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'30 Rock' star ready to rumble in persona of all-conquering superior specimen

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Judah Friedlander is set to bring his 'World Champion' standup persona to Winnipeg today through Saturday at Rumour's Comedy Club.

RICHARD SHOTWELL / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Judah Friedlander is set to bring his 'World Champion' standup persona to Winnipeg today through Saturday at Rumour's Comedy Club.

There's a simple reason why Judah Friedlander became the World Champion.

Because, well, somebody had to.

"He's aggressive, he's confident, he's all-knowing," explains Friedlander, the New York-based standup comic who will bring his "World Champion" persona to Rumor's Comedy Club from May 15 to 17 (tickets are $20 at Rumor's). "It kind of started about 18 or 20 years ago as a reaction to what was going on in comedy. It seemed like almost every comic was trying to bond with the audience -- it was all about finding those things that we all recognize but haven't said out loud -- like, 'Hey, did you ever notice...?'

"They were all trying to be a best-friend kind of guy, so I decided to take the opposite approach, and not only act like I have nothing to relate to these people about, but that I'm so far above them that I have to talk down to them. It's the opposite of bonding with these people; instead of kissing their asses, I act like I'm just so much better than them. It's like I'm so incredible that I can't even relate to what these other people are going through."

It's an approach that has had championship results, driving Friedlander's standup career forward through a decade of constant touring, spinning off into a book (How to Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book by the World Champion) and even spawning a mock U.S.-presidential campaign (WorldChamp4Prez).

Friedlander, who's probably best known to TV-sitcom fans as 30 Rock's burly, bearded, hat-and-glasses-clad comedy writer Frank Rossitano, adds that his over-confident stage persona is also intended to poke fun at an all-too-common American attitude.

"It's also making fun of people who are braggers," he says. "It's probably not as bad in Canada, but in America, everybody is obsessed with being No. 1 -- you know, 'We're the best,' et cetera, et cetera.' A lot of my act is making fun of that, while at the same time sort of celebrating that absurd amount of confidence."

Friedlander, 45, has made dozens of TV and movie appearances, ranging from his long run on 30 Rock to smaller but noteworthy roles in such titles as The Wrestler, Zoolander, Meet the Parents and American Splendor. What distinguishes him from many of his comedy contemporaries, however, is that he has never viewed standup as a stepping stone to higher-profile (and higher-paying) jobs in film and television. Instead, he remains steadfast in his commitment to the art form that brought him into showbiz in the first place at an open-mike night in New York more than 25 years ago.

"Standup is completely different from filmmaking and acting, and for reasons I've never understood, acting is given more respect by people both inside the business and outside the business," he says. "They're like, 'Oh, so you're doing these shows at live venues; why aren't you doing TV? Why isn't that what you want to do?'

"They're completely different things, and there are a few reasons why I prefer standup. First, it's much more exciting than making films and TV, which is really boring a lot of the time. Standup is all action all the time, with no second takes; it's just you and the crowd, doing it live, right there, which creates an intimacy that just doesn't exist in television and film.

"And second, as a standup comic, you are the auteur -- you're the writer, the director and the performer, which is much more personal than being an actor. I love that. It's a very honest art form, very basic and raw."

Despite the fact that in his role as the World Champion Friedlander spends a lot of his time onstage solving American problems and promoting himself as an ideal candidate for his country's highest office, he has no problem bringing his act north of the border to Canada. Learning everything there is to know about America's closest neighbour is exactly the sort of thing the World Champion would do, he says.

"I like to travel; when I do, not only do I learn about other countries, I also learn more about my own country. I get a lot of material from travelling -- I don't do touristy things. I like going to the supermarket, riding the subway and doing regular, everyday stuff and talking to people and reading local newspapers," he says.

"Most Americans think of Canada as just another state in America that they haven't visited yet... but when you go to Canada, as I've done many times, you realize that it's quite different politically and socially. I find the U.S.-Canada dynamic very interesting, and I have a lot of fun with it in my shows."

You can learn more about Judah Friedlander, a.k.a. The World Champion, at www.judahfriedlander.com.

 

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 15, 2014 C1

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