Growing up in Boston, the child of a professor of biomedical engineering and a real estate lawyer, Edelman, who has a slight build and floppy hair, has been doing stand-up since he was a teenager. (He has had long-term romantic relationships with the female comics Katherine Ryan and more recently, Hannah Einbinder, though they broke up a month ago.) He describes his early influences as “not great,” explaining that “if I’m being honest, I saw a lot of racist comedy, self-congratulatory and smug.” He described discovering his voice when he went to London during college, and recalled one key turning point when the British comic Josie Long took him aside and said, “What you’re doing is getting laughs but it’s not who you are.”
Even more important, at 23, he met Brace at Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s birthday party. They talked comedy and Brace later asked him if he could give him notes. Brace was especially alert to the dramaturgy of a show, insisting on cutting jokes that worked if they weren’t worth the lost momentum. If Edelman riffed too much, Brace told him: You’re on the jazz tonight. Their running conversations continued over the next decade.
In early June, I accompanied Edelman to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center to watch old recordings of Broadway performances by artists like Billy Crystal (who also gave him a note after a show) and Eric Bogosian. When a man at the desk told him that he could see “The Producers” only with the approval of its director, Susan Stroman, and she was in London, Edelman looked down at his phone, shot off a text and within a minute had her approval. The man at the desk looked surprised, then added that he also needed the approval of Robin Wagner, the show’s set designer, and he had died the previous week. After a pregnant pause, Edelman deadpanned: “That’s beyond my ability.”
When asked about how he seems to know everyone, Edelman said these were all people he approached because he was genuinely curious about them. “The thing everyone says but maybe doesn’t internalize is: You just have to show up,” he explained, before adding that there is privilege in knowing you are able to do so.
The previous month, when in Boston, he knocked on the door of the 94-year-old comedy legend Tom Lehrer, whom he did not know, just to talk. “I told him I was a comedian,” Edelman reported. “And he said, ‘What problem do you need solving?’”