmas, as well as a centerpiece about attending a meeting of White Nationalists.

Alex Edelman interview
Alex Edelman

“Edinburgh gives comedians and artists unfettered control and when you do that you get really good work. I’ve had really great collaborators and lots of creative freedom through places like the Soho Theater. It’s a community of people that goes to see each other’s work, help each other and fosters things for reasons that have nothing to do with ego or money. It’s very close to as wholesome an artistic experience as you can possibly find. The point is to get drunk and have a good time.”

Edelman has collaborated with the likes of Adam Brace, the British director who died in 2023, and Mike Birbiglia, to get Just For Us to a place where it won a Tony Award and is now up for Emmys in categories including Variety Special (Pre-Recorded), where it will compete against the likes of Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais, The Greatest Roast Of All Time: Tom Brady and Birbiglia himself with his The Old Man & the Pool special.

“In this long-form world, I found a new métier for myself. The show has thankfully been described in very lofty terms, but, truthfully, it’s just a very well worked Edinburgh show,” he says.

The show has changed over the course of six years; he reckons that around 40% of the material is the same, and that some jokes changed over the years, but the most important thing is that the show never had a script. “I wanted the show to be able to be a breathing thing. When it came time to lay it down for HBO, I had a real think on my feet about what I thought would be the best version of it in terms of timelessness and timeliness,” he says. “The show evolved a lot.”

The centerpiece is about how, after being subjected to antisemitic comments on social media, Edelman decided to attend a meeting of white nationalists in Queens, New York. The meeting was as awkward as you might imagine, but the story itself highlighted the themes of empathy, identity, belonging and community.

One of the other key stories from the special revolves around one Christmas at the Edelman home. When Kate, a friend of his mother is alone for the holidays, Edelman’s mother offers her the chance to have Christmas at their house, despite the fact that they are Orthodox Jews. Edelman’s father then has to explain to his son’s school why Alex and his brother got to meet Santa Claus.

Edelman is now turning that story into a movie, which is in the works with A24, with Wicked and Dear Evan Hansen producer Marc Platt and Adam Siegel producing.

“I’m almost done with the draft, which I’m excited about it. It’s really weird,” says Edelman. “What’s so strange about that story is that it’s so true. I sometimes worry that I haven’t done my job.”

Edelman is also considering directing the film and could possibly star in it, although he hasn’t completely decided.

The story took a twist during a recent performance at the Kennedy Center in DC. His mother’s friend Kate came to the show and Edelman got to speak with her.

Alex Edelman interview

“That was my first time seeing her since I was that age,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m sorry if anything was incorrect.’ But whether she was just being nice, she said, ‘That’s how I remember it.’ Then she asked me, ‘Do you remember that you always wore double denim?’ I didn’t remember that, but then I thought about it and I realized I did wear a lot of denim. It felt like armor.”

Just For Us isn’t Edelman’s first special; he previously performed Millennial around 2015 and Everything Handed to You in 2016, and also appeared on a number of British shows such as The John Bishop Show.

“I’ve done three solo shows. They’ve all been, to a degree, well received, but this thing found red. I’ve never had anything resonate with people the way that this has resonated with people. You’ve got to take that when you can,” he says.

Edelman also worked on a number of television shows that influenced him greatly, shows that you might not have expected him to work on—CBS sitcom The Great Indoors and Netflix teen comedy drama Teenage Bounty Hunters.

“I love being in writers’ rooms,” he says. “I learned a lot about what I wanted and didn’t want from being in writers’ rooms with other writers. I would not have been able to write this show without learning from writers like Chris Harris and Liz Feldman on The Great Indoors.”

Harris went on to become showrunner of the Frasier reboot and Feldman created Netflix’s Dead to Me, while creator Mike Gibbons recently wrote on The Roast of Tom Brady.

“Then there was Jenji [Kohan]. I learned nearly as much from her when I was redoing [Just for Us] after the pandemic because she taught me much more about character. I learn so much from being in a writers’ room and on a set,” he says. “It’s imperative for me to get outside of myself and take opportunities that I’ll learn something from and that will equip me better.”

Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Emmy Comedy magazine <a href="https://issuu.com/deadlinehollywood/docs/deadline_-_emmy_preview_-_comedy?fr=xIAEoAT3_NTU1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">here</a>.
Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Emmy Comedy magazine here.

Together with Edelman, Kohan, who created Weeds and Orange Is the New Black, has written a script based on Chaim Potok’s book My Name Is Asher Lev, about a loner Jewish boy in New York who has artistic inclinations and ambitions that cause conflict with members of his family and community.

“It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written from a scripted perspective, and if there’s a world where I can make that, nothing would make me more pleased. I don’t want to say I’d die happy but I really love it,” he says.

Edelman remains a stand-up comedian and has been in the comedy clubs a lot over the last few months. He’s previously said that his next show will probably be about Israel and Palestine. “I’m at the club seven nights almost, it’s where I feel most sane and viscerally connected.”

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.