Judah Friedlander makes his own trucker hats, which have become so popular that hat companies have begun approriating his styles and designs. His acting has garnered him critical acclaim and award nominations.
He will do more comedy shows in a year than there are days in that year. He has played one of the funniest parts on one of the funniest shows on television for five years and counting. He knows how to beat up anybody — even Bigfoot and/or ninjas. And not only is he a past ping pong champion, but he is the reigning world champion. Of the world, that is.
OK, so while that last part might be hard to prove — the metrics for determining what, exactly, a "world champion of the world" might be are still unclear — the rest is true. In addition to his now-ubiquitous World Champion comic persona, a Judah Friedlander hat is almost guaranteed to be meme-able as soon as he places it on his head, whether walking through New York or in his role as the writer Frank Rossitano on 30 Rock.
His most recent book is titled, How to Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book by the World Champion. And yes, his Independent Spirit-nominated role as Toby Radloff in American Splendor is still such a revelation that it merited a showing of the movie at this year's Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee. It was from there that Friedlander spoke to the Jewish Exponent in advance of his standup performances at Helium Comedy Club in Philadelphia this weekend.
Who is the funniest person in your family?
Right now, I can tell you that my parents have two little dogs that eat the same food. But one of them just farts constantly — the most evil-smelling farts. I find it quite funny that one dog is super nice and sweet, and the other dog — you can't hear it, it's just all of a sudden you can't breathe.
OK, then, which comedians have had an influence on you?
A lot of people. Bill Murray, Abbott and Costello; later, there were people like Steven Wright, Sam Kinison and Dave Attell.
When did you decide that making people laugh was your calling?
I started writing jokes when I was 15 and I started doing standup in 1989, when I was 19. I'm 43.
Did your family ever try to talk you out of it?
I don't think so, no. They were a little cautious and concerned, but they never tried to talk me out of it.
If you couldn't be a comedian, what would you do instead?
Commentating on pro wrestling or being a pro wrestling manager.
Did you ever give any thought to what your stage name would be?
Well, there are so many different personas. I could still be the World Champion. I did do it once — I was a guest announcer on WWE Monday Night Raw. That was great. I wanna do more stuff with wrestling.
Do you remember the first time you were recognized in public?
I'm not sure — there's a few I remember, but I'm not sure which was the first. I remember being on the subway and someone recognizing me from Meet the Parents. I remember walking around the streets of New York, and someone recognized me just from seeing me at the Comedy Cellar, my favorite club in New York. I was like, "All right. I'll take that. I like that a lot."
You have made it clear through the years that standup is your favorite thing to do. How many shows do you do in a year?
Standup has always been my main thing. I probably do 500 or more shows a year. But keep in mind that when I'm in New York, the shows that I do are usually around 15 to 20 minutes long. When I go out of town, like to Philadelphia, my shows are about an hour or more. The New York clubs are showcase clubs; they're not headliner clubs like Helium. You go to a showcase club in New York, you're probably seeing six headliners, all doing around 15 to 20 minutes. It's a different experience.
At this point in your career, do you audition for roles or do you get to choose what you want to do?
It's a mix. Some I audition for, some I don't. Leaf Men [an animated film now called Epic] is something I did, and it should be coming out next summer. Hopefully I'll be doing this movie called Ping Pong Summer, which is like a 1980s movie. I'm big into ping pong. I play a lot of it. And in January. I'll be filming the prequel to Wet Hot American Summer.
You are well known for your devotion to ping pong. How did that come about?
I played it as a little kid in basements and rec centers. And then one day, one of the kids we used to play with came in and he had all of these new ping pong moves. We were like, how did he learn those? We found out that he was learning from a Chinese guy. And then we found out from the Chinese guy that there were real, official ping pong tournaments. My brother went to ping pong camp in Baltimore, and I learned things from him. I won an official tournament when I was a kid — around 13 or something. It's a very highly skilled and technical sport. And then, four years ago, I found myself up at 3 in the morning watching live ping pong from the Beijing Olympics. I said to myself, I need to start playing again.
You are famous for your hats. Have any companies ever approached you about producing a Judah Friedlander line of hats?
Maybe, but there's definitely a couple companies ripping me off.They're selling them like they're my hats, but they're not my hats.
So what can you do about that?Are you in the process of suing them?
I don't know. If you know any good Jewish lawyers, let me know.
Do you ever run into people who want to challenge you for the title of world champion?
All the time.
How do you handle that?
Well, they're usually not qualified, for one. And then they start talking and they realize it's a poor decision so they just back off. And then we become friends. Even though I'm very intimidating and beyond a lethal weapon, I come in peace.
What was it like the first time you saw someone dressed like you?
It was a little weird. Yeah. It was definitely kind of weird. And it still is.
It was recently announced that the next season of 30 Rock will be the show's last. Is it too early to ask what you have planned post-wrap?
Right now I'm working on my own standup album. I'm gonna try to get that out by this fall. And then I'm working on my own concert/documentary movie coming out next year. I will do another book at some point, too.
Judah Friedlander will be performing at Helium Comedy Club, 2031 Sansom St., June 14 to 16.
For more information and to buy tickets, call 215-496- 9001 or go to www.heliumcomedy.com