'30 Rock' star rockets into Pittsburgh

Thursday, April 19, 2007

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Judah Friedlander plays Frank, the nerdy writer on NBC's recently-renewed comedy "30 Rock" (9 tonight) and he brings his standup act to The Improv at the Waterfront , today through Sunday. (To get an idea of his act, watch video at his Web site, JudahFriedlander.com.)

Friedlander has also offered commentary on VH1's "Best Week Ever," starred in the films "American Splendor" (he earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for that one) and "Feast" (the third "Project Greenlight" movie) and gained notoriety as "the hug guy" in the Dave Matthews Band music video "Everyday."

From Phoenix, where he was doing his act last weekend, Friedlander talked about "30 Rock," his upcoming standup show and his Pittsburgh connection.

How were you cast in the show? Did series creator Tina Fey invent Frank with you in mind?

I'd never met her before [auditioning for "30 Rock"]. The character is based on at least two writers she used to work with at "Saturday Night Live." They were inspirations for the character, who's sort of a less sophisticated, kind of white trashy, very funny, sarcastic, Jersey guy. I've certainly brought some of my own things to it as well.

On the show and in your standup act you seem to favor trucker's hats with sayings such as "World Champion" and "Mystery Solver." Why?

A lot of my standup act is about how I'm the World Champion. I'm an athlete who gets tons of chicks.

For the show, I make the hats and I come up with all the sayings I put on them. I have a different hat for every scene I'm in, so about three different hats for every show. I thought it would be something funny for the characters because he's a comedy writer and he might make up funny things like that for the show.

Do you have any favorites?

Time Travel Agent and Bahama Trapezoid, a take off on Bermuda Triangle. I also like Joystick Master.

Describe your stand-up act as World Champion.

It's a persona. I'm me on stage, but when you're on stage, you can say things you can't say one-on-one or out in public. It's very joke heavy, but people who know me from "Greatest Week Ever" [should know] I don't do any topical stuff. I don't do any pop culture. Nothing about Paris Hilton. My stuff is pretty dark and twisted and dirty language is in there. It's for everybody. My Web site has clips and that gives you a flavor of the stuff I do. If you like funny, smart, edgy comedy, I think you'll like what I do. My stuff is certainly more outlandish and dirtier and you'll see a lot more of me than on "30 Rock," where you just see little bits of me.

So I look at photos of you on your Web site and in character as Frank on "30 Rock" and I don't see a lot of differences. How is your stand-up act like Frank and is it different?

They write things I would never say in real life of on stage. Some of the lines are a little racial. The character I play has put downs that are very sarcastic, a little different than I would normally do it.

I'm certainly dirtier. At a comedy club there's unrestricted language. My act is less set in reality than the show.

The way I dress [on "30 Rock"] is similar to the way I dress in real life. Almost all the clothes [I wear on the show] are mine. The glasses are mine.

As World Champion, I [have sex with] about 20 chicks a day, I'm the greatest athlete in the world and no way would I be a writer on the show. World Champion can barely read, and reading is for nerds. I'd be out breaking world records and winning trophies and hooking up with hot chicks. Frank can only dream of something like that. World Champion is like James Bond, getting chicks left and right.

What do you imagine is Frank's biggest contribution to "TGS," the show within "30 Rock"?

I think of Frank as a guy who's excellent at punching up the scripts, a great joke writer, a great gag writer. He may not naturally be great at writing women's storylines within the sketches, but if you give him a skit he'll be great at adding jokes and punching it up. I think the Frank character thinks more towards a guy's humor or a sci-fi geek type of humor.

Ratings for "30 Rock" are low, but it's critically acclaimed. At what point did you feel like "30 Rock" was a lock to return?

Not until I heard it [from NBC]. I just hoped for the best. I've done about 25 movies, standup for 18 years and tons of TV stuff and the one thing I've learned, especially with movies, is I never believe it's coming out until it's out. I have five or six movies in the can that were made two or three years ago and they never came out. Some are not that good, some are great movies, and still nothing. ... The better stuff you do usually means less people are going to go watch you.

When your mom called my editor to suggest we write about your appearance here she said the family has a Pittsburgh connection. What is it?

My mom's side of the family is from Pittsburgh. She's from Mt. Troy and I've got relatives all over. As a kid, even as adults, we got there once a year visiting grandma and relatives and stuff.

Have you done your standup act in Pittsburgh before?

I've done 25 movies, I'm a regular on a national TV show and it's the first time anyone has ever booked me in Pittsburgh. That's show business for you. There's no rhyme or reason.

Photo courtesy Judah Friedlander
Comedian/actor Judah Friedlander brings his act to Pittsburgh's Improv this weekend.    
Photo courtesy NBC
Friedlander as Frank on NBC's "30 Rock" (9 tonight).


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