What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they’re comedians? No, that’s not it. It is a fact, though, that America’s biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York’s vibrant comedy scene. It’s called Meet Me In New York.
Alex Edelman began inhaling stand-up comedy as a kid.
He lived, breathed and talked comedy as a teen — if you’re a comedian in Boston, New York City, or anywhere Edelman could find you, he’d talk your ears off about jokes and performers. Take a breath, kid! I met Edelman when he was still a high-schooler, and yet, somehow also working for the Boston Red Sox. Why would someone already on the inside of such a cushy gig want to spend so much time asking for advice about stand-up comedy?
But Edelman’s breathless determination and curiosity has reaped rewards for him by the time he’s hit 25. Last summer, he won the Best Newcomer award at the Edinburgh Fringe for his one-man show, “Millennial.” That led to more shows throughout the U.K., a high-profile performance slot this spring at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and earlier this month, Eddie Izzard handpicked Edelman as the American representative on his “Comedy Sans Frontieres” celebration in Berlin and Moscow (alongside comedians from France, Italy, Germany and Russia) to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in Europe.
Edelman is preparing for his next one-man show to bring to Edinburgh this August, which means putting his award-winning “Millennial” to bed. He’ll perform it one-night-only tonight in NYC, then again May 28 in Los Angeles.
Being a Millennial, Alex Edelman has a Tumblr. Of course.
Before he gets all globally grown up, let’s find out what the young lad has learned so far about moving to and performing in New York City.
Name: Alex Edelman
Arrival date: Last week of August 2008.
Arrived from: Boston, but I had spent the previous year in Jerusalem at a seminary.
When and where did you start performing comedy? At an open-mic at a pizzeria in Boston sometime in 2005 or 2006. I was so terrible the first time that the MC told me she was embarrassed for me, and so I went back to perform every Tuesday for years, and the resulting defiant anger from that initial show didn’t abate until I had already moved out of the city.
What was your best credit before moving here?
Can’t remember, honestly, but I think it would have been opening for one of the headliners that came through the Comedy Connection, or headlining the small club in Jerusalem that I helped found. Nothing that would impress the hell out of anyone, honestly.
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else?
I didn’t have much of a choice. I was going to college at NYU – I knew I always wanted to be in New York – so the move was pretty much organic. I had done one summer in Los Angeles working for the Dodgers, and being a crappy driver, I knew that moving to the West Coast wasn’t for me.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here?
One of my first real shows in New York was a paid show here. Gary Gulman had me and I think Rachel Feinstein open for him at Eastville Comedy Club in the East Village a few weeks after I got to college. I did well on that weekend, I think, but it was one of the last weekends I would do well on for a while. I was still trying to develop longer sets.
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from?
It’s bigger, and there are more shows and opportunities than Boston. Boston is a comedy scene in flux – a lot of clubs have moved or closed – but it’s a feeder of unique and original voices to New York and LA. I think there’s a comedic sensibility that’s very similar and it can be hard to tell great Boston and NY comics apart. On the downside, there is a similar love of cliques and people can sometimes feel like the place they’re performing is the only place worth doing — it absolutely isn’t — but the shows and talent here, I think, are better than anywhere else by a goddamn longshot.
Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here?
Doing comedy in a youth hostel to an audience of confused internationals who couldn’t understand the host fully, but knew enough about comedy to know that he was terrible and resented the comedians for going on. At the end, one of the spectators went up to a comic who had bombed — we all had bombed — and said in a thick Eastern European accent “I didn’t like you, but I respect you more now.”
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here?
Develop your material. And if you want to work as a comic, develop longer sets and more time. Don’t hammer away at the same stupid seven-minutes or something. The more you generate jokes and stories, the easier it will become, so if comedy ends up being a career, you have skills that can carry you forward. It’s not fun to watch someone who has seven minutes. It’s fun to watch someone who has an hour and is doing seven minutes of it. You can always tell the difference.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Splitting time between “New York” and “Other” (London, LA, Boston and Melbourne – to name a few favorite places to tour) and watching some bright and awesome new stand-ups that keep streaming into NYC. And then trashing them afterward in private with comedy friends.
Here’s a short clip from last month of Edelman performing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in Australia.
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com