Judah Friedlander is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable comics of the last two decades. Whether you first discovered him in that Dave Matthews Band video, in the film American Splendor or as a cast member on 30 Rock, Friedlander has always had a knack for playing memorable characters within interesting projects. In turn, the New York-based multihyphenate – Friedlander has released two books, including 2010’s How To Beat Up Anybody – keeps busy in many respects.
I had the pleasure of talking with Friedlander by phone on the event of the release of his recent Netflix special. Below are some of the highlights for PureGrainAudio, while more on Judah Friedlander can be found online at www.judahfriedlander.com.
When you started writing material for what became your Netflix special, did you know that it was going to be for a special? Or even a Netflix special?
Judah Friedlander: No, not at all. You know what, I do stand up, that’s my main thing. I do it every night, usually multiple shows a night. So I’m usually not thinking towards, “Oh this is like a filmed piece that I’m writing.” Stand-up is its own art form. I guess it was somewhere in 2016 where I was like, “I have not just enough material here for a special, but it’s also thematic.” I really have between 60 and 90 minutes of material that’s all on the same theme, and that’s just something that naturally happened. Then once I realized that, I realized, “Okay, I need to make my own stand up movie.” It’s basically a documentary, it is a stand-up performance film and I was like, “I need to make this.”
Here is a trailer for Judah Friedlander’s latest stand-up special.
Did Netflix come to you? Or you pitched to networks and they happened to be the winner?
Friedlander: I made it all myself and when it was done, I basically told my agent and then he pitched it. I’m not sure that I’m 100 percent correct, but I’m pretty sure Netflix was his first choice and heard back from them. It took a while, but he heard back from them and then we went with it.
I’ve read that John Mulrooney was one of your first influences as a comic. Does that mean that you grew up watching a lot of Comic Strip Live?
Friedlander: I did, yeah. I was a big Mulrooney fan. That’s great, never got that question before. Comic Strip Live I used to watch, but there was a show that came on that predates that show, Mulrooney hosted that, at least for a while. There was a show that predated that show called Comedy Tonight, and that was hosted by Bill Boggs and I first saw that in ‘85. I’m not sure what year I first saw Mulrooney as a guest on that, I would guess it was probably ‘86, so that is when I became a Mulrooney fan after that show. Then I’d seen him live, went to see him live a few times too.
I’ve also read that you also started doing stand-up when you were in college. When you started out, what was your material like compared to what it is now?
Friedlander: I was 19 when I started. So it was still very joke-heavy and crowdwork-heavy… Material-wise, it’s so different. Some of the stuff I did was really dirty I remember, somewhat political, somewhat really filthy, like shock value filthy. Then some stuff was just sort of twisted and bizarre, but different than what I do now.
Judah Friedlander was a great guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast.
Was a lot of that rooted in being a fan of Sam Kinison?
Friedlander: There were many comics I was fans of, you know Kinison, Steven Wright, Mulrooney like I had said… There were many people that I was fans of, but my stuff was always and still is you know, it’s always stuff that is kind of twisted and finding you know humor in places you wouldn’t think any exists.
I am sure I am not the only person who found out about you from the Dave Matthews Band video. Do you feel like that was a big break, or your first big break?
Friedlander: It wasn’t the first big break, but it was a break I guess, if you want to look at things as breaks. It certainly was a lot of exposure. I had already done Meet The Parents, that had already come out, I had a little part in that. But that video, basically it’s like a touching video. So that was the first time I had been in something where people would come up to me and they were like moved and touched by it and I was not used to having that kind of reaction from anyone.
Obviously, you’re one of the more recognizable comics out there. People see you walking around all the time because you dress the same way you do onstage and offstage, but at what point did you start…
Friedlander: Often I am walking from one venue to another, so sometimes when you see me walking around I’m actually working, I’m just getting from one gig to the next.
Check out this appearance by Judah Friedlander on New York’s Hot 97.
Actually, I want to ask you about that because I’m used to seeing you like your listings as doing for five sets in a night. Was it always that way or did you start doing that at a certain point?
Friedlander: Well, first I want to clarify about the sets. When I headline, I’m doing basically an hour, you know, sometimes maybe up to 90 minutes. Sometimes the least I would be doing is like 45 [minutes], but generally it’s like an hour figure. When I’m just doing regular sets in the city, they’re generally 15-minute spots. Comedy to me isn’t something you can really practice, you have to do it and it’s fun, so it’s what I like doing the most, so I try to do it as much as I can.
As a comic, I think that’s generally the best advice if you want to improve, do it as much as you can. Like I said, you can’t really practice it. So when you first start, you’re not as well-known and you’re not as good, so you can’t… There aren’t going to be as many places that are going to let you go on, so when I first started, the first year or so and I was able to get up, I think five nights a week. I was not able to get up on Fridays and Saturdays… So I still do several shows a night, you know?
Has that been consistent this whole time? Like even for example when you were on 30 Rock? Were you still out every night doing sets?
Friedlander: [While on] 30 Rock I was still usually doing shows every night. That also depended on the schedule, sometimes we would on Thursdays and Fridays film till late at night. We might be filming till 10 or 11, so those nights I was not doing shows, and if I had a heavy work schedule that week, 30 Rock varied… Some episodes I wasn’t that much, some I was in a lot, so depending on my work schedule would directly affect my stand-up schedule. So on days or weeks when I had heavy filming, I may be doing very little stand-up. It’s not like I ever like stop doing stand-up for 30 Rock, but there would be weeks where I may have not done any, or one or two spots.
So finally, Judah, any last words for the kids?
Friedlander: Just keep training and believing in yourself and put that out there!