30 Rock's Tough Guy
His book party was crashed by EMTs for being too bloody, he guides a national ping-pong prodigy in the ways of the game, and yes, he can even levitate. Judah Friedlander is the greatest martial artist ever, and he will beat you up.
Don’t let his shaggy, lazy TV writer character Frank Rossitano on 30 Rock fool you; Friedlander, who calls himself the World Champion off-stage, has been honing his karate and stand-up skills for years. The fighting comedian is giving up his trade secrets in his new book How to Beat Up Anybody. “I’ve never been worried about competition,” Friedlander said during a phone conversation. “I don’t look at things as competition when you’re a winner.”
His first book is 100 percent Judah: No ghostwriters, ghost photographers, or stunt doubles allowed—not even for a hot-tub photo shoot. For the self-proclaimed World Champ, this project was a labor of love. Friedlander jumped across the Grand Canyon, kicked Bigfoot’s ass, and knocked out three guys on a subway, all without using his hands. Luckily, he captured every moment over seven years of intense manual labor and hundreds of photographs. And for the collectors among us, each copy is actually handwritten by Friedlander himself.
Beneath his oversize plastic spectacles and infamous trucker hats (whose slogans change throughout every scene on 30 Rock) is a confident fighting machine. But what about that other J.F. who’s dominating bookstore shelves? Jonathan Franzen and Judah Friedlander may not meet mano-a-mano on a mat (unless Franzen wants to do some yoga), but won’t the bestselling author’s latest, Freedom, overshadow this new Great American Flipbook? “[Franzen’s] just another example of someone trying to be like me and copy my style,” Friedlander said. “It doesn’t bother me. I’d want to be me, too.”
How to Beat Up Anybody schools those also aspiring to lead a victorious lifestyle in weaponry, power punching, and subway survival, to name a few of Friedlander’s many skills. “This is all-new material, not from my stand-up show,” he said. “It isn’t like the Jerry Seinfeld book, Seinlanguage, which he printed out of his ass.”
If you squint, Friedlander could actually pass for Jerry’s cousin, one with an eight o’clock shadow who wouldn't hesitate to ask to borrow a few bucks. But beyond a passing resemblance, both comedians have shared the experience of toiling away before unforgiving crowds. Friedlander’s been on the stand-up circuit since 1989 and more than two decades later, he is still known to do up to four shows a night around Manhattan.
“I should have had about four CDs or stand-up specials [by now]. But after this book, I’m going to do a stand-up documentary,” Friedlander said. For now, he spends his days “saving America, looking out for Earth, and winning world champion death matches.”
Even at his book party this weekend, violence was unavoidable. New York’s Fire Department rushed the ping-pong club SPiN after an uninvited visitor spotted a bloodied man lying near the doors. Little did they know, he was the latest victim felled by the World Champion. (Fear not—in reality, the “dead” dude was just his friend Ken Burmeister.)
Just a few weeks before his blood-spattered soiree, Friedlander was offering motivational guidance to his friend about ping-pong. His apprentice, Michael Landers, is the sport’s prodigy and current U.S. national champion. While playing tournaments in the tri-state area a few years ago, Friedlander met another table tennis aficionado, Jonathan Bricklin. Bricklin went on to co-open SPiN with actress Susan Sarandon, who he’s said to be dating.
So is Tim Robbins’ ex moving on with the 31-year-old ping-pong-playing extraordinaire? “I’ve never asked him and I don’t have any evidence that they are,” Friedlander said tactfully. “I see them at the club and talk with them sometimes.” Add being discreet to the list of the World Champion’s ever-growing skill set.
With so much time spent tweeting, performing at comedy clubs, and triumphing during Bigfoot backyard attacks, is there time in a karate expert’s life for some love of his own?
Last year, Friedlander jumped into online dating with a prominent profile on Time Out New York’s singles site. Despite getting positive responses and going out on a couple of dates, finding a worthy World Championess is proving difficult. “I’m still single,” Friedlander says before a long pause. “I actually just divorced 40 women yesterday. I’m so sexually powerful, not everyone could handle it.”
• The Week Ahead in Culture: Can’t Miss Art, Film, and Music PicksHis 30 Rock character Frank is also known as a lady-killer. Now in its fifth season, the Emmy-winning comedy series is still a critical and audience success. It seems only natural its talent would be feeling pretty comfortable right about now. Yet to Friedlander, the show is just a little thing he does as a break from world domination. “It’s hard to say how long the show will be on and how much they’ll use me,” he said. “It’s up to Tina [Fey, the show’s creator] and the gang.”
If 30 Rock’s end is in sight and, God forbid, his comedy well ever runs dry, what are the chances Friedlander would hang up his World Champion cap and take on the corporate world? Quite unlikely, he says: “Just putting a suit on makes me feel all shitty.”
Kara Cutruzzula is deputy features editor at The Daily Beast.