Last Thursday the world said goodbye to NBC's 30 Rock. After seven seasons of critical acclaim and mediocre ratings, the hilarious sitcom wrapped up with an hourlong series finale — we'll spare the spoilers for the sake of the latecomers.
Judah Friedlander, known to many as "the guy with the hats" on the show, has been a standup comedian for more than twenty years. In addition to his role as Frank Rossitano, the self-described "World Champion" has appeared in movies such as Meet the Parents and Zoolander and has also written the most important book on ass-kicking in karate history.
On Friday, February 8, Friedlander will appear at the Firebird to perform his laid-back, off-the-cuff (and often on-the-spot) style of standup comedy. We talked to the newly unemployed Friedlander about his role on the show as well as his future and standup career.
Kelsey McClure: With 30 Rock coming to an end, what are you going to do with all of your hats?
Judah Friedlander: That's a good question. First, I need to find all of them. They're all over the place, you know? They're in the closet, on the floor, they're underneath car seats. They're all over the place. I got to find 'em.
So you're not a particularly clean person? Or organized, I should say...
I'm clean, but I'm not organized. Organization and math are my only two weaknesses.
Mhmm. And reading. I forgot reading. I'm not a strong reader, either.
I read that you do comedy almost every single night of the week. Is that literally? Practically? And multiple shows a night, too?
Well you see, in New York City it's a little different. I live in New York, but when I go out of town my shows are generally an hour long, sometimes longer. When I'm in New York I might do two or four shows a night, but they're twenty-minute sets. But...I'm not doing the same twenty-minute set at every new show. I'm working on lots of new stuff.
Does it ever get boring being the World Champ? Do you ever struggle to find new and interesting things to talk about?
Oh no. The "World Champion" is just a title. The "World Championships" are just karate and death matches for charity. It's kind of like when Anthony Hopkins is knighted, he's now Sir Anthony Hopkins. It's just a title. I can talk about whatever I want, but the fact is I'm still undefeated. I'm still the World Champion, so it's still part of my name.
I find a lot of similarities between Judah Friedlander, Judah Friedlander-World Champ and 30 Rock's Frank Rossitano. I'm wondering how much Judah is in those characters, or if there are more characters in Judah?
Good question. They're all different, but I'm more World Champion than Frank Rossitano. Frank is — you know, I bring everything I can to it, but it's all stemming from the writing that Tina [Fey] and the writers bring to the character. I try to make it come to life and bring my own stuff to it but be respectful of what they're looking for. And that's the biggest deciding factor, is trying to get them what they want. So that's their creation, that character. So for me, physicality — looks — is what we have most in common. The World Champion is probably someone Frank Rossitano wishes he could be. He wishes he could be that cool. Get that many chicks.
And then me and the World Champion, we both differ from Frank a lot. We don't ever play practical jokes on people. Frank can be a little mean — in a good-spirited way, but he can be a little douchey, for lack of a better term. Like when Jenna Maroney — when her character got fat one season, Frank was right there, didn't miss a beat. He had fat jokes lined up and ready. Personally, I would never do that stuff. Let's say someone is heckling me at a show and they're fat. The last thing I am ever gonna do is a fat joke or slam against them. I never go for the obvious. Frank loves going for the obvious.
Well, in my experience, a lot of comedians' material comes from a place of lacking confidence or having insecurities. As the World Champ, you don't have that. That's what makes you — I don't know if "better" is the right word, but something that is distinctively different.
I'm a role model. Let's face it. Let's say it. I'm a role model.
You are a role model.
I'm inspirational. It's OK — you can say it. You can say it, it's OK.
Well, you've already said it for me. So I guess all I have to do is repeat it.
You're free to say whatever you want.
How long did it take you to get to a point where you could sustain yourself financially off of just comedy? Did it take you up until this point?
Hey, I'm still hoping people show up in St. Louis. I don't know how many people are going to be there; I have no idea. It could be 50 people or 20 people, or it could be sold out. I don't know. So I'm going to put on a great show, but I don't know how many people are going to show up. I mean you're just talking to me on my cell phone right now. I don't have a publicist or anything — but what was the question? I forgot.
How long did...
Oh yeah. Probably about seven or so years before I started getting too busy to keep a day job. It could have been faster, but in New York City and in LA, the comedy clubs hardly pay anything. Because they kind of get you in a catch-22 a little bit, because if you want to be in the TV or film game at all, you pretty much have to be in New York or LA. If you just go on the road, you can make a lot more money and start making a living much faster, but you're going to be kind of out of the loop with the TV and film game. Not quite as true today as it used to be — pre-Internet, much more true. So I probably could have started going on the road about three years in and not had any day jobs, but I wanted to be in New York and be involved in the TV and film stuff, so because of that I hardly made anything.
You don't have an album out, do you?
No. I've been joking that I am going to release a greatest-hits album for my first album. It'll be a five-CD collection. I should have about five or so out at this point, but this year I'll definitely be able to release an album.
Is that due in part to 30 Rock coming to an end and allowing you more time to make that happen?
Yeah, and as I have gotten older it's been harder to do so many different projects at once. When I first started I was working a full-time job and doing standup, and for years, before 30 Rock, I would do about three to five movies a year, plus commercials, plus stuff on TV, plus comedy spots on TV. And then the past six and a half years of doing 30 Rock full-time, and standup, and I also did a book [How to Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book by the World Champion]. I did a very extensive book all by myself. I didn't have a ghostwriter or anything, it was just me and my graphics designer doing the entire book. That was a huge undertaking. So now I have more time to focus on standup, and I am going to get that album done.
Well, I am looking forward to it.
Cool. Thank you.
And definitely looking forward to having you in St. Louis.
Yeah, and I am going to buy five Imo's pizzas.
OK, do you prefer pizza or burritos?
Oh, I'll take the burrito over anything. Tell me where to go, and I'll go. I take Mexican food very seriously. I live in New York, and in New York, in my opinion, they have pretty shitty Mexican food.
We've got you covered in St. Louis.