Alex has the last laugh after being ‘kicked out’ by white nationalists

FIRST things first. Rumours abound on the internet regarding the status of Alex Edelman’s relationship with fellow comedian Katherine Ryan.

It is something which American Alex is keen to put to bed — the status, that is.

“She is wonderful and still a part of my life, but we are not together any more,” Alex told me. “We still get along and talk extremely frequently.”

Now that the elephant in the room has disappeared, we can get on to more pertinent topics, such as his upcoming tour, Just For Us, which will kick off on January 31 at The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

He cannot give too much away, but the show sprang out of Alex following a string of antisemitic tweets all the way to a meeting of white nationalists.

Alex explained: “I went to one of their gatherings in New York. I sat and listened while they talked about various conspiracy theories.

“In the end, they spotted me and told me that, because I was Jewish, I had to leave.”

More positively, he is “very excited” about touring the UK, as it is something he has never done previously.

“The only previous time I have been to Manchester was when I went to a D’Angelo concert with my best British friend, Ross MacDonald, who is in the band The 1975.

“I think I may have also opened for Katherine at The Lowry.”

He added: “Kurt Vonnegut always said that he wrote everything for his sister, Alice, so I write for my cousins, Jason and David, and try to think what they would like.”

Alex, who divides his time between Los Angeles and New York City, may never have taken up comedy had he not gone to Israel to study at a yeshiva when he was 18.

“I guess it was a hobby that got out of hand,” he laughed.

“Stand-up was more of a lark at first — I was young and trying everything; things like free running and ice hockey.

“I liked stand-up a lot, but it didn’t stick until I went to yeshiva because, when you leave the family home, you come into yourself a little bit.

“You don’t become a human being until you have travelled a bit or spent some time outside your bubble.”

While at a Jerusalem yeshiva, where he enrolled on a Torah and Talmud-learning programme, he and a friend opened a comedy club called Off the Wall.

But, as the talent pool was not so deep, Alex usually — and quite literally — took centre stage, honing his craft.

“I performed a couple of years before I was ready, but I became used to performing a longer format and I benefited from that,” he recalled.

“It also helped that Israelis are hilarious — they are funny, relentlessly self-critical and they don’t want pity.

“They are some of the funniest people I have met. They love to be made fun of, are not precious and are extremely kind, but also sardonic.

“I also think they are similar to Jews in the diaspora in the way they are constantly self-questioning.”

Raised in an Orthodox family in Boston — he still keeps a kosher home — Alex’s father is Elazer Edelman, a well-known scientist, engineer and cardiologist, while his mother, Cheryl, is a lawyer.

Alex’s brother, Adam, is an Israeli national champion in the skeleton bobsled event, who competed for the Jewish state at last year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Judaism plays a central part in Alex’s life. He stated that a “strong sense of eastern European tradition ran through our family”.

Alex’s Belgian-born maternal grandfather escaped the Holocaust, but most of his family were murdered.

The rest of his heritage is mainly Polish and he grew up in a home where Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner were played a lot, but where there were also “lots of Talmud and chumash”.

“I once asked my dad what would I be if I wasn’t Jewish, but I guess it was a pointless question — it would be like asking what Dumbo would be if he wasn’t an elephant,” the 30-year-old said.

“I am not Jewish because I like a certain food, a certain bit of the culture or because I am neurotic. I am Jewish because it is my being.”

After returning from yeshiva, he read English at New York University, where his teachers included the writers Zadie Smith and Nathan Englander.

A huge baseball fan, he also worked as a speech writer for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox.

Mentored by fellow Jewish American comedians Gary Gulman and Elon Gold, Alex took the plunge and started to frequent the UK comedy circuit, something he was encouraged to do by British comedian Josie Long.

He was no stranger to these shores, either, having spent his last semester at New York University in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Alex’s career received a massive boost in 2014 when his show, Millennial, won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for best newcomer at the Fringe Festival.

His show the next year at Edinburgh, Everything Handed To You, was the second-most well-reviewed show, while Just For Us was nominated for the best show award at last year’s festival.

“Winning best newcomer in 2014 was life changing because it turned everything around for me as I became a working comedian,” Alex said. “I wasn’t making a living at it before.”

Since then, he has opened for comedians such as Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais and Patton Oswalt, appeared on The John Bishop Show, Live From the BBC and Roast Battle, hosted Peer Group, his own show about the Millennial generation, on BBC Radio 4, and was a staff writer for CBS sitcom The Great Indoors, which starred Jewish actor Stephen Fry.

“If I was off for a (Jewish) holiday, he would speak to me about it,” Alex continued. “Stephen is the most wonderful human being.

“People think he is the most brilliant man, but he is even more brilliant than that.”

Having spent copious amounts of time in the UK, he has followed its political scene closely, especially the antisemitism crisis in the Labour Party.

Alex is also scathing in his assessment of American president Donald Trump and his administration.

“It is awful to watch antisemitism become such a part of the discourse and for it to become mainstream in certain ways,” Alex said.

“Antisemitism is on the left and right, and I have only experienced right-wing antisemitism in America.

“The Trump administration has emboldened the right wing.

“I cannot stand the rhetoric that he has fermented.

“I don’t care if you are for him or if you think he is better for Israel, the rise of antisemitism in America has coincided with his nationalism and populism.

“It is something which is undeniable. These people think it is their time — and that is because of him.”

On a lighter note, despite Alex being the son of two highly-academic professionals, they are perfectly happy with his career.

“They have been to my shows and understand that comedy is a series of composites, caricatures and fictionalisation, so they are okay with me portraying them in a certain way on stage,” Alex added.

“Everyone wants their kids to do what makes them happy, and comedy really makes me happy.”

As for the future, Alex would like to continue branching out.

“I want to write novels, I want to act in movies, I want to sky dive — I want to do... everything,” he surmised.


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