You most likely know Judah Friedlander as Frank from 30 Rock. If you’re a comedy nerd you may know Judah Friedlander as a solid stand up with 20+ years of experience. If you’re a Demetri Martin and/or Daniel Johnston and/or Don Hertzfeldt fan you will most likely enjoy his new book, If the Raindrops United.
The veteran performer has an excellent addition to the Nightmare Gig canon. See the man if you can, be it on land, at sea or somewhere in the middle.
See Judah October 21 at the Powerhouse Arena Bookstore in Brooklyn for a book signing, talk and Q&A, 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.
Judah Friedlander: The show actually went fairly well, but if you look at all the circumstances, there’s no reason that it ever should have been a good gig. I’m not saying it was a good gig. It could have been a nightmare but it wasn’t.
This was years ago, early 90s, over twenty years ago. In New York City, they used to do these shows on a boat filled with prom students. The boat would leave at about 1 a.m. and would come back around 4 a.m. or it might leave at 2 a.m. and come back at 4 a.m. It would circle around Manhattan. The only people on the boat were the staff, which was very few, and high school kids after prom. It was an after party, they had a dance on the boat. Unbeknownst to 99% of students, they do a comedy show on the boat, which would be me, doing a stand up show.
Literally every student is dancing, having a great time and all of a sudden, the DJ stops the music and he’s like “alright, it’s comedy time.” I had to do comedy in the middle of the dance floor.
After show is over, there’s nowhere to go, no backstage, no green room, you just have to hang out on the boat with all the students. So if it doesn’t go well you just have to be sitting around everyone, and being really uncomfortable.
The one that I did, I don’t know if this was a general mix up or flat out racism, but I did a show for a high school that is all black, I didn’t see any non-black people. All black. I’m waiting for the boat, I’m in my early 20s, but it’s obvious that I’m not with the high school, not dressed up or anything, I have a hat on, I’m in jeans, I’m waiting there to get on the boat. There’s two boats, there’s this piece of shit, rickety boat that looks like it’s gonna sink any second and then this big, huge boat, looks state of the art, brand new, it’s beautiful. On the huge boat, there’s about 30 white kids. And I wind up on this dinky shitty boat with about 300 black kids. So I’m doing the shitty boat with the 300 black kids.
Meanwhile, there’s this giant huge new boat with about 30 white kids. I’m at the front of the line and one black student comes up to the people working at the dock, “Hey, I’m the class president”, and he points to the boat that the white kids are on, and he’s like, “that’s our boat, that’s the boat I reserved in September.” The staff start looking at their papers and the boat with the white kids takes off, so it’s too late to make the change… So all these black kids all have to get on this tiny, shitty fucking boat, and there’s no room to hang out or anything, it’s just fucking cramped as shit. So that’s where I do the show.
The school is having an amazing time. Despite them getting ripped off on the boat thing. And like I said, I don’t know if it was a general mistake or someone being racist, I couldn’t make that call, I don’t know. But they did get screwed. They were supposed to be on this big nice boat and got stuck on this small tiny shitty boat. The DJ was a white guy from Long Island and this is when they were playing records, before digital. He’s yelling at students almost the whole time, because the boat is so rickety that when they dance and jump up and down it makes the records skip a little bit and he’s afraid of his records getting scratched, but the students don’t give a shit. They were doing the electric slide in unison and stuff, they’re blasting music and the guy keeps yelling at ‘em, and they keep doing their thing… all of a sudden, you just hear “now it’s comedy time” and I just have to walk out there with no introduction and the show did not go well.
But I did get some laughs. Mostly it didn’t go well but everyone is 17-18, they’re fucking horny, having an amazing time despite situation, they’re having an amazing time dancing, having a great time, and like they don’t want to watch a comedy show and besides the class president, I don’t think any of the other students even knew there was gonna be a comedy show but it didn’t go horrible, it went okay, … I think my biggest round of applause was when I was wrapping up the show. And they were happy to get back to their prom, their after-prom.
Then I’m literally trying to think about where to hang out afterward. I hung out on the deck with some students, at some points I was sitting out on the steps that led to the basement of the boat with the mechanics.
There was no reason for a comedy show. No reason for it.
Brightest Young Things: Were the students sitting when you performed?
JF: Yeah, on the floor.
Some were standing, but most sat on the dance floor. They mostly got confused and disappointed. There was no heckling. Other comics got heckled really bad.
This gig payed $75 and I think I got a check like 3-4 months later. I had to hound the booker to get paid. I had to get down there at 2 in the morning, and I get back at 4 a.m., to and from part of Manhattan where no subways go, so I probably spent $20 getting back and forth, so I wound up making $50.