In advance of his appearances tonight and Saturday at the Helium Comedy Club, we got Judah on the horn and solicited some very useful advice, such as: How to beat up a cyclops and a one-armed man; how to rock the trucker hat (and Run DMC spectacles) with no real truck driving experience to speak of; how to have an illicit affair with your junior high school teacher; and how to land movie roles as wrestling fan, action figure dude, drunk man, ice cream man, maintenance man, pawn shop patron, and cafeteria guy. You know you want to know.
WIN TICKETS: The first two Phawker readers to email us at FEED@PHAWKER.COM with the words HEY JUDAH in the subject line will win a pair of tickets each to see Judah’s set at the Helium Comedy Club on Saturday. Include a cell phone number for confirmation. Good luck and godspee!
PHAWKER: Could you please identify yourself?
FRIEDLANDER: Judah Friedlander, the world champion. Living in America, being a winner.
PHAWKER: Let’s go back to the very beginning. You started out as a cameraman for a Chris Rock show back in ‘89?
FRIEDLANDER: Nope, no – incorrect. That’s an IMDB myth, I’ve been doing stand up since I was 19, I’m 42 now. Always been my main thing, and before that I was making short movies, I did animation when I was a kid and stuff, I was 19 when I did my first stand-up, and I don’t know, I guess I was probably around 27 or something like that and around ‘96/’97 is when I started doing acting gigs, like commercials, and then like around ’98 I started getting acting stuff in TV and movies. I did about 30 movies, and then I got 30 Rock, but stand up has always been my main thing, just me all by myself.
PHAWKER: Just to clarify – that’s like totally wrong?
FRIEDLANDER: What, the camera thing? Nope, never worked on the Chris Rock SHOW… a friend of mine, Mike Dennis, who lives in Philly and runs Reelblack Films, he was doing a documentary on Chris Rock, and I’m a friend of his and I was doing a little bit of camerawork and a little bit of sound work on that. The movie actually turned out really well I think it’s on Chris Rock’s main website now. So yeah, we were 18 or 19 and Chris Rock was his favorite comedian at the time – Chris Rock hadn’t really broke through at that point, I think this was 1988. Mike Dennis, who lives in Philly, he actually just did a documentary about Chris’ little brother, Jordan Rock, who is like 19.
PHAWKER: I’m glad we could truth squad that glaring Wikipedia half-truth. So, let’s start with the look: the glasses, the hat – where did this come from? How did that get started?
FRIEDLANDER: Well, let’s see that’s a good question. I remember having to get glasses in like the 10th grade and I remember the salesman picking out these little glasses saying ‘they’re real cool, chicks like these.’ I realized the guy’s full of shit, but it seems like back then they’re always making glasses real small, so it’s like you couldn’t tell you were wearing glasses, and I remember back then in the early 90’s all the cool kid wore those tiny glasses, like John Lennon used to wear or whatever, so I was like “you know what, why not go the opposite route of the tiny glasses and just get the biggest fucking glasses I can find, and celebrate it instead of hiding it?’ But now everything is flipped – now all the hipsters wear big glasses and the thin, small glasses aren’t cool anymore. And back then nobody had sideburns, all the pretentious posers had those thin glasses and they all had goatees, so I went the opposite of that and got big fuckin’ sideburns. But now all the hipsters have big sideburns and all the blue collar guys have goatees. And I’m just still dressing the way I’ve been dressing for, I don’t know, 20 years.
PHAWKER: And how about the trucker hats?
FRIEDLANDER: Yeah, that was actually something I never really stopped wearing from the 80’s, you know? In the 80’s when I was a kid that was pretty much the only kind of hat you could get, and I remember after wearing them for years I would try to find patches and stuff from my favorite bands and stuff. I’d get a blank cap and stitch them on myself. I was always like ‘why buy a hat that has someone else’s label on it, where you’re just advertising their shit?’ Now the only hats I’ll ever wear say WORLD CHAMPION, because I am the greatest athlete and martial artist in the world. The hats I wear on 30 Rock, I make them all myself. About two or three times a year, the writers of the show will actually come up with a hat slogan and work it into a plotline, work it into a storyline on the show. I’ll still make the hat, but other than that I come up with all of the slogans and make all of them.
PHAWKER: And roughly how many hats do you have currently?
FRIEDLANDER: You know I’m not a math nerd, I’m an athlete, but its got to be hundreds, I don’t know, I have them just all over the place.
PHAWKER: If I came to your apartment would it look like you were like a hat hoarder? Are there just giant piles of them?
FRIEDLANDER: You would actually just go back to watching the TV show Hoarders and you would say “wow these people are pretty neat and organized.”
PHAWKER: Speaking of 30 Rock, tell me how did your involvement come about? Did they write that role for you? Were they looking for someone?
FRIEDLANDER: They did not write it for me. I auditioned for it. Before 30 Rock I did about 25 movies, and there’s a lot of movies where I completely change my look, like American Splendor. Tina [Fey] did not know my stand-up. I auditioned for it, and I heard after my audition that I was their top choice or one of their top two choices and about five months later they told me I got it and then that was it. I knew that my writer was based on at least one guy who used to write for Saturday Night Live. I knew who the guy was and I later found out that was actually based on several of the writers who used to write for Saturday Night Live. I never wrote for SNL but I know guys like my character, sort of like a blue collar Queens or Jersey guy and, you know, I know that kind of guy very well – I was way out in Queens in an Italian blue collar neighborhood and that’s basically what my character is. So I knew the background of the character and then I knew the professional job of the character pretty well, and then I kind of brought my own things to it as well.
PHAWKER: I want to get to American Splendor in a second, I’m a big fan of the movie, but one last 30 Rock question here: one of our contributors — her name is Anne Lynn — is a huge 30 Rock fan and she was like blown away last week when you finally gave the name of your girlfriend on the show, but it wasn’t clear whether the name was ‘Anne Lynn’ or “and Lynn.”
FRIEDLANDER: Oh, I think I got a Facebook message from her or something! No the character who it’s referring to is Lynn Onkman, the character played by Susan Sarandon. But you know the world champion is always looking for a new girlfriend. He gets a lot of chicks, because he’s a lover and he’s a giver.
PHAWKER: I’ll pass along the message.
FRIEDLANDER: A few episodes ago when you find out that when my character was in like junior high or something like that, when I was a minor, I had an affair with one of my schoolteachers and she went to prison, and when gets out and the love is still in the air, we get back together.
PHAWKER: Sounds very fitting for Frank Rossitano. Let’s talk about your portrayal of Toby Radloff a little bit. I loved American Splendor, big Harvey Pekar fan, I thought you were outstanding in that movie, it’s really a pretty radical transformation. Were you familiar, first of all, with the comic?
FRIEDLANDER: No I wasn’t but I quickly became familiar with it. I did a lot of research for that movie at the comic book store. Back then I collected rare movies, and I still do, and Toby Radloff was actually in some very rare movies that were made in Cleveland, like a perverted kind of horror/comedy like “Killer Nerd” and “Bride of Killer Nerd” and I actually found some of those movies and the writer/director of the movie hadn’t even seen those movies so from there I was kind of able to get Toby’s vocal range and mannerisms and then and I think after my second or third callback they actually gave me some tape of Toby. The night before filming I actually drove from New York to Cleveland because I was staying there for a month doing the movie and I felt that Cleveland was a really big character in the film so I met Toby – the real Toby – the night before and he gave me his whole life story from the time he was a little kid until he started working with Harvey that let me get where he’s coming from psychologically and I learned things about him that I didn’t know. A great experience, really hard work, but a great experience doing that movie.
PHAWKER: And Toby was pleased with your performance?
FRIEDLANDER: Oh yeah, he loved it – I still keep in touch with him. He’s one of my Facebook friends.
PHAWKER: That’s awesome. And it must have been sad to hear about Harvey Pekar passing away.
FRIEDLANDER: Yeah, yeah I guess it was last year some time. Yeah, that was weird. I don’t know exactly what happened but I got to talk to Toby after that and he didn’t really know all the details.
PHAWKER: So I was looking down at your filmography of all the roles that you played and, let’s see we’ve got wrestling fan, action figure dude, drunk man, ice cream man, maintenance man, pawn shop patron, and cafeteria guy. I’m seeing a trend here.
FRIEDLANDER: Well, you know, I think you just went through all the jobs I had in High School.
PHAWKER: Okay, so let’s move on to the book, How To Beat up Anybody, which is this fucking HILARIOUS spoof of martial arts/self-defense manuals. What was the motivation? Why write this book?
FRIEDLANDER: Well, I started it about seven or eight years ago on my own, and it’s basically an extension of my stand-up act. I really wanted to do a book, and I had this idea – the book is artsy photos, and it’s basically photos and jokes, you know? It’s packed with both, as well as some drawings and artwork. I took all the photos myself and it’s basically just a self-made book I first started about seven or eight years ago. After I got the idea, I started making it on my own and then I’d forget about the project, start doing career things, and then a couple years ago a couple different book publishing companies came to me and said they wanted me to do a book and I was like “well, I’ve got one I’ve been working on.” It’s an instructional karate book by me, the World Champion – it’s the greatest book in karate history – and you can go to my website or How To Beat Up Anybody.com
PHAWKER: What about how to beat up a Cyclops, is that included?
FRIEDLANDER: No because a Cyclops is very easy to beat up actually they only have one eye, so their vision is quite poor. It’s probably the most overrated creature as far as fighting goes. I teach you how to beat up a Bigfoot and after beating up a Bigfoot a Cyclops will be a piece of cake.
PHAWKER: Okay, well, those all seem like relatively easy things to beat up, I mean the harder stuff for me would be like how to beat up your mom, or a handicapped person.
FRIEDLANDER: I do have a chapter called “How to Beat up Someone with One Arm.”
PHAWKER: Anything else you want to share? Upcoming movie roles? Another book? Anything about 30 Rock you can share?
FRIEDLANDER: We just aired the last season of the show and they haven’t started writing the second season yet so I don’t have anything on that, I mean, we’re definitely doing at least one more season – after that I don’t know. Movie-wise I’m working on, this summer, basically just doing stand-up and I’m working on making my own stand-up movie and stand-up album this summer.
PHAWKER: Is that going to be like a theatrical thing or a Comedy Central thing or what?
FRIEDLANDER: I’m going to make it myself independently and then I’m going to figure out which way to go with it, whether I’ll try to take it to festivals, or sell it or something like that. Business-wise, I’m not big on business – I’m working on making the product and I’m making it myself because I don’t want anyone else fucking with it, you know. The book, dealing with the publisher, and you’re constantly having to fight for things you want to do in the book and they have all these ideas for how to do it and they’re pretty much wrong on every fucking decision they make, so you’re constantly fighting. With the movie, I’m not interested in making my own movie with a studio – I want to make it myself and then if a studio wants to distribute it, awesome, but as far as making it and giving away creative control, I don’t want them to have anything to do with that.