Judah Friedlander would make an excellent dinner party guest. The stand up, writer and actor has starred in one of the most critically acclaimed sitcoms, published two books and is an avid fan of ping pong and pro wrestling. His newest work, If the Raindrops United, is a clever book of illustrations and comics ideal for a coffee table. Part Demetri Martin, Daniel Johnston and Don Hertzfeldt, the drawings are simple, effective and funny.
We spoke with Friedlander about funny on stage vs. funny on the page, wrestling (we didn’t include that because we want you to continue reading), animation, gentrification and more.
See Judah November 3 at the DC Improv for a stand-up show and book signing (ticket price includes a book) and November 30 at Politics & Prose for a book signing, talk and Q&A.
BYT: Do you have any desire to turn any of these single page things or Gentrification Man into a longer animated piece?
JF: Yeah, I have thought about that a little bit. I did animation as a kid. Starting in 9th grade I got into animation. Drawing animation as well as clay animation. And I was really into it. That’s something to think about, especially with Gentrification Man. That could definitely be a cartoon or definitely a series of comic books. I think some of the other ones in there too, like the Guy with the Really Long Eyelashes. I think that would make a nice animated short as well. Right now I’m not really focusing on that because in addition to promoting this book my next project is my own stand-up project which would be a stand-up performance film and album.
BYT: When was the last time worked with clay animation?
JF: Oh boy, I haven’t done that since I was a kid. I still have a lot of my clay figurines that I made in when I was high school.
BYT: That sounds so hard to do, so time consuming…
JF: That’s the thing: it is. I have multiple projects. If I want to do an animation project I have to keep up with an animator. And I have met a few animators so that certainly is possible.
BYT: Are people surprised when people find out you have very liberal views on stuff like gun control, climate change, gentrification?
JF: I don’t like using certain terms like “liberal” and stuff like that. I find that the country is very divided, but I find it divided on false premises. I think most people are good, I think most people are flawed – including myself. But I think most people are good. Most people don’t see the bigger picture, and they’re unknowingly pitted against each other.
I consider myself as someone for human rights, that’s how I like to put it. When you put it that way, I think most people are probably for human rights, but if you look at it under political terms, you probably have a lot of people saying, well liberal is for human rights, and the right wing is not for human rights. Would people voting right wing actually consider themselves against human rights?
I think sometimes labels can be devices. They shouldn’t be but they often are. And “liberals” are also misleading. It’s a word used so differently depending on who’s using it. Politicians will use it to slam someone else who’s on the so-called left wing. But many people on the left-wing are quite, even though they might be called liberals by the right wing, they’re actually very much to the right, they’re not really liberals at all.
It’s a loaded term, the term liberal. It can mean so many things depending on who’s saying it. So I say what I stand for instead of giving it a label that like, which I think is misinterpreted so often.
There’s a lot of connotations that come with liberal. Many people say “oh you’re liberal, that means you’re super PC” and all this stuff, and I am very liberal, but I’m very pro-free speech. That being said, that doesn’t mean I like hate speech or endorse hate speech. I think fascism and thought control can come from the right and the left I think it’s marketed as coming only from the right but it can come from the left, too. I guess what I’m trying to say is that in so many situations and issues, there’s a lot of nuance.
It seems like this country rarely sees nuance. It’s like a bunch of five year-olds fighting, like “I’m like this and I’m not like that – fuck you forever”. We’ll never improve with those kinds of attitudes coming from everyone. I’m someone who is pro-human, pro-earth, and pro-freedom. I’m against oppression.
BYT: You mentioned something pretty interesting, that a lot of the nuance gets lost and the medium that we’re talking about is one page sometimes without text, sometimes with one or two lines of text, conveying sometimes a complicated thought. Do you think it’s easier to deal with that stuff in drawings and in art versus stand up?
JF: In stand up, there are things I can do in the medium of drawing and cartoons that I can’t do in stand up. It’s very freeing, very liberating, and I can really do whatever I want. Within stand up and even stand up that I like myself, I like it to be pretty much non-stop laughter. Generally, I’m getting laughs every 2-4 seconds. That’s kind of how my stand up act works. But I have some where I might go 30-45 seconds without getting laughs. What I’m doing in those situations, is temporarily confusing and misleading people to the punchline which then makes everything circle back together and then you realize everything that was being talked about. But in drawing, some of the drawings are very specific and you know exactly what it’s saying while some are really left up to a lot of interpretation.
There’s one drawing where there’s two people, you may not be sure what sex one of them is. One of them has their penis and it’s hooked up to a wire, what looks like a television monitor, and the other one is coming up into the person’s body and there are many ways to interpret that. I made it that way on purpose. I think it can be interpreted different ways.
Now, in stand up, there’s not, in my opinion, much room for vague things, because in order to get a laugh out of someone they need to be thinking something specifically, or coming to something specific in their minds which then provokes laughter. So vagueness really doesn’t work. Or not necessarily vagueness, but multiple interpretations doesn’t really work. I have some stand up that can work on a couple different levels but both levels are evoking big laughs. Where, if you aren’t educated in certain topics you’ll laugh at the absurdity of it, at the topics, but if you are educated on the topics then you’re going to see a different meaning also. I have some acts that work for an educated or an uneducated crowd. The key is still the same. Laughter about something, but with drawing. I could do things that are disturbing and interesting and maybe darkly funny, too, but then I have some drawings in the book that aren’t supposed to be funny at all. It offers up more of a dramatic punchline and opens up discussion and interpretation. That’s stuff that, in stand up, or at least the stand up that I like to do, is really not there.
If you didn’t get enough Judah Friedlander, check out his NIGHTMARE GIG.