Friedlander: 'People get a little weirded out when I say stand-up is the most relaxing thing I do.'
Judah Friedlander is probably most recognizable to audiences as Frank Rossitano over seven seasons of NBC's 30 Rock. He has also appeared in numerous films, including American Splendor and The Wrestler. But his first love is standup comedy.
Friedlander is touring around the country in his stage persona of the “World Champion”: a scholar, athlete and presidential candidate committed to spreading his comedic wisdom. He dispenses these morsels via Twitter @JudahWorldChamp, and now you can hear them in person when he performs at the Comedy Club on State over September 18-20.
Isthmus talked to Friedlander about his 25-year career in standup and how he landed his most recent film, Sharknado 2: The Second One.
Isthmus: So what is going on right now for the World Champion?
Friedlander: Just traveling around America. I'm traveling around this great nation, saving it one city at a time. Making it even better. I've got a standup album coming out in the next several months. I'm doing a voice for a main character on a new show from the Family Guy creators called Bordertown. But standup is my main thing.
The World Champion and Frank from 30 Rock are very different, but there are some commonalities such as the hats.
Yeah, we look very much alike.
There is a physical resemblance.
I think Frank from 30 Rock probably idolizes the World Champion. But athletically, Frank's not as good. With the ladies, he's not as good. In the area of human rights and political insight, Frank is nowhere close. But he tries.
What is it that you still love about standup after 25 years?
When I was 16, that was when I realized you could actually be a comedian. I didn't realize before that it was actually something you could do.
I started when I was 19, I was very nervous my first time. I was extremely shy, an introvert. I had to get there at 5 or 6 o'clock to sign up for the open mic, and I didn't get on until 11. By 11, the show has been going on for a couple hours; it was a small crowd to start with and people were leaving, which didn't help my nervousness. But then I went up there and it just felt right. It felt warm. Since then, it always has. People get a little weirded out when I say standup is the most relaxing thing I do -- but it is true.
How do you keep up the excitement in standup? How do you avoid getting burnt out?
The key to making it not become a grind is to always be working on new material, always pushing your act in new directions.
A lot of comedians treat crowd work as an obligation, but you have a genuine love for interacting with the audience. What do you love about working with them?
It's exciting. If you are a comic and you know you have jokes that are honed and are going to get a laugh, you can sleepwalk through that. But if I go out there, talk with people and just make up stuff on the spot, it's more of a brain workout for me as a performer.
And now for the question I've been building to: Sharknado 2. How did you get cast in the film?
A few years ago, I met someone from Asylum, the guys who make those Syfy movies. And I was like, "Dude, I love those kinda movies. This is the kind of movie I've always wanted to be in." My agents and managers over the years, I'd ask them to send me out on these kind of movies, but they never would. They looked down on them.
But the schedule worked out this time?
Well, I live tweeted the first Sharknado. Thought it was amazing. I started tweeting jokes at the director of Sharknado; he started tweeting jokes back at me. I read in the paper that they were going to be filming Sharknado 2 in New York soon, but I was between agents at the time.
So I just contacted Asylum directly, the casting director. Once they realized I wasn't kidding, that I was actually serious, we started talking. The movie was mostly cast, but the writer and director threw a couple little parts together and made a character for me. I ended up doing a couple days on it.
What was it like working on it?
Filming it was awesome. Everyone was having fun. It reminded me of being a kid in a backyard, or a film student making your own movie. So many times when you make a movie, it's just not fun. But this was fun.
Excited for your weekend in Madison?
I've wanted to come to Madison since I first saw Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield. I thought, "Whoa, this place looks cool. I want to go there." Then, I kept hearing good things about the comedy club there. I met the owners of the Madison club last year at the Montreal Comedy Festival and told them I've been wanting to perform in Madison for years. I like smart crowds, I like smart towns. I'm looking forward to it.