He wasn’t looking for a spot on a weekly sitcom, or even a steady job and a regular paycheck, but Judah Friedlander landed all of the above when he was cast as Frank Rossitano, the sarcastic comedy writer who wore wisecracking hats on NBC’s “30 Rock.”
The show, which launched in October 2006, recently aired its final episode. Friedlander, a veteran of films (“Zoolander,” “The Wrestler”), will spend much of his post-“Rock” time back on the stand-up comedy circuit, including a gig Saturday night at the Screenland Armour in North Kansas City.
Friedlander, 43, recently spoke to The Star about his time on “30 Rock” and his stand-up career, which goes back nearly 25 years.
What is your perspective on “30 Rock,” now that its final episode has aired?
It was great. I’d never planned on getting in a sitcom. It was never really a goal of mine, but it was great to do, a great working experience. Before “30 Rock,” I’d done stand-up for about 17 years, and I’d done professional acting for more than 10 years. I did maybe three to five movies a year plus various TV stuff.
“30 Rock” was the first long, steady job I ever had. I’m not used to that. I’m used to jumping around. It was really fun and interesting getting to know and work with people like Tina (Fey), Robert Carlock, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit: people who come from sketch comedy and improvisational comedy training and background, two areas of comedy that are completely separate from stand-up. So that was really good for me.
Do you have a favorite hat?
Yeah, probably the one I made that said ‘Trap Door.’ One of the O’s was missing, and the joke was it had fallen through the trap door. That one was more conceptual than others.
How about a favorite episode?
There were a few. There was one from Season 3, Episode 13, called “Goodbye, My Friend.” It’s when I find out that my father was a mob lawyer. And I should quit being a writer and go corporate and become a lawyer.
And Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin’s character) is very happy about that. He tried to mold me in his image. I cut off my beard and started slicking my hair back and wearing suits and different glasses. I really liked when they gave my character different stuff to do.
Talk about your stand-up career, when it got started, how it has evolved and who were your influences?
I started in 1989. So it has been a while. It changes and evolves constantly. Over the past few years there have been many places in pop culture and commercials that have found my style and used my jokes, from “Chuck Norris Facts” to “the most interesting man in the world” to now there’s a commercial about the five-hour energy guy. Some of that stuff is very similar to stuff I was doing years ago. So I’ve had to change my act because they have a much larger and wider national exposure, so it can look like I ripped them off. I haven’t had that kind of stand-up exposure.
Even besides that, things are always changing. I have recently been doing a lot of political stuff, but it’s stuff anyone can enjoy, no matter what side they’re on, because I’m not slamming Republicans or Democrats. I’m pretty much satirizing the entire political process because I don’t think anyone likes it or thinks things are working great.
I talk about running for president, and I have some completely ridiculous reasons why. My philosophies and my platform are absurd.
What stand-up comedians influenced you both growing up and now?
Well, Steven Wright was a big influence. Sam Kinison was a big influence. Both of them and John Mulrooney, who is phenomenal at working a crowd. Dave Attell is a good friend and one of my favorite comics.
My act is very joke-heavy; it’s for the most part escapism. I’m not talking about the rough day I had or about dealing with the kid — I don’t have a kid, but I wouldn’t talk about it anyway. My act is pure escapism, sometimes with some commentary hidden in there, but I never preach. It might be subversive. But even my presidential stuff is complete lunacy. But the message is never the primary force.
Will you go full steam ahead with your stand-up now that the show is over?
Yeah. It’s hard to be doing a show that takes up so much time and try to do so much stand-up. I never really cut back on stand-up when I was at “30 Rock.” I still did shows, but I had to keep things local and do New York. I’ll do more touring worldwide. And I’m going to put out more product, more albums, which are long overdue, and some video specials.
Is there any chance you’ll find another television show with, say, Comedy Central, which would allow you to do what you wanted with stand-up or sketch comedy?
I’ve turned down specials from (Comedy Central) at least three times over the years because of ownership issues. So what I’m going to do this year is make albums and specials on my own and figure out the best way to get them released. I don’t know whether that will be through my website or a cable channel, but I want control. If I produce it myself, it will take more work and it will take more time, but I’ll be happier with what’s produced.