Alex Edelman is world semi-famous. His comedy has yet to make him a household name, but it has given him hit shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, allowed him to play Moscow and Berlin with Eddie Izzard, and helped him to build a club in Jerusalem. This week, a career dream will come true when the 29-year-old Brookline native headlines in his hometown for the first time, with a three-night stand at Laugh Boston.
When reached by phone, Edelman is in London working on his new hour, called “Just for Us.” The show was nominated for a Barry Award for outstanding comedy act at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April, and Edelman will present it at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal later this month and at the Edinburgh festival in August. By his estimation, London is one of a handful of cities where he is a big draw. Another is New York, where he is currently based.
“London is where I preview,” he says. “I have a work-in-progress tonight. People will come see me do that. That’s super gratifying and fun.”
“Just for Us” will be the third one-person show he’s mounted at Edinburgh. He won the best newcomer prize there in 2014, a rare win for an American, for his show “Millennial.” He considers it a bit strange that a Boston kid would do so well in the UK.
“Being Jewish and being from Boston are two things I tend to wear on my sleeve,” he says. “So I get a lot of tweets about those things. If the Red Sox win, British people will tweet me about the Red Sox winning.”
The new show comes from a tweet he received about a meeting of white nationalists in New York City. Edelman decided to go, and the experience gave him the frame for “Just for Us.” “I travel a lot but I’m still very much a Bostonian and an American, and I guess, accidentally, the show is about what’s happening in America,” he says.
There is nothing more American than baseball, and nothing more Boston than the Red Sox, and that’s where Edelman got his start. At 13, he started writing the “Kid Nation” newsletter for the Sox, and later transitioned into working for the team’s PR department. His boss, former Red Sox president and CEOLarry Lucchino, gave Edelman some helpful advice. “He said, ‘Everything before 30 is preface, and you should spend your time traveling as much as you can.’ ”
While he was still with the Red Sox, Edelman discovered comedy. He was 15 when he went to his first open mic at Roggie’s in Brighton. It was an open mic intended for musicians, and each act was given 15 minutes to perform, an eternity for a young comic. Edelman remembers telling the host he’d do his full time like everybody else. She warned him it was a bad idea, but he did it anyway. “Two minutes in I started bombing,” he says. “I didn’t get a single laugh for 15 minutes. And the whole room watched me go to the back and put my rollerblades back on. And I went back every Tuesday for two years, just bombing.”
Boston comics welcomed him anyway, despite the difference in age and experience. Josh Gondelman and Myq Kaplan drove him around. Tony V and Gary Gulman gave him advice. It was a group Edelman desperately wanted to be a part of. “I really wanted all of those comics to like and respect me,” he says. “We were very different, me and the other comics. But they were super non-judgmental even though I was so irritating.”
That makes his return to Boston that much more important. He came close to headlining in the city two years ago, but took a job writing for the CBS sitcom “The Great Indoors” and had to cancel. “I hope this is the first of many headlining sets, because I’ve really benefited from my hometown comedy scene and people,” he says.
Edelman started to find his voice as a comic only after he left town, moving to Jerusalem for yeshiva studies after high school. “I wasn’t ready to be headlining, but I was headlining because the talent pool wasn’t that deep in Jerusalem,” he says.
Edelman helped build the stage and paint the city’s first comedy club, Off the Wall Comedy, where he became a regular. The comedians in Jerusalem lacked polish, but living in the Holy City gave them a unique perspective. “It’s so important as a city that you almost get bored of it,” he says. “The weight of Jerusalem is something that awes you for a few weeks and then you start being like, ‘What if I cut through the Stations of the Cross to get to that pizza place?’ ”
Edelman eventually came back to study at NYU and decided comedy would be his career. A semester abroad brought him to the UK in 2012. Just two years later, he would open “Millennial” in Edinburgh. Only a handful of audiences in the States got to see that show at festivals. And while his second show, “Everything Handed to You,” is available on Netflix in the UK, neither show is available in any format here. Edelman plans to remedy that by taping a revamped version in Minneapolis in October.
Edelman’s perspective is decidedly pro-millennial, a generation that has been derided for killing comedy with its overly politically correct disposition. “I think there are some humorless millennials, but I also think there are a lot of millennials who have a really, really sophisticated idea of what comedy is and want really interesting and cutting-edge stuff,” he says.
‘In 1999 Koko the gorilla met Robin Williams. And when Robin Williams died they told Koko, and she said, “Koko friend. Koko sad.” Here’s my question: Did they have to tell the gorilla?’
And while he enjoys playing for all audiences, there’s something special about performing for his peers. “There’s a real fine line you walk between accessibility and hacky-ness,” he says. “And another line you walk between challenging and offensive. And another line you walk between pretentious and intelligent. Young people, they’re not fools. They really hold people to those standards.”
At Laugh Boston, July 19-21 at 8 p.m. Tickets $20-$25, 617-725-2844, www.laughboston.com
A joke from Alex Edelman
“In 1999 Koko the gorilla met Robin Williams. And when Robin Williams died they told Koko, and she said, “Koko friend. Koko sad.” Here’s my question: Did they have to tell the gorilla?”Nick Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.