Photo courtesy of Judah Friedlander’s Facebook page, which he wants you to know has exceeded its friend limit.
How well do you know Judah Friedlander?
It’s no easy thing, to fully acquaint yourself with a man who describes himself as the World Champion of the World, and vows to somehow answer even more questions than we can ask him during our interview. But we did our best to learn some new things about the 30 Rock star and stand-up comedian, who arrives in Toronto tomorrow to perform at Second City as part of NBA Comics’ two-year anniversary show. For instance, he has some other stuff on his agenda while he’s in town.
“One of the reasons I’m going to Toronto is to give some karate lessons to the border patrol, as well as the customs people,” he points out. “That’s one thing I’m doing on the side while I’m there.”
It’s tough to say which part of his own career he does “on the side.” Recognizable to many for his portrayal of petulant writer and thorn-in-Liz-Lemon’s-side Frank Rossitano on 30 Rock, Friedlander has also had prominent roles in critically lauded films like The Wrestler and American Splendor, and a memorable cameo in the 2000-hit Meet the Parents (“…you can get a whole bunch of Mumm’s”). In addition to acting on film and TV, he also found time last year to write his first book, How to Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book by the World Champion. Still, for Friedlander, all of these projects take a back seat to stand-up comedy.
Judah Friedlander on how he compares with his 30 Rock character, Frank Rossitano:
“He doesn’t dress quite as well as the World Champion, and he’s not in as good shape as the World Champion. But he tries really hard, and he does pretty well for himself.”
“The way I envision the Frank character is that Liz Lemon never likes the sketches that I come up with and write myself, because they’re too guy-oriented, or they’re too sexist, or they’re too sci-fi-oriented. It’s not like he’s the kinda guy who you’d really… hire to… do writing on a sketch show that’s mostly geared toward women?”
“I’ve been doing stand-up since ’89. That’s number one for me; it always has been,” he says. With the Emmy-winning 30 Rock currently on break from filming, he’s doing a lot more of it, but even during shooting he performs “several nights a week.” As with a lot of the World Champion’s stories, we buy that part, and you can definitely tell he means it when he says how important stand-up comedy is to him. From there, you’re on your own as to where the truth begins and ends.
“I got drafted outta high school, right into the pros,” he says, recounting the origins of his involvement with stand-up comedy. “I was ripping on some teachers at the school and the whole school was laughin’. Before you know it the laughter was so loud that there was a comedy scout drivin’ by on a highway several miles away, heard all the laughter, then he came over and I just got drafted.”
We’re well into our next question before he decides that story hadn’t quite peaked. He adds: “They actually just shut the school down and they just turned it into a comedy club, and that was the first place I ever performed.”
On the environment:
“I think it all comes down to green energy. Let’s face it. That’s why I’m running from New York to Toronto for my show. I’m racing a plane. Oh, it’ll be cool, dude. It won’t be a problem.”
After speaking with Judah Friedlander for 30 minutes, we can’t even be sure this photo has been digitally altered.
Time and again during our conversation he would, after a few beats, offer an extra fact or elaboration, as if trying (often successfully) to cause the next question to break up into laughter. This included letting us know, just for extra context, that throughout the whole interview he had been “actually beating up three guys. Just so you know.” It was something we apparently hadn’t been able to hear because of his “silencer shoes.”
His desire to keep us apprised of the facts like that betrays a generosity (also present in always reminding us, to our relief, when we’ve asked an “excellent question”) that apparently carries over to his act as well. He describes his responsibility when onstage as “to make them laugh harder and more than they have ever laughed. That is my job.” For Friedlander stand up is a simple, direct thing, without some deep message: “I’m not teaching a class. It’s pure escapism comedy.”
On what constitutes a slow day for Judah Friedlander:
“Only hookin’ up with 20 chicks, you know? Only solving 14 crimes.”
It’s an art of boastful imagination that he’s pretty much mastered, and it enables him to talk about just about any subject he wants. This includes his plan to head to space pretty soon to check out the moon landing for himself (“It’s just kinda dusty, you know. I think I would have to go up there and just sweep for a while”); his authorial technique (“Most of the book I wrote underwater”); and his opinion on the superpowers of flight vs. invisibility (“Well, I have both. And flight is a lot cooler.”)
After a conversation discussing all that, plus his thwarted attempts to romance an elephant, I’m still not sure if I know Judah Friedlander. But he’s pretty funny that way.