The bio at www.judahfriedlander.com says: "My name is Judah Friedlander. Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am a comedian. I am also the World Champion." That's pretty much all the average person needs to know. However, we're above average people here, we wanted to find out what else is going on with the stand-up veteran, Hollywood actor, and star of 30 Rock on NBC. Judah graciously took a few minutes out of his busy shooting schedule to answer a few questions and grant us all access to the contents within his famed trucker hat.
Assuming there's a difference between your stage persona and the "real" Judah Friedlander, how did your stage persona come about?
I've been doing stand-up since '89. The World Champion thing started years ago and it has changed a lot and keeps changing. I do a lot of crowd work in my act and it developed gradually through that over several years. I've been making my own hats for over 10 years and one day I thought it would be funny to make a hat that says WORLD CHAMPION, but nothing else. So out of wearing the hat and doing crowd work , it just kind of grew more.
Are you ever out of character?
Yes. Like this interview. I'm tired and have some downtime on the set of 30 Rock, so I'm just giving it to you straight. Also, for acting in movies--I often play roles totally different from me or my stand-up act, such as American Splendor, Duane Hopwood, Southern Belles, Live Free or Die, Chapter 27, or Full Grown Men.
Do you feel you take more risks as a performer when you wear a persona?
Not necessarily. I take risks regardless. I think it's important to take risks in all areas of performing. You gotta always be trying new things.
We think we've seen you walking around town and you had your hat on.
I've always been a hat guy. My glasses are real too. Some people think they're fake. I pretty much wear the same stuff on stage and off. But on stage, it's all world champion stuff--not off stage--unless I'm walking around in between sets.
It's interesting that on 30 Rock you have been cast to play what is essentially your character. Was Frank written for you in mind?
Frank was not written for me in mind. I auditioned for it. Frank looks like me, but I don't think we act alike. In real life and in my stand-up act, I wouldn't say any of the stuff he says. But that makes it challenging to pull it off--to make it feel natural. One of the things I like about the show is that they let me dress pretty much how I normally do. So when I got the show, I didn't to have to cut my hair, wear contacts, shave, or move to L.A. If I had to do all that, I probably would have decided not to do the show. Working for Tina Fey is great. Besides being great at what she does, she's open to hearing ideas for the show. Wearing the hats on the show was my idea and Tina lets me do whatever I want with them. I come up with all the sayings on the hats I wear and I make all the hats myself.
We've heard that improvisation is welcome on the set. Do you have an improv background?
Improv is welcome, but the show is 95% scripted. The shows are well written as well as tightly written, so often there's not much room for improv because it'll mess up the following scene. Plus, our shooting schedule is so tight, there's not time for it. I do write and make up some lines on the show, but almost all of what you see is what they wrote. One of my favorite things on the show is getting to know and work with the many cast members on the show that come from improv and sketch backgrounds. My background is self taught stand-up comedy and filmmaking. I starting making animated movies in jr. high. Then live action movies. then first did stand-up when I was 19. I've always done lots of crowd work in my stand-up act. I've worked with improv actors in TV and film a lot, but not on stage with an improv group.
Has the shooting schedule effected the amount of time you have to perform in clubs?
We shoot Monday through Friday, sometimes 15 hour days. Sometimes I work 5 days a week. Sometimes just a couple. On work days I usually can't hit the clubs because I have to get up the next day at 5am. I'm used to going to bed at 5am--so juggling the show and stand-up is tiring. I'm doing less stand-up, but I still go up 2 to 5 nights a week, usually 1 to 4 spots a night.
What has been your favorite movie role or on-screen experience? You were awesome in American Splendor!
American Splendor was a great experience. Working with Giamatti was great. And playing a real person [Toby Radloff] was challenging. I still keep in touch with Toby.
There's lots of stuff I liked. I played a retarded guy on Curb Your Enthusiasm. That was fun. I played a heavy metal dude who tries to sneak into a metallica concert in THE DARWIN AWARDS. And got to do some stunts in that. But maybe the most fun I had was doing a scene in LIVE FREE OR DIE where I got to work with one of my favorite actors, Kevin Dunn. I played a scumbag hardware store owner and he played a small town cop asking me questions. The guy I played was such a creep, and the dialogue was so funny, but we had to play it so seriously.
We read recently that fur-trapper hats are totally in right now. Would you ever trade your signature trucker hat for something more trendy?
No. I was never into anything trendy. If I'm ever doing something that happens to be trendy, it's probably a coincidence and I don't even realize it's trendy. Just a note: I've been making and wearing trucker hats for years--since the 80's actually, when those were pretty much the only kind of hats you could get. I remember about 10 years ago, people used to make fun of me for wearing trucker style hats. And then when they became trendy a couple years ago, those same people came up to me and said shyly, "Uhm, where do you get your hats? I need to get some." Years ago, some people used to get angry with me for wearing them and someone even called me racist for wearing a trucker hat 'cause I looked like a redneck. I bet now, some people think I'm a loser for wearing them because now they're out of fashion. But you know what, I never wore 'em to be "in" or trendy or cool. I just like 'em. And I'll be wearing them long after they're a not a trend.
Yeah. If you want to see me do stand-up, check my website or myspace page. They have my schedule. Also, a lot of the city spots I do are not posted because I often do last minute drop in spots. If I'm in town, I'm usually at The Laugh Factory, The Comic Strip, and Comedy Village on the weekends. During the week, I'm at the Strip, the Cellar and Caroline's. Also: watch 30 ROCK. People really seem to like the show. But it needs ratings. You can't win money watching it, you can't phone in and vote for your favorite character, there's no doctors sleeping with everybody, no one forming coalitions against other people... but it's funny. My website will also have info on the releases of upcoming movies I'm in such as THE DARWIN AWARDS, LIVE FREE OR DIE, CHAPTER 27, FULL GROWN MEN, and others.
What else? About Rachel. She's great. Not technically a personal assistant. But the closest thing I have to one. I have her on a rigorous work schedule of about 2 hours every 3 months. I met her at the Comic Strip when I did a show. She's very smart & works hard. I wish I had more work for her. One day I will.
Visit Judah's MySpace page for more video clips and tourdates