Judah Friedlander is absurd. Judah Friedlander also thrives on crowd work. Combine the two and you get a stand-up comedy show that goes beyond any other show. Just ask Judah. He’ll tell you. That’s why he wears the World Champion yellow T-shirt with ballcap printed in Spanish, "just in case English isn’t your first language." Watch a clip, and we’ll get going with the interview after that.
Friedlander plays a writer on NBC’s sitcom, 30 Rock. We talked on Wednesday night at the Comedy Cellar in NYC, just before his show made the switch to Thursday nights, up against CSI and Grey’s Anatomy. Friedlander said he remains hopeful for the show’s long-term success. "At least we’re on an all-comedy night. Yeah, I hope people watch. Everyone who watches it seems to like it, so I hope people watch."
Was hearing about the NBC "promotion" anything like finding out you got a movie role, and then finding out it’s for a Project Greenlight movie: Feast? Friedlander said no. "That got released almost two years after we started making it, which sucks. But that happens with a lot of movies…Have you seen it? It’s f—ing good. Everybody says it’s easily the best Project Greenlight movie. I thought it was f—ing great. I f—ing loved it. Yeah, the show twisted some s— around, but for the most part they got the vibe right…I loved doing the movie. I love horror movies. I had so much f—ing fun doing it. And I think it’s good. I think it’s really funny."
Has 30 Rock changed the way crowds react to you yet? "I get recognized form a lot of different things, but yeah, that’s happening more and more." Does it make it easier onstage? "My stand-up is the same. It doesn’t change. Yeah….stand-up is great….more people may want to book me, more people may want to see me, but I don’t know. I still probably get recognized the most from Meet the Parents and from the Dave Matthews Band video I did, walking around hugging everybody."
But that doesn’t really showcase your comedy, does it?
"Meet the Parents does a little, I guess. But none of these TV shows, I think, or movies, show nearly what I can do on stand-up. The stand-up I do I think is much funnier, is much more me, much more twisted or hardcore or out there than what’s on the shows and movies. In the movies and stuff, TV shows, even if I’m looking like me, I’m really held back a lot, because network there’s so many, not only words you can’t say but subject matters you can’t talk about and s–t like that….A lot of my act is riffing the crowd and making stuff up on the spot, and they don’t let you do that on TV, or movies."
Maybe you should get hooked up with those Christopher Guest movies. "I did a Curb Your Enthusiasm…that was fun. But even that I’m playing a different character. I’m not myself on that."
He said VH1 also calls upon him to do things that aren’t really him. "I do that show once in a while, Best Week Ever, but I don’t do any pop culture stuff. I might have one pop culture joke in a 45-minute set."
So do you agree with Mitch Hedberg’s bit about comics in Hollywood always getting asked to do anything but stand-up? "Yeah. I got into stand-up to do stand-up. Doing 30 Rock has been good, get your name and face out there more, get some exposure. And I like the people I work with. Getting to work with Tina Fey is really cool, and (Alec) Baldwin. Tracy (Morgan) I’ve known for years so working with him is great, but I’ve known him for like 12 years. One thing that’s cool about this show is I’m getting exposed to the whole sketch comedy world, improv/sketch comedy world, because that’s where Tina and a lot of the writers and other cast members come from on that show. So that’s cool."
Is that something you want to explore more?
"No. I mean, I do improv a lot in movies and acting, and I like doing that. But I’m not going to form a f—ing sketch group or anything. (laughs) Stand-up is my favorite thing to do. I’ve been doing it for 17 years and, some people think I did TV and movies first and now I’m just doing stand-up to make some money or something. Stand-up has always been my main thing, but I’ve hardly gotten any exposure from it."
So what do you hope to do with your exposure?
"Well, just keep doing stand-up. Keep getting better…CDs. I want to do a stand-up concert tour. Just keep doing it. Keep moving forward. It’s the most fun for me. Most creative outlet for me. You don’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. to do it."