On the comedy stage, Judah Friedlander is The World Champion. He is the best athlete in the world, greatest martial artist, the sexual dream of every woman, and a role model to children.
Let’s face it, Judah is the greatest comedian in the world...and the most humble. Judah is an extra-dark black belt in karate. Judah is now taking his world-beating comedy act to Galway as one of the must-see acts at the upcoming Vodafone Comedy Carnival Galway.
Judah is known to comics and audiences as one of the funniest and most original stand-up performers in the business. Seeing him perform live is always a unique experience. He always has new jokes and he plays off the audience, making up jokes on the spot. You will never see him do the same show twice.
Because Judah is so awesome, he is also one of the most copied comedians, but a copy is never as good as the original. And no one can top The World Champion. “When did you first realise you were world champion” I ask him over an afternoon phone chat. “They had the world championships, it’s been going on for hundreds of years. I’m not good at maths but I won it at some point in the 1980s” he replies.
“So you’re not the world champion at maths” I observe.
“Maths and reading are my only three weaknesses,” he quips in reply.
A stand-up comedian who acts on the side
Judah began his stand-up career 25 years ago and has been doing it just about every night ever since. Even though he has made more than 30 films and appeared in numerous TV shows - stand-up comedy remains his priority. He is not an actor who does stand-up on the side. He’s a stand-up comedian who acts on the side.
“I started doing stand-up when I was 19,” he recalls. “I started writing jokes when I was 16 and 1989 was when I first went onstage. There was an open mic at a comedy club in Washington DC and I was living in New York at the time but I was visiting my parents who live about an hour from Washington.”
He expands on juggling the two hats of actor and stand-up comic.
“As a little kid I always did all kinds of art and stuff, then somewhere around when I was 13 or 14 I got into making short animated movies and then made some short live action movies. They were my first experiences of film making and film acting even though they weren’t professional.
“In college I went to film school and acted in a lot of student films so I kind of learned by doing it. After doing stand up for seven or eight years I started getting auditions for acting in TV commercials so that’s when I started getting into professional acting. From there I started getting small TV parts then a few years later I started getting little movie roles, Meet The Parents was the first, then bigger parts in movies and TV.”
“Stand up is home base for me. It’s what I think about the most and enjoy the most and is the most relaxing for me. I’ve started doing a lot of drawing recently and some radio, I love doing comedy in all different platforms, I wrote a book a few years ago, but stand up is definitely home base but when I do comedy in other platforms they all help each other, stand up can help acting, acting can help stand up, and so on.”
One of Judah’s best known and loved screen roles was as Frank Rossitano on the Emmy-winning series 30 Rock. How did he enjoy that experience?
“30 Rock was good,” he tells me. “I was a fan of Tina Fey before doing the show. With a lot of the actors on 30 Rock the roles were written for them but not mine. I did not know Tina personally before doing the show, I auditioned for it and got it. Prior to that I had done close to 20 movies so I had a lot of acting experience, some of the movies were comedies some were serious dramas. I had always shied away from doing a TV sitcom but 30 Rock came along and I thought ‘This one could be really good because Tina is really good’ and Alec Baldwin was attached and I thought ‘He’s really good’.
“Also, it was filmed in New York and at the time, while there’s a lot of TV shows filmed in New York right now, back then when we started that series there was hardly any filming in New York so I was like ‘This is great because I live in New York and I want to stay there so I’m gonna go for this’ and fortunately I was able to get it.”
Judah has made multiple hilarious appearances on flagship US talk shows like Letterman, Conan, and The Daily Show. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 2003 Independent Spirit Awards for his role in the Sundance-winning American Splendor. Some of his other movies include Wet Hot American Summer, Feast, Zoolander, and The Wrestler.
Judah has also penned the hilarious instructional karate book How To Beat Up Anybody which is based on his stand-up act, but with all new material. He sells and signs it after shows as part of the ‘meet and greet’ he does after every performance. He does not charge for photos. So, you don’t have to ask Judah if it’s OK to take a photo – you can take one with him, and it’ll be the sexiest photo you’ve ever seen!
I enquire whether there might be another book in the fertile Friedlander pipeline.
“I have three other book ideas and I’m sort of working on them and on bits and pieces,” he tells me. “Right now my main focus is stand-up and putting out a stand-up comedy album and a stand-up comedy movie which will both be out next year.
“I’m doing acting things on the side here and there as well. The main focus on the moment are those stand-up projects and once I get those out I’ll spend more time on the book.”
His upcoming Galway show is only his second time performing in Ireland.
“I did the Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival last year for a couple of nights and I had a great time,” he says. “I first heard about the Galway festival a couple of years ago from the comic Paul Prevensa and it sounded great, and in Kilkenny I kept hearing people talking about Galway so I thought ‘I gotta go there’”
Comedy fans here in the west will be mightily pleased he made that decision.
Judah Friedlander plays the Róisín Dubh on Friday October 17 on a bill that also features Steve Bennett and Benny Boot. The show kicks off at 8.30pm and tickets are €18. See http://www.vodafonecomedycarnival.com.