Millions of fans know him for his celebrated roles as Frank Rossitano (or the guy with the hats) in 30 Rock and Toby Radloff in American Splendor. In real life Judah Friedlander is a top stand-up comedian, and prouder of that than any other aspect of his career.
He goes by the title of The World Champion, the greatest martial artist on the planet. He proudly tells the world that with this title comes lots of chicks, and his job as a role model to children.
Now on sale is Friedlander’s first book, “How to Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book.”
Step-by-step, kick-by-kick, grunt-by-grunt, Friedlander teaches his techniques for crushing all kinds of assailants. The book contains more than 500-color photos along with original drawings and a flipbook. The World Champion joked around with The Improper before stopping in at Huntington’s Book Revue on Oct. 25 at 7pm.
Improper: We have a lot of questions for you.
Friedlander: You go for it, The World Champion can answer any questions.
IM: You have an uncanny ability to be humorous while poking fun at yourself. How did you discover that you have that talent?
Friedlander: I don’t know how I discovered comedy stuff. I got drafted into comedy clubs right out of high school.
IM: Were you always a funny kid?
Friedlander: I just remember one day at school, one student was making fun of someone else. Then I stuck up for that student and I started ripping the mean student. Then the teacher started yelling at me. Then I started making fun of the teacher. Before you know it, the whole classroom is laughing. And then the laughter was so contagious other classrooms actually heard it and they started laughing. And then the whole school was laughing.
And then people driving by on the local streets in their cars started laughing. And then a mile away everyone started laughing, and then some professional scouts from the comedy clubs heard all the laughter and they were like, “What is that?” They showed up in the classroom, and that’s how I got drafted.
IM: Were you known as the class clown?
Friedlander: No. I was just known as Best Martial Artist.
IM: Was sticking up for that kid your first memory of being funny in front of a crowd?
Friedlander: As a kid, I would do my own comic strip cartoon drawings and clay figures and stuff, and there was always some kind of humor involved. Then I started writing jokes when I was about 16, and started stand–up when I was 19. And that was in 1989. So I’ve been doing stand-up for about twenty-one years.
IM: Do you come from a humorous family filled with martial artists?
Friedlander: No, I’m the only one that does martial arts in my family. My mom fights, but it’s not technically martial arts. My mom is actually a Vietnam War hero. They made a movie about her called Rambo. I don’t know if you saw it. That’s my mom, the real Rambo.
IM: You are an actor, a comedian, The World Champion, and now an author…
Friedlander: I’m a stand-up comedian number one. I also act. I’m not an actor/comedian. I never got into stand-up to do TV or movies. Stand-up comedy number one. It is the number one area of comedy that I like to do. But I also want to do it in other mediums, and this book I started on my own over six years ago with no book deal. Then about a year-and-a-half ago some publishers came to me and said, “Hey, we want to do a book with you.” I said, “Well, I’ve been working on a book.” It’s been pretty much nonstop working on the book since then. Everything’s done myself, no ghost writers, the book has over 500 photos, lots of words, 208 pages, full size, 8×10 book. All of it is done by me.
IM: Why did you feel that the world needed to learn how to beat people up?
Friedlander: For safety. Economic times are tough right now, and statistics show that in tough economic times crime rates go up, so I am just trying to keep everybody safe.
IM: But you said you started working on it a long time ago….
Friedlander: I foresaw the economic fall coming. I have a time machine, so I’ve already been here.
IM: What type of research did you have to do for the book?
Friedlander: I didn’t have to do any! It’s all stuff from my own learnings.
IM: Have you actually beat people up in all of those ways demonstrated in the book?
Friedlander: Obviously, because I’m The World Champion. I’ve won The World Championships by beating people up. In the karate death matches I’m undefeated, still The World Champion.
IM: Besides the fact that you are The World Champion, why are you the guy to teach people how to beat up others correctly?
Friedlander: I’m the only World Champion, and I show you techniques in this book. There are no staged photos in this book. If you look in any other martial arts book, it’s all staged photos. First of all, there will hardly be any other photos, they’re usually small black and white photos if they have them. I have full-color photos and some of them are full page, some of them are two page spreads, and a lot of martial arts books are written by a bunch of people, so the heart’s not into it.
This is all written by me. One of the biggest problems with self-defense courses and martial arts instruction in this country is that they all occur in martial arts schools or gyms or health clubs. They’re indoor locations with perfect air conditioning and lighting, padded floors. That is not where most fights or attacks take place! My book is all filmed on location where real fights happened. All the fights in my book are real, and that is how you learn to become a better fighter. Not by training in some nice school that charges you hundreds of dollars.
IM: How do you know when you have successfully beaten someone up?
Friedlander: Oh, you’ll know because they won’t be moving. They’ll be incapacitated on the ground.
IM: List three people you would personally like to beat up.
Friedlander: There’s nobody out there really, I don’t use it as an aggressive thing. It’s for safety. If someone out there is going to try and be dumb enough and attack me, I’ll take them down. There’s no celebrities I can’t beat up, so the thought doesn’t even cross my mind. They don’t give me any problems, they know not to mess with me. That’s the other things about this book. Even if you just carry this book around, no one will mess with you. It’s that powerful! Sometimes somebody will see me, and they’ll just start beating themselves up so I won’t do it.
IM: Will you be doing any hands on training at your book signings?
Friedlander: I can’t, I’m actually banned from doing karate indoors. But at my book signings I will be putting on a show. It’s not just me showing up and signing books. I’m going to have a slide show presentation of photos in the book, and even some photos that were not included in the book. And I will be doing a comedy show showing the photos and talking about the photos. It will be different than my stand-up act, but it will still be a live comedy show, and then I’ll be doing a meet and greet and signing afterwards.
IM: How is creating a book different from creating a stand-up act?
Friedlander: It’s kind of all encompassing. The book is kind of like a puzzle that you’re putting together. It’s a lot of pieces, and you’ve got to find all thepieces and make them all fit perfectly, because when the book is done it is done and it has its own life form. A stand-up show is a live show that kind of lives and breathes on its own and then you do another one.
The book is final, so there was a lot of work that went into it to make sure everything was perfect. The book is all based on my stand-up act. Me being The World Champion, the greatest athlete in the world, master of the martial arts, a role model to children, and a sex symbol. But there’s only about two sentences in the entire book that are from my stand-up act. It’s basically 100 percent brand new material that thematically is along the same lines as my stand-up act.
IM: How did your signature hat creations start?
Friedlander: There are some people out there that for some reason think I’m trying to be a hipster and trying to be cool, that I’m like four years too late past the fad of trucker hats. And they think somehow I think they’re still cool and still in fashion. Some of them think I’m so inept or dumb to not realize that they’re out of fashion. I’m well aware that they’re out of fashion. But the point is, I’ve been wearing these since before they were in fashion!
I’ve been wearing trucker hats since the early 80s when that was the only kind of hat you could get. Then they switched to a more cotton type of hat, and those hats are actually smaller and don’t fit my head. I’ve got a giant cranium. Then about seventeen years ago I started making my own hats because I’m like, “Why am I wearing a hat with someone else’s stuff on there? That’s stupid. I can make my own hats.” So I started getting blank hats and making my own. And I still do that.
There’s still some people that are like, “Well, Ashton Kutcher started the hat thing, you’re just trying to be like him.” Do you really think I’m trying to be like Ashton Kutcher? Do you really think I wake up and think, “If I could just be like Ashton Kutcher, I’ll be cool?” Does Ashton Kutcher wear trucker hats anymore? No.
IM: Do you have a special hat room? How do you keep them organized?
Friedlander: No, I’m a hoarder, just a mess. I have crap all over the place. For 30 Rock I make all the hats. For The World Champion hats, those I actually win at the World Championships.
IM: What are some of your favorite hats?
Friedlander: ‘Time Travel Agent’ is a good one. ‘Half Centaur.’ ‘Former Cyclops.’ This season I have some good ones coming up. ‘Access Denied.’ And then I’m always doing different ones, like I had the word ‘backwards’ on my hat, but I had it spelled backwards, so no one knew what it said. It looked like ‘sdrawkcab.’ I like to play with the medium of it also. I had this one hat that said ‘Trap Door,’ but one of the O’s was missing in ‘door’ because it fell through the trap door. I like to play around with it, not make it simple.
IM: Describe your initial meeting with the producers of 30 Rock. Did they want you to play yourself on the show?
Friedlander: I auditioned for the show, and I had already done about twenty-five movies before getting 30 Rock and Tina knew me from American Splendor where I played a completely different kind of role. I had short hair, I walked and talked different. In 30 Rock I was playing a character based on a few people who used to write for Saturday Night Live. I knew a lot of people who had written for Saturday Night Live over the years, so I knew the general tone of what they were going for. For a movie I love changing up my appearance.
I cut my hair off, grow a mustache, no glasses, no hat, change things up, put on an accent… But on TV where you’re working eight months out of the year as opposed to a film where it’s a couple of weeks or a couple of months, I’m like, “I need to look like me when I’m doing this so I can still be doing my stand-up act.” They were cool with that. And then I thought the hats would be good for the character, it would make it realistic. Here’s an attention needy guy, maybe he’s not good at picking up chicks, so he tries to put weird things on his hat to get their attention. They were really cool with that too.
IM: What is in store for Frank this season?
Friedlander: We’re only a few weeks into filming, and we only get the new scripts once a week, so I couldn’t tell you. Hopefully, there will be a whole lot more hot ladies for Frank. And Frank will be pranking all his co-workers a lot too, and sneaking away from Liz Lemon and fooling around in his office and playing video games and watching online videos that he shouldn’t be doing.
IM: What is your biggest pet peeve?
Friedlander: I’m not that crazy about the term ‘pet peeves’ because I instantly think of pets, and I like pets. I don’t really know what ‘peeve’ means, so it really confuses me. Vocabulary is one of my weak points.
IM: That’s an interesting weak point for someone who has to come up with an act every night.
Friedlander: That’s one of the reasons I come up with a lot of words. If you don’t know that many words, you just have to come up with your own new ones.
IM: Okay, so what is something that annoys you?
Friedlander: People that don’t know karate. When I see someone out there and they haven’t bought my book, and I know my book can make their lives better, it can be a little disturbing. Also, neighbors that give unwarranted noise complaints. We all live in the city, things are tight and close together, you can’t give a noise complaint for walking in your apartment. If I’m blasting a stereo super loud, I understand a noise complaint for that. But if I’m walking from my bathroom to the kitchen, don’t bang on my door, I’m just walking. Oh! And rats breaking into your apartment. If they would split the rent with me, I would be cool with it, but they don’t offer up, so I have to kick them out.
IM: Hey, you just said you like pets.
Friedlander: I do like pets, but when they don’t pay rent- it’s not cool.
IM: Tell The Improper readers something that no one else would know about you.
Friedlander: I’m pretty open. I don’t do any drugs. A lot of people think I smoke pot. If people want to smoke pot I have no problem with it, but I don’t do any. I’m a role model to children. But if people want to do drugs, I don’t think it should be illegal. I like Tom Jones, I like Debbie Gibson. Another issue that comes up a lot, people never know when I’m joking or being serious. Debbie Gibson is awesome. I’m saying it and I’m meaning it. I used to have a song of Joey Lawrence’s on a cassingle. That could be a good new 30 Rock hat. ‘Cassingle.’
To learn more about The World Champion’s book, visit HowtoBeatUpAnybody. Friedlander invites everyone to follow him on Twitter @JudahWorldChamp. His New York City stand-up shows can be found on his Facebook and Twitter pages. You may also visit him at www.JudahFriedlander.com.