You know what we mean: The supporting character in a sitcom who is so funny and enjoyable every time he hits the screen that, inevitably, the show’s focus turns away from its original setting and toward that character. Like Fonzie. Or Urkel. Friedlander plays Frank on 30 Rock, and while his character doesn’t always get a lot of screen time, it’s usually quality time filled with more porn references than can be found anywhere else on network television.
Away from the cameras, Friedlander still pursues a stand-up comedy career. He plays Saturday night at the Theatre of the Living Arts. He talked to PW about sports, poop, comedy and, yes, hats. Some excerpts:
PW: I’ve got to let you know, I let my friends know I’d be interviewing you. And two of them separately, completely separately, asked if you or I would be wearing pants during this interview. That’s a pretty remarkable cultural achievement you’ve got going when people just automatically ask that question.
JF: Interesting. Very interesting. Yeah, what can I tell you? I guess some people want to be loose and get excited when they talk to me. It’s a free country. You can wear whatever you want when you talk to me.
PW: Are you wearing pants?
JF: I’m wearing shorts. I’m an athlete, I’m ready to go.
PW: You’re the world champion, as I understand it. What are you the world champion of exactly?
JF: You name it. Every sport, I’m the best in the world.
PW: Do you do hurdles?
JF: Yeah, I do hurdles. You must know about my training regimen. I usually do a lot of shoulder presses, usually about 600 pounds while running the treadmill at Level 10, at the steepest incline. And my treadmill has a hurdle on it. So I actually have to lift the weight, run over the hurdle — it’s on a treadmill so I have to immediately duck, slide under the hurdle, and do it all over again.
PW: That sounds like it defies the laws of physics.
JF: Yeah, for a normal person. But not a world champion athlete like me. And I do it every day, just for working out.
PW: We have an event here in Philly we kind of regard as sports, maybe you won’t. Have you ever heard of the Wing Bowl? It’s basically a hot-wing eating contest, and it’s a huge cultural thing in Philadelphia.
JF: Philly’s a good eatin’ town. You guys have good food there. And I don’t need to enter a contest to know I can eat more wings than anyone else. I usually have 50 wings before I have my cereal in the morning, just to get my protein in.
PW: That would mean you’re not the world champion of Wing Bowl.
JF: I would if I entered it. I’m actually banned from eating competitions. Because eating competitions lead to shitting competitions. Sorry about the language there, but you asked the question. And I’ve won every shitting contest, which means I’ve won every eating contest. That’s why I’ve been banned — kids like to go to those events. Eating contests are basically a gateway to shitting contests, and I’m a role model. So they banned me.
PW: Most people know you from your acting career, specifically as Frank on 30 Rock. It’s looks like you’ve got a pretty comfortable gig going. Why do stand-up?
JF: Stand-up is my favorite thing to do, man. I’ve been doing stand-up comedy since 1989 — that’s right, I started in the ’80s. It’s definitely what I’m best at, it’s the most fun thing to do.
PW: Was your hair more of a mullet then in 1989?
JF: I’ve definitely gone through mullet phases. I can’t remember if it was a mullet back then. And for the record, I want all the young kids that in the ’80s nobody called the mullet hairdo a mullet. It was just called: “Awesome hairdo, man.”
PW: You’re known both on the show and in real life for your hats. How’d that get started and how much time do you spend on hat creation?
JF: I make all my own hats and I make up all the sayings. Once in awhile on 30 Rock — I’d say once or twice a season — they will actually write a hat into the storyline. I still make the hats, but they will actually write a comment about my hat that one of the characters will say, or they’ll come up with a plot line that uses the hat.
Here’s how it happened: As a comedian or an artist, you create things. I used to do painting. Or a joke, you think of a joke and put it out there. I was like: Why do we always have to buy clothes that are advertising somebody else’s stuff? That’s one of the amazing marketing things that the clothing industry has done, where it’s become cool to wear clothes that actually have the name of the clothes on it. So all you are is a billboard for a giant corporation that is already making tons of money.
Sometimes — I remember when I was a little kid, I’d go into a novelty store and they have these bumper stickers or maybe funny T-shirts and I was like, “I should make my own funny stuff.” So about 15 years ago, I started making my own hats. At first I’d find or buy old patches from like the early ’80s. So I made my own Pac Man hat, my own Twisted Sister hat. This was before the VH1 “Behind The Music” stuff. Twisted Sister was just forgotten. Then I was like, “Let’s start making my own hats.” I did lots of research and found places where you could buy some blank hats, and then I used to buy hats that had stuff on it and I’d rip the stuff off and put my own stuff on it.
PW: Do you order these by the gross then?
JF: I sell some on my website, too, so I have to order a lot of hats.
PW: How much time does it to create a hat?
JF: It depends: Some of the ones I have are fancy and take hours or days. And some of them are real simple and they take minutes. Usually the ones I wear on 30 Rock are pretty quick to make. Some of them are jokes I come up with and I make quite awhile before, some I think up on the spot, and some I decide after I read the script and I think, “What’s a hat that’s going to go well in this scene?” It could be an inside joke commenting on the scene or something totally the opposite. I like the hats to add to the scene, not detract from the scene. I usually come to the set with a few hats, two or three hats, test them out and ask the crew. It’s like testing a joke. Then I’ll run it by Tina and say, “What do you think?” and she’ll pick which one she likes more. And sometimes, I know what I want to wear and I’ll wear that one in. You know, Tina’s always been cool with it.
Judah Friedlander performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at Theatre of the Living Arts, 334 South Street. Tickets are 29.50 at the door. Or purchase online and get for $10 using a special code word, to be found here. www.livenation.com