Published on February 23rd, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Judah Friedlander On His Recent Netflix Special & Working With Wrestling Legend Mick Foley
Thanks to his unique look, Judah Friedlander is one of the most recognizable stand-up comedians out there. While Friedlander is largely known for his work as Frank Rossitano on the sit-com 30 Rock, he seems to be always working on a project. Beyond doing stand-up almost every day, Friedlander filmed a stand-up special beyond playing a big part in last year’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season. A few years back, he authored the very funny book How to Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional & Inspirational Karate Book By The World Champion.
America Is The Greatest Country In The United States is the name of Friedlander’s recent special for Netflix, and it is truly stands out from other comedy specials. Filmed at New York City’s Comedy Cellar, it is intimate and was self-produced by Friedlander, as he made it before he knew Netflix would be involved with its distribution. It is also surprisingly political, given Friedlander’s reputation for doing stand-up comedy that is full of one-liners while centered on his “world champion” persona.
Below is some of my chat with Friedlander, who can be visited online at www.judahfriedlander.com.
Judah Friedlander: I’ve always been like an outsider, I’ve never been anyone that’s fit in the clique, so I’ve never hidden anything, I like watching movies that are so bad they’re not intentionally-hilarious and people would ask you what is your guilty pleasure. I’m like, “I don’t have a guilty pleasure, it’s just a pleasure.” So wrestling was never something to be ashamed of. I think when wrestling is done well it’s just an amazing art form.
Is it true that you coached Mick Foley into becoming a stand-up comic? Or at least a better one-man show performer?
Judah Friedlander: I had met Mick at a convention in Jersey, I forget which one it was… It was like a horror sci-fi pop culture kind of convention. So anyway I’m a huge fan of his and you know we hit it off. He had mentioned something about maybe wanting to do stand-up or something like that and then at some point — and then we talked about it some — we were both on the same show. I remember him saying, this is like a couple years later, that that night he almost quit or he was going to quit and I basically talked him out of it. But I didn’t know that I was talking him out of it because I didn’t know that he was considering that, but that’s what he said.
He was doing some just fundamental things wrong that were making it much harder on him. I’ll just give a quick example. We were on this show and Mick is performing on the show and he’s billed as performing on the show, so was I. It was a charity show, I think for Wounded Warriors. He sat in the front row of the audience the whole show, and he was going on towards the end of the show. So he is sitting in the front row watching the show with the rest of the audience for over an hour, and then when it is his time to perform, they say his name and he just gets out of his seat and then walks onstage. He did not have a good set, and I told him — and he was really bummed out afterwards — I said, “Mick, when you’re like headlining a match at Madison Square Garden, you are a main eventing, man. Let’s say you’re fighting Undertaker or Triple H there. What are you doing beforehand? Are you in the front row just watching the whole time?” He is like, “No, I am backstage getting ready.” I’m like, “Okay, well the same thing in comedy, dude. Don’t sit in the audience throughout the whole show.” For some reason that never occurred to him.
So I said, “I think you need to start going out unannounced and just doing guest set so that you get used to performing in front of people who don’t already know you, and who aren’t already fans. That will make you stronger.” One night when I had four shows booked in the city, I had him tag along with me and I called the clubs ahead of time. I said, “Hey I’ve got Mick with me. I want to cut off five minutes of my set each night and then have Mick do five minutes”… He did that and then we just hung out talked all night, and I think that was very helpful for him.
So he’s quoted in some interviews as saying that I really helped him a lot, but he’s a really funny guy, such a caring guy and a legendary performer.
He is why a lot of other wrestlers have started doing one-man shows, I would say.
Judah Friedlander: Yeah maybe. I remember for a while I was talking with Raven, because I had met him and he had been doing some stand-up, but I haven’t talked to him in a while. I lost touch with him but you know wrestlers are great performers. So if a wrestler starts say going into stand-up comedy I can understand that.
Is there anything that you feel is a misconception about you? I ask that because your persona is obviously different than who you are in certain aspects, and some comics want to be under the radar, while others want to be more known.
Judah Friedlander: I guess that question I can give you multiple answers. There are some people who don’t know that stand-up has always been my main thing. Some people think I just wear hats, some people think I just play ping pong… But stand-up has always been my main thing, and I’ve been doing it since 1989.
There are some people who think I started doing stand-up after 30 Rock, so it’s something I’ve always been doing and my act is always changing. The hats I wore on 30 Rock have nothing to do with the hats I wear in stand-up. In stand-up they’ve always said “world champion” in some language, and those are intricately tied to persona and themes within my stand-up act and that had nothing to do with 30 Rock.
The past seven years, my act has grown and changed. It still is — and I’ve been doing many things — most of my stuff is still tons of crowd-work, tons of one-liners, tons of longer intricate jokes, but also ultimately in a non-preachy way… on the United States and who we are as a nation. All the human rights issues and government oppression that goes along with that, so that’s what I’ve been mostly doing.
If people just watch you know a 30-second clip, I have a couple minutes in there where I’m you know goofing on Trump. But most of it I never mention his name and I’m talking about the big issues, whether it’s racism, sexism… Then there are some people that might think, “Okay well if I did this one thing that was a Trump joke, oh then he must be a Obama/Hillary guy.” That’s not the case either. Sometimes people, depending on where they fall, they might either want to put me in with them or with what they consider the opposite of them, but I’m likely not to be in any of the things they’re thinking.
Is there an overall career goal that you’re still looking to accomplish? Pardon me if that is a generic question, but I think in your case…
Judah Friedlander: No, that it’s a great question. People ask me, this is my this is my first stand-up special and I’m probably someone who should have had many out at this point, for how long I’ve been doing it and how much material I do. But I just haven’t put the specials out there, so I want to just keep doing what I’m doing and get more people to see this stand-up special and get to know my stand-up, because if people that know me from 30 Rock or the Dave Matthews Band video, this stand-up special is a whole other thing compared to that.
So the things I’m currently working on are trying to put out two new stand-up projects this year. One is an all crowd-work special, that’s just pure escapism comedy, and then another that is completely different stuff but maybe more an extension and a growth from my current special that’s out there… you know, that dichotomy between the people of the country and the government.
It sounds like you’re always working, but it’s because you love what it is that you’re working on.
Judah Friedlander: Yeah, as I get older it’s like you just want to work. I mean, you know I’ve always got to be true to me, and as a person and as an artist I think that’s what you have to do. You have to be true to yourself and to your friends and family, but as I get older I get… I’ve never done things just like. My career goals have never been to you know get famous, to get rich. It’s always just have been to do quality stuff and with so much media out there, and then so few giant corporations controlling so much of the media, it gets sometimes hard to get your voice out there, so I just want to keep doing good work.
As I get older, if it’s something that I’m not really passionate about, I am much less likely to even be interested in it. I would like to get back into some interesting film projects or maybe even documentary or T.V. projects if there are things that don’t take out too much time from my stand-up schedule. It would be cool to get in a really interesting unique film role where someone to actually doing some innovative stuff, not just your usual run of the mill whatever, because that I’m not just interested in at all. I’d rather just work on my stand-up… I used to do some interesting films like American Splendor or The Wrestler, I would like to get involved with some stuff like that again.
And maybe also How High 2?
Judah Friedlander: You never know…