Interview: NYC comedian Judah Friedlander set for 2013 UK dates
He’s not here to deliver a message. Even if he has a presidential campaign to run
For those familiar with Judah Friedlander from 30 Rock or any number of movies from American Splendor to The Wrestler, you will no doubt picture a slightly doleful-looking dude with much hair, thick glasses and an array of trucker hats. Rather than being a look he’s developed, it appears to have been the one he was born with. ‘If you look at baby photos of me, I’m always wearing a hat,’ the 44-year-old New York-based comic and actor insists. ‘My hair was always long, but hats keep it out of the way. About 20 years ago I started making my own hats and I brought that into 30 Rock, 100%. In the original script, the character was not wearing glasses and not wearing a hat.’
Even before an episode of 30 Rock had been aired, Friedlander signed a six-year contract, which eventually meant being tied up for eight months of the year. While actors can often be mere cogs in such a well-oiled behemoth network TV operation, Friedlander was adamant about one thing. ‘Stand-up was my main priority so I said to them, “now that I’m doing this show, I can’t be changing my look”, and they were cool with that. The idea was that every day of Frank Rossitano’s life he wore a different hat, which was a pretty ridiculous thing to do looking back on it. When other people were learning their lines, I was making hats.’
The key thing to take from that exchange is that Friedlander is committed to his stage career. From the age of 16, he was desperate to get into the stand-up game. Due mainly to practical, geographical concerns, it took him three years to get his first open mic spot at a Washington DC comedy club, but the wait was worth it. ‘The first one was great,’ he recalls. ‘I had to get there at six or seven at night and I was due to go on at 11 so I spent those hours going over my act again and again and again. I was supposed to do five minutes but right before I went onstage, the host cuts my time down to three minutes. I thought, “uh, oh, how do I get this down from five minutes?” It wasn’t a great set by any means but it did get some laughs and it felt like home, it felt warm and comfortable and right.’
Having made his UK debut in London last year, Friedlander is now performing in Scotland for the first time. He has been given a hint of what to expect from an Edinburgh crowd by the likes of fellow NYC comics Jamie Kilstein and Todd Barry. But what does he have in store for us? ‘People are coming to see the greatest athlete and karate champion in the world and the next president of the United States,’ he notes, going into full character mode. ‘I’ll be talking about my presidential platform and my athletic and sexual superiority, not to demean other people but to inspire them and let them know what’s going on. My act is joke heavy and persona heavy; it’s not so much observational humour, it’s pure comedy, pure escapism. The intent for my act is always laughter, not to get messages across like a preacher or a professor. I get my messages across more subliminally.’ Hats off to him.
Judah Friedlander is at The Stand, Edinburgh, Fri 7 & Sat 8 Jun.