Fast Chat: Judah Friedlander

Before his IWNY appearance, the '30 Rock' star riffs on hecklers vs. trolls, stand-up, and those iconic trucker hats

So, you’re doing a panel on Internet comedy.

This Internet Week is a big week, huh? Is this like the Cannes Film Festival of the Internet?

Something like that. First you’re hearing about it?

Yeah. So, I’m taking the opposite approach. Most people are on a panel because they’re experts. I’m on it because I don’t know a thing. I’m going to use this opportunity to learn something.

You don’t have any favorite online comedy destinations?

I’m a little behind the trend. I’m a comedian. Stand-up is number one for me. I’ve been doing stand-up since 1989. Last night I did three shows. The Internet is interesting. It’s a fascinating medium, and it’s always changing.

How has it changed comedy?

The people that break into comedy now have videos, they’ll have a website, but they won’t have a five-minute stand-up comedy act. Before the Internet, if comedians wanted to build a fan base, they would actually have a mailing list with people’s addresses and actually send them mail. They’d put up fliers and shit. Things have changed a lot.

How have they changed for you?

I like Twitter a lot. I didn’t understand it at first until someone explained it to me. I like the 140-character limit because it forces you to be concise. For joke writing, that can actually be a plus—not even joke writing, any kind of communication.

So the Internet is good for both promotion and honing your writing?

Writing is one of the ingredients you need to be a great stand-up comedian, but there are other ingredients you need also. I view stand-up as a very giving thing. I don’t care if you’re a doctor, if you’re a lawyer, if you’re a convicted killer, if you’re an unconvicted killer. If you’re in my audience, my goal is to make you laugh. That’s why I like the interaction. But my goal is not to pander to you. If you’re a racist, I’m not going to try to tell you racist jokes. 

You do a lot more than just stand-up, though.

I like doing comedy in all mediums. I’ve done about 30 movies, I’ve done a variety of different types of television, from 30 Rock to Letterman to those talking-head type shows on VH1. I wrote a book last year called How to Beat Up Anybody, so I want to do comedy in any medium. What’s great about the Internet is that it can give you creative freedom to do whatever you want.

It’s created whole new subgenres of comedy.

And to me that’s exciting. I’m making a joke when I say, “I’m going to Internet Week because I want to learn about it,” but I’m half serious, too. My stand-up act is very joke heavy, very persona heavy. But it’s also very audience-interactive heavy. That’s one of the things I like about Twitter and the Internet—it’s how interactive they are.

It’s a dialog.

Exactly. Stand-up comedy is a mixture of monologue and dialogue and so is Twitter. One night a couple weeks ago I was just exhausted. I wanted to go out to the Comedy Cellar and do a set. I was literally too tired to drive there. But my comedy mind is still going. So I banged out a shitload of jokes on Twitter that night. And then people write stuff back. And I’ll joke back to them. It’s a lot of fun. I like getting the responses.