Comedian, writer and actor Judah Friedlander is one of the talented ensemble cast on NBC's "30 Rock," a spoof of "Saturday Night Live." He plays Frank Rossitano, an unkempt comedy writer. His trucker hats and big glasses are props he also uses for his stand-up comedy as "The World Champion of the World." While the characters appear the same, they are very different at the core.
His career has not been limited to comedy. Mr. Friedlander has appeared in dozens of movies including several dramas. The 42-year-old's mother is from Pittsburgh and he gets back to the city at least once a year to visit family.
How old were you when you decided you wanted to go into show business?
I started stand-up when I was 19. I started writing jokes when I was 16, and when I was around 14, I started making my own animated movies.
Was there any opposition from your family?
Concern, you know -- can you make a living doing that? There was that kind of stuff sure. But there wasn't any stopping me.
Did you not go to college and go right to work?
I actually went to film school, but I didn't like it. I'm basically self-taught.
Don't you think you have to be fairly confident as a comedian because you are basically saying, "I can make you laugh."
I don't know. I guess you could look at it that way. I mean yeah, if you are doing stand-up comedy, you have to be confident in what you are doing. That doesn't mean just because you are confident you are funny. You might have funny thoughts and you might come up with funny ideas, and at first you might be too shy to get out there and express them, but once you start getting out there, that shyness goes away.
What was it like, the very first time you did stand-up in front of a real audience?
Oh, it was nerve wracking the first time. I had been writing jokes for about three years. When I was 19 I started. It's not like you go to school -- well now they have people who teach stand-up and stuff -- but for the most part, I think that's stupid. I think it's something you should learn on your own. Just like when you learn how to ride a bike. You don't read a book about it or take a class on it. You jump on a bike and start peddling. You fall down and you get up again. I've always been a learn by doing kind of guy. I was definitely super nervous when I first started. Now it's the most relaxing thing I do. If I'm exhausted and tired and I just want to chill out and relax, I'll do stand-up.
Do you ever worry you'll be trapped in the persona you have created?
Show business always tries to stereotype you, so that is something you have to fight against no matter who you are. A lot of actors who are of a minority background complain that they only get stereotyped roles, and they are 100 percent correct. However, it's also true that no matter who you are you get typecast as well. The good-looking blond actress is mostly going to get cast playing the good-looking popular blond woman. She's not going to get cast as a homeless woman who is struggling with some kind of disease or whatever.
I've done about 30 movies. I've done about 10 films where I look completely differently than I do and I act completely differently than I do. Movies like "American Splendor," "Duane Hopewood," "Live Free or Die," "The Wrestler," so many movies. People who know me don't even know I'm in the movie until they read the credits. People's memories are very short. They think the latest thing you do is the only thing you can do.
Also, I'll say this: Most people in Hollywood really can only do one thing. So many of them get stereotyped, but that's really the only role they can play. I can play any kind of role. So if you have a talent for more than one thing, you actually have to fight really hard.
How has playing Frank on "30 Rock" changed your life?
I get recognized more and stuff like that, so I guess there is less privacy in that sense. But other than that, I don't think it's changed things. People have to realize the character I play on "30 Rock" is different than who I am as a person. It's also different than my stand-up persona. We look alike, but we're actually much different. My stand-up persona is "The World Champion," you know, the greatest athlete in the world, a master of the martial arts, international sex symbol, role model to children, basically everything Frank Rossitano, my "30 Rock" character, wishes he could be. They are actually the complete opposites in many ways.
Recently "American Splendor" has been playing on HBO a lot, and people are realizing "Oh wow, Judah was in that movie." You know you always gotta fight for stuff. It's not always easy, but you know you just go with the flow.
Because you are a proven comedian and sitcom actor, do you challenge yourself to find dramatic roles?
I've already done that. What I'm working on now is focusing mostly on my stand-up and putting together two movies of my own. On the side, when I get some free time from doing "30 Rock," I'm going to get back into doing some character roles in movies that are much different.
Do you ever get the urge to cut your hair and shave and go incognito on the streets?
Yeah, sure. You know as a comedian one of the things you study is people, and if you are always getting recognized it's harder to study people. I'm not like an attention whore kind of guy at all. That's for people on reality shows or whatever. I never got into comedy to be famous or anything. I just wanted to make people laugh, make myself laugh, get through the day, you know? Fight the misery. I have a very active brain, so I try to use it to come up with the jokes and fantasy and stuff like that. I never got into things to be famous. It's interesting.
So your mother is from Pittsburgh.
Yes. I go there about once a year. I go to Pamela's P & G in Millvale. It's awesome. All the Pamela's are great. That's probably my favorite one. Yeah best breakfast in the country. The hash browns, home fries, the pancakes, eggs -- it's all incredible.
How has your success changed your dating life?
I guess there are more women that want a date. It's harder for me to trust people. I mean I think in general in this world people often use people. You know they are not honest. They are just trying to use someone to get something. So now that I'm in a recognizable position I think there's more people that show up, and you've got to question what their motives are. So for me it makes it more confusing.
Patricia Sheridan: email@example.com or 412-263-2613. First Published January 9, 2012 5:00 AM