Depending on who you ask, Judah Friedlander is either best known as lazy writer Frank Rossitano on 30 Rock or for his “pitch-perfect” performance as Toby Radloff in the indie darling American Splendor. (He even scored a cameo role as a “Bar Patron” in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.) Before these acting accolades ever adorned his resume, however, the Maryland native has been performing stand-up comedy since 1989.
For most of his time on stage, Friedlander has adopted the “World Champion” persona — a deadpan, bombastic, trucker-hat-wearing individual who thinks rather highly of himself — and it’s put to good use in his new Netflix special, America Is The Greatest Country In The United States. Below, the 48-year-old comic chats with us about the reasoning behind the new hour’s title (and theme), as well as the methods he employed while shooting it over the course of several years. But first, Star Wars…
I only just realized recently you were in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. How’d that happen?
That is correct. Well, you know when you’re the world champion, sometimes things just work out in your favor. I was just cruising through the galaxy, hanging out in this bar, and all of a sudden it just happened.
You didn’t film your special in a typical manner, with cranes and multiple cameras and the like. It’s a sort of guerrilla-style approach. What made you want to do it that way?
I try to always do things not like anyone else. So I thought I should film this differently, too. It’s all just a part of the organic way I like to operate. I view being a comedian as being an outsider. I’m an outsider who looks at things and gives my perspective. It’s just the way I do things. I don’t like doing things the normal way, and that’s not just in my stand-up but in other areas of life. Pretty much everything I do is not the normal way of doing things, so that’s why I filmed the special this way. I don’t mean this in a pretentious way at all, but I view comedy as an art form, and there are so many things we do in society that are done in certain ways. But that doesn’t mean that’s the way we have to do it. That’s also what my stand-up special is about. I’m satirizing America, especially American exceptionalism — things like our domestic and foreign policies.
One of the reasons we do certain things the way we do is because we’re simply used to doing it that way. We don’t think about doing it another way. So I’m always someone who thinks, “What’s a unique way or different way to do this?” So with filming, I’ve never liked the way stand-up specials are typically filmed for TV. I don’t like the big crane shots. I don’t like the audience reaction shots. I just don’t like it. But that’s the way things are usually done, and because of that, most people just do it that way and don’t think about it. I’ve noticed that different people in different countries film things in different ways. In America, most people start with their wide shot, then move into over-the-shoulder and close-up shots. It can be very formulaic. In some other countries, however, they don’t film that way at all. It doesn’t have to be so complex.
Plus stand-up concert films typically aren’t a big technical affair.
I mean, stand-up is a very simple and technologically-raw art form. The only technology you must have is the electric amplification of your voice. There’s a microphone, some speakers, and a light shining on you. That’s it. It’s very raw, and we’re such a high-tech world now. Stand-up as an art form is really kind of a throwback. It’s literally just a person onstage talking to an audience. There are people sitting and facing a particular direction. So I thought stand-up should be shot in a simple way. It’s a simple art form. I don’t think it should be filmed in a high tech, complex, way.