30 Rocks’ Judah Friedlander Stands Up
Photo credit Melissa St. Louis; rendering by Yvonne Mojica
Best known for his role as a wise-cracking writer on “30 Rock,” Judah Friedlander is also an accomplished stand-up comedian and designer of trucker hats. Interview talked to him about life in the funny lane, from the D-list celebrities he’s met lately to the perks of designing his own wardrobe.
DARRELL HARTMAN: Two episodes ago on “30 Rock,” it’s revealed that your character, Frank, is quite the player around the office. Are you that in real life?
JUDAH FRIEDLANDER: I definitely really got into character that week, and just hooked up with tons of chicks. But seriously, in actual life, it’s probably best not to have sex with everyone you work with.
DH: In that episode, Frank had an office fling with Jenna [Jane Krakowski] that must have been a lot of fun to film. How did that one stack up, in terms of your favorite episodes?
JF: I don’t think I have a favorite, but that was a fun one. A lot of my scenes were with Jane, and she’s great to work with. Steve Buscemi also directed that episode; I’m a big fan of his work, and it was a thrill to work with him. And last season, I had a lot of fun doing the episode where my character helped Tracy [Jordan, played by Tracy Morgan] create a porno video game-it was also an Amadeus tribute—and [the one] where my character turned gay for one guy for one episode. It was fun to have my character fighting over a guy with [Tina Fey’s character] Liz Lemon. For some reason, I like the episodes where my character gets yelled at by her. Something about it cracks me up.
DH: How much of Frank’s wardrobe is your own stuff?
JF: Pretty much all of it. The pants and shoes are the same type I wear every day, and the [message trucker] hats I come up with and make myself. The glasses are mine too. In movies—American Splendor, The Wrestler, Duane Hopwood—I love doing the chameleon thing. But for a TV show, which is roughly 8 months out of the year, I prefer to at least look like I normally do. Frank is different from me, but we look a lot alike.
DH: The show keeps winning Emmys. How’s that been for you?
JF: Great. One of the fun things about the show winning awards is going to the awards shows. I’ve gotten to meet Sean Penn, Tori Spelling, James Remar from The Warriors, Kurtwood Smith from Robocop, Nitro from the original “American Gladiators,” and Steff from Pretty in Pink—or, as he’s known in real life, James Spader.
DH: Tina Fey brought down the house during her Emmy acceptance speech with all those “suck it” shout-outs to her Internet hecklers. Can you relate?
JF: I’ll leave this question alone.
DH: Well, one reason I asked is because you’ve been doing stand-up for quite awhile. How long, exactly?
JF: I’ve been doing stand-up 20 years. I started acting professionally about 12 years ago.
DH: Tell me a little about the stand-up show you’re doing this weekend.
JF: Well, I’m the World Champion—the greatest athlete in the world, who hooks up with lots of chicks and is a role model to children. My act’s not heavy on pop culture or stories, just lots of jokes. I play with the crowd a lot, too. And it’s a little dirtier and more twisted—sometimes a lot more—than the stuff you see on TV.
DH: How do you balance “30 Rock” with your standup gigs?
JF: Stand-up is kind of like my home base, and doing stand-up in New York is what I like doing most. When I’m not filming anything or on the road doing stand-up, I’m usually doing stand-up shows every night-usually a few shows a night at different clubs in the city. If my “30 Rock” schedule is light one week, I’ll do stand-up shows several nights that week. On a busy “30 Rock” week, I won’t do any stand-up shows at all.
DH: The writers of “The Office” also play characters on the show. I know it’s not quite like that on “30 Rock,” with the exception of Tina Fey, but do you have any role when it comes to the script?
JF: If I have an idea for a line and it’s appropriate, I’ll run it by [the writers] and sometimes it gets used. And I come up with all my hats. But Tina and the writers are so good there’s no point in messing with what they’re doing. They write great stuff.
DH: What are the funniest shows on TV?
JF: I don’t know. I don’t watch much.
DH: What would you like to see more of on TV?
JF: Ping pong. Soccer. Independent wrestling promotions. Cable-access shows. Made-for-TV movies from the 70s and 80s—I collect those.
“30 Rock” airs Thursday nights on NBC; episodes are also available on hulu.com. For more information on Judah Friedlander’s comedy show at Comix on February 13th and 14th, visit comixny.com or call 212-524-2500.