INTERVIEWS

Judah Friedlander Is On The Road

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judahFrom his appearance in the Dave Matthews video ‘Everyday” as the “hugging guy”, to his classic character Frank Rossitano on 30 Rock to his current campaign for presidency in 2020, Judah Friedlander stands away from the pack. Iconoclastic and instantly recognizable, Friedlander is also a comics comic, whose freewheeling live performances are tutorials on crowdwork. Join us as we take a little peak beneath the World Champion hat. First time we called Judah, he was taking the bus through his neighborhood in Manhattan.

SUSC: Still take the bus?

Judah: I live in an area that is not near the subway.

SUSC: Most people don’t have cars in the city, right?

Judah: No. no.

SUSC: Do you find that public transit keeps you humble?

Judah: Oh I don’t know about that. I’ve always been . . .I’m not going to say I’ve always been humble because then it sounds like I’ve never been humble. That’s a good trick question. That’s one of the best trick questions I’ve heard in a while.

SUSC: When you first started doing comedy, was it in NYC?

Judah: The first time I ever went up was in D.C. Then the third time was New York and that was where I did it from there on.

SUSC: This was in 1989, 1990?

Judah: ’89. First time I went up was ’89.

SUSC: What was the scene like in New York City in 1989? Were there a lot of mics or only clubs?

Judah: It was pretty depressing, but that’s all I knew, so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I didn’t think it was depressing, I was like , “Comedy is grim, that’s just the way it is.” I didn’t give a shit. I just wanted to perform. I wanted to go anywhere in any kind of situation. Good room, bad room, I didn’t even know there was a difference.

SUSC: Were you a lone wolf or did run with a pack of comics?

Judah: I was usually by myself. There were a few comics I knew, but mostly by myself. Back then the economy was different. New York wasn’t such a rich city like it is now. New York still has a lot of people from a lot of different countries, but there’s a lot of rich people in New York. It didn’t use to be this way. There were always rich people but they weren’t the dominant force. There are major parts of New York were it seems like the majority of people are wealthy. That wasn’t always the case. Back then New York had real dive bars.  I don’t think there’s any real dive bars in New York. Back then when we had open mics there would be a back room, or not even a back room, and the only people in the bar were two guys and you couldn’t tell if they were in their 50s or their 70s. They looked like they had been sitting there, all day in the bar.  The only other people were the comics waiting to go on. That was the scene. Also back then, there was no alternative scene. There were comedy clubs and there were open mics. Some venues would have a more specific demographic, Black comics and a black crowd, a Latino crowd and Latino comics or a gay bar and some gay comics. So those would be once a week or once a month. It was a smaller business then. Less comedy clubs and less comics. Nowadays there is comedy that’s catered to certain crowds. There’s an alternative, but back then it was just comedy in general. Things have changed over the years.

SUSC: So in ’89, pre-internet, how did you find out about gigs?

Judah: If you wanted to get some kind of buzz, you could put up flyers or posters around town, and I don’t think I ever really did that.

SUSC: Also, there was no hub of information for comics to find out about other rooms.

Judah: It was word of mouth from other comics and sometimes you would see an ad in the Village Voice. “Auditioning comedians, singers, etc…” I would go there and give it a shot.

SUSC: One thing I admire about your career is you got real heavy into TV and film, but you never let go of stand-up.

Judah: I like doing comedy in all different mediums, but stand-up has always been my main thing. When you see people who do stand-up and they go into movies or TV, you have to wonder if they ever really wanted to do stand-up. If you’re a stand-up and then become a movie star, you can still make a lot of money just doing stand-up. So, if they stop, you gotta wonder.

SUSC: Even while you were at the height of 30 Rock, you were still grinding mics five to seven nights a week. Was there a moment, where all of a sudden, you were being offered better gigs? Maybe didn’t have to wait to get onstage?

Judah: I don’t know. It’s always changing. I’m 50 years old now and show biz is very unstable. The gate keepers of the industry are clueless and corporate. They go with whatever the trend is. And I’ve never been the trend and I’m still not the trend. I’m currently trying to get a movie and TV agent, I don’t think anyone is interested. Maybe a few, but the majority, not interested.It’s a weird business, including stand-up comedy, where quality is one of the last things that is ever considered. And for the most part they don’t know what quality is.

SUSC: Everything these days seems to be based on metrics and how many followers somebody has.

Judah: There’s more ways to determine how famous somebody is than ever before. The gatekeepers are more concerned to find somebody who is already famous, then working on developing talent.

SUSC: It’s the obsession with celebrity culture worshipping the 1% of people that are famous and ignoring the 99% of artists who are making creative strides and different.

Judah: Hollywood is terrified of different. For example, Hollywood is concerned about “diversity”. Hiring anyone that isn’t a straight white guy. That’s good. However, they aren’t doing it because they care about diversity. They’re doing it because they were shamed into it. And they have a corporate directive to do it now, they got caught, it’s not because they care about art. It’s still fake.

SUSC: Comedy is an extremely tight knit community. I believe its 1 degree of separation between everyone in the scene. But, is film and TV different? Aren’t there independent directors who help out actors like yourself that don’t fit into the conformity box?

Judah: Good question. Hopefully, I’ll have an answer in a couple of months. Casting directors would be a good way to get into a part. Usually it isn’t an agent that gets you something.

SUSC: Even when you tour you’re not a traditional comic.

Judah: I book my own tours. I know that most comedy clubs are filled with people who just wanted to see comedy, not you specifically. So, I prefer to find my own places. I heard good things about DNA’s Comedy Lab.

Interviews
10/10/2019

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