Comedian Judah Friedlander has no patience for people whining about the state of our nation. As he sees it, America kills it on a regular basis and will continue to do so in the future. Or at least that’s how he frames it in his hilarious new Netflix standup special “Judah Friedlander: America is the Greatest Country in the United States.” We’re the best, and every other country in the world knows it.
Friedlander (known to many for his portrayal of Frank Rossitano on 30 Rock) produced the special himself and shot it in front a packed crowd at New York’s legendary the Comedy Cellar right before the election last year and its material could not be more timely. Eschewing a strict set-up to punchline formula, he chose to answer audience questions about all of the hot-button topics of the day like gun-control, global warming, racism, and trans-rights.
Using his trademark quick-witted dead-plan delivery and inflated sense of ego, he comes off as collegiate-professor from some bizarro planet where some of our nation’s open wounds (mass shootings, mass incarceration, etc..) are some of its crowning achievements. It’s a completely ridiculous perspective, but somehow his satirical take on these issues instills a sense of calm in you as you are forced to laugh at the current state of the U-S-of-A. I caught up with Friedlander to talk to him about the special and America in all of its braggadocious glory.
When asked about his our-way-or-the-highway approach onstage, Friedlander equates this use of cutting satire as a way to humble our nation’s bloated ego. “It’s playing off the narcism and the overconfidence of really the country as a whole,” he explains, “people make fun of Trump for being a narcissist and this overconfident guy yet he’s an idiot. Yeah, but a lot of the country is that way too. I’m way to the left of Trump and even way to the left of the democratic party, but I don't say that in my act. I get people to laugh through comedy, satire, and absurdity. In order to laugh, they need to be thinking. As long as they’re thinking, they’ll figure sh*t out. I don't really like telling people what to think, but to think.”
Ever since the special’s release last Halloween, Friedlander’s willingness to turn these serious topics drew loads of critical praise. So much so that he was awarded both “Stand-up Comedian of the Year” and “Comedy Special of the Year” from The Interrobang’s 2017 Comedy Awards and The Hundreds named it their favorite comedy special of the year.
Even though many of the jokes in the special hit home much harder after the election, most of the material was written in 2016 showing just how much tensions had been boiling up before age of Trump. “A lot of these jokes were written before the election,” says Friedlander, “I think it’s worse with the new presidential regime, but it’s nothing new. Trump did not invent mass incarceration. They’re in danger of becoming much worse. But they’re not new problems.”
So, were there ever times where he was worried that his jokes would not go over with a certain audience? For Friedlander, expecting the unexpected is all a part of the job.
“It goes in waves. It’s calmed down a little bit,” he explains, “right after the election things were really volatile. There were several instances where if things weren’t cooled off or broken up there would be fights in the room. Especially when you talk about race. I have a lot of material in the special about racism and white supremacy. When you start talking about those issues, even people who are against racism often get really, really quiet and on edge because they’re not comfortable discussing it. I first started doing bits about racism a few years ago and I realized when people got real quiet that means they don’t want to talk about it and I thought ‘oh, I need to talk about this more.’”
The special is truly a thing to behold. At some moments, it’s like watching a skilled trapeze artist as Friedlander receives gasps from his audience but then quickly wins them back. That is what Friedlander was searching for as these kinds of laughs are much deeper and hit with more resonance than those gained from jokes that tip-toe around the issues that really matter.
“As a comedian, getting them to laugh is the main point,” says Friedlander, “but the challenge is to get them to laugh at something that they never thought they would laugh about.”
Check out Friedlander's special right now over at Netflix and make sure to head over to his website for all of his upcoming tour dates.