Judah Friedlander teaches an audience member how to breathe, because only he knows the right way. No, seriously.
One of the draws of seeing a comedian live, instead of in a recording or in one of his acting roles, is that you’re getting a unique event, a one-of-a-kind show that won’t be repeated. This is taken to its logical extreme—as was the case at Judah Friedlander’s show at Second City Toronto on Thursday, headlining NBAcomics’ two year anniversary show—when the comedian decides his one goal is to be really funny, in a certain style, but that he is going to pretty much let the audience decide what they want him to make them laugh about. Voila: personalized comedy.
Before we got to all that, the evening’s MC (and NBAcomics founder), David Andrew Brent, opened with a flurry of jokes, impressions, and intense physical comedy. It provided a very energetic opening and a sampler of many of the styles of comedy the audience would experience throughout the the show: shocking, cringe-worthy, self-mocking, or just regular-droll. Matt O’Brien then put in a very funny, tight set, capped by an impression of his father getting out of a parking ticket, managing to slay the audience with the constantly repeated use of one (perfectly clean) word.
Judah Friedlander talks to his audience:
JUDAH FRIEDLANDER: I don’t know, I think Canadians are pretty similar to Americans… maybe Canadians are a bit nicer, a bit more polite.
WOMAN: I think Americans are a lot nicer!
JF: Yeah I wonder why. ‘Hey, I just said Americans are way nicer and then this big room of Canadians turned against me. They’re not very nice.’ Maybe that wasn’t too smart. Think we figured out that problem, huh.
Rick and Chuck (two ostensibly 13-year-old rappers played by Jay Wells L’Ecuyer and Eytan Millstone of local troupe THE BOOM) were up next, joined by Dan Galea, and we can’t really decide where they fall on the spectrum between music and comedy; their X-plus-rated rhymes set to hard beats elicit shocked laughter from the audience at the end of most lines, but often so do those of Eminem. What’s clear is that despite operating in some non-ideal acoustic conditions, and material that would polarize at the best of times, they manage to get the audience roaring, and clearly aren’t skilled only on the comedic side—their verbal gymnastics and graphically creative metaphors take a sketch idea into the realm of full-fledged songs, and may even be where their biggest potential lies. The last man to speak before Friedlander came onstage, comedian and show co-producer Rob Mailloux, had an autobiographical set that gave the World Champion a run for his money in the race for the most creative line of the night: “Don’t worry, I know. I look like a Create-a-Player in NHL ’96.”
To a loud round of applause, Friedlander then shuffled out slowly (ambled? strolled? you get the idea), sporting an acknowledged “Canadian tuxedo” of denim jacket and jeans. Known for his ever-changing hat slogans, he was wearing a rare wordless one, decorated with many small jewels. Only when a puzzled audience member couldn’t bear wondering anymore and begged to know about it did he later reveal the secret: it spells “World Champion” in Braille. The funniest thing about that to us was the idea that he might well have just carried through the whole show with that as his own private joke, if nobody had asked him.
JF: Those people at your table, are they your friends?
MAN: Yeah. Best friends.
JF: Uh, okay…
MAN: I help them out through the bad times and the good times.
JF: …why would you need to help someone through good times, dude? ‘Things seem really great for you right now. I’m just gonna make them a bit worse, okay? Balance things out.’
But ask him they did—dozens of things. Friedlander centred the show around a constant open-call for questions from the audience, with jokes and observations tossed out whenever the audience was stuck for queries. This improv format made a chunk of his lines a surprise even to longtime followers of his act; at times both we and he were simultaneously finding out how the World Champion might respond to a given question about iPhones, the five senses, or Taco Bell. All queries were answered with a lackadaisical assurance that his response was, by definition, completely right: “What do you do, ma’am?” “I’m a social worker.” “So what’s that, you run Facebook? That’s cool, that’s pretty cool. Congratulations,” he nodded, moving calmly on before she could protest.
Only one audience member took (way) too much licence with this format; on the whole it created a fun vibe in which, with the house lights revealing everybody, the whole audience felt involved in helping Friedlander create the show for them (including your Torontoist photographer, who was asked more than once in reaction to a bit, “What do you think of that, photographer? Cool. You’re doin’ a good job”). Responses to the biggest of questions (“Would you make gay marriage legal or illegal?” “Mandatory. If you want to marry a woman you have to sleep with a dude first. Then she knows you’re taking this thing seriously”) and the smallest of questions (“Judah, what’s up?!” “[shrug] …bein’ cool”) were welcomed and answered, with funny quips that were somehow simultaneously quick and lethargic.
In a nuanced evaluation of public policy, the World Champion offered to sit on Stephen Harper’s head and fart until he quit.
It wasn’t the audience’s show, of course, and it wasn’t some haphazard, unprepared thing—jokes he had at the ready hit as well, and included probably our favourite bit about a panic room in his house—for the criminals to hide in once they break into his home and realize what a mistake they made messing with the World Champion. He also blended his jokes—”If I’m elected President of North America, first thing I’ll do, I’m gonna move Hawaii to Lake Ontario”—with quick callbacks in later answers—”Canada’s too cold! Fix it!” “… dude, I’m moving Hawaii to Lake Ontario. So I wouldn’t worry about it.”
MAN: How do you know that?
JF: ‘Cause I’m the World Champion!
MAN: Oh, right.
JF: Look at my jacket, dude. Does it say ‘Regional Semi-Finalist’?
It’s tempting to keep cramming in jokes we heard, but that’s the nature of the show—never was a serious word said, and the audience was always engaged, lulled into his vibe of constant hyperbole and interaction. After a week of dealing with Judah Friedlander even we’re not quite sure what’s true and false anymore, but we’re sure he’d be glad to tell you. Maybe you can follow him on Twitter, since, as he says, “I’ve had an account since 1985,” before summing up his thoughts on it, and our thoughts on his comedy. “Yeah, it’s pretty fun, dude.”
Photos by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.