Judah Friedlander and I may have something unfortunate in common. We both have some stories that have awkwardly involved really needing to go the bathroom. His is much worse than mine. I am slightly ashamed how much of this interview ended up being about what I’m sure is a horrific memory for Judah.

You’ve been warned.

When Judah Friedlander takes to the stage, it is as The World Champion.

The World Champion is not only the best at karate, he’s also the best at probably everything. Unkempt and in a trucker hat you might have a hard time believing that The World Champion could run a half-mile faster than you, but let me assure you: he absolutely can. You’d be an idiot to even try to keep up.

By adopting the ever-present persona of  The World Champion, Judah Friedlander has put everything that it is to be a proud American under a microscope. And under that microscope we see just how absurd the American idea of “USA #1” can really be.

And while Friedlander plays it for laughs, the man behind The World Champion is very serious. You can firmly disassociate his personal politics from his onstage persona. He recognizes that he has a platform to reach a wider audience and Friedlander has no problem voicing very serious opinions on social media.

I got to have a quick chat with Judah as he gets ready to bring new stuff and crowd work to Just for Laughs in America… Still Number One.

KeithWith your Netflix Special “America Is The Greatest Country In the United States” and now your tour “America… Still Number One” your persona is no doubt proud of being American. Over the years and across the various presidents who’ve served, are there times where you’re actually proud of being American?

Judah: My entire act is mostly absurdist satire. I think it’s a mix of seeing how things can be horribly run in the United States, but you can still have pride as well. Even though there are all these horrendous things going on at so many levels and part of that pride is sticking up for yourself.

K: How do you find ways to find that real pride when things get bleak?

Judah: I am a pessimist by nature. However, I will add this: I think with pessimism there is optimisim. If you’re optimistic about everything I think you’re less likely to have good results. If you’re pessimistic you’re more likely to fight and try to make things better. I think the US is too optimistic,  and that’s part of the problem. We’re like “Hey! We’re great!” And when you have that attitude, you don’t really look at things too deeply and you might not realize that things aren’t that great. If you’re pessimistic you’ll be like “Huh? We’re terrible. Ok, how can we fix this shit.”

K: It’s like Americans who are anti-health care. How did they get to that train of thought?

Judah: The power of propaganda is so strong.  The whole World Champion persona is, on a certain level, satirizing this narcissism. When you have so much narcissism and you don’t even realize it. It blinds you from being able to see how anybody else does anything. That’s something that in the United States we’re taught that from the beginning. When we’re little kids. This isn’t a Democratic or Republican thing. It’s a media thing. The Democrats do it and the Republicans do it. We are taught that not only are we the greatest country in the world, we are taught that we are the greatest country in the history of the world. If you’re taught that, you’re taught that you’re better than other people. The implication of that is that the rules of your society are superior to every other country in the world. So if someone brings up something like universal healthcare, and how it works in other countries but we don’t have it, we think that it must be because those other countries aren’t as smart or as good as we are.

K: Its like the US must have figured out something that all the countries with healthcare didn’t.

Judah: Yeah! Exactly. In the US we’re taught that from when we’re little kids. So what I try to do, in an non-preachy, absurdist, satirical way, is to do comedy about that. So basically that’s the main crux of my stuff. I don’t talk about what a certain politician said or didn’t say. I talk about the big issues of “being American” and what the general psyche is behind theses issues and how we got here. And maybe it will make people think. I don’t tell people what to think, I try to get them to think on their own. I think the narcissism combined with that policy that America is number one kind of blinds them. But I do think people are waking up now.

K: A lot of comedians seem to be bringing some of that more “serious” content to the forefront recently.

Judah: I’ve been tweeting “serious” stuff for like the past 8 years.  Nobody was doing it. But in the last year or two there’s now a lot of comedians doing it. Which is good.

K: Getting it back out into the public psyche.

Judah:  Yeah, it’s really good.

The Part I Warned You About:

Keith: There’s a story that I have been attributing to you for years. I think it involved having to go to the bathroom really badly in the middle of the night in New York city. I’ve got my own “bathroom story” about sprinting up out of the metro to a friend’s house that a lot of people like to bring up and I’m like “Judah Friedlander” has a way worse story. But I’ve looked for it all over the internet and I’ve never been able to find it. I don’t know if I heard it on a podcast, or maybe during a set or something but I swear it was you.

Judah: Wow. Yeah. That was years ago. Sadly I think it was me. I’ve only told that story a few times. I think as part of a storytelling comedy night. I’ve probably told that story less than four times.

It was some years back, I must have eaten something bad or had a stomach bug or something. I was at a club in mid-town, it was the old Improv. Long closed at this point, which means this story might be 15 or 20 years ago.

I’m driving from mid-town to downtown to get to my next set and another comic is coming with me because he lives downtown. On the way downtown I’m like “Dude, I really need to go to the bathroom.” And he’s like “Well, we’re almost at the club.” And I’m like “No. I really got to go.”

We are right near his apartment and miraculously there is a parking spot right in front of his building. It was a five-storey walk up. And basically, and this was so rude, but I had no choice. I was in his bathroom for a good 15 minutes with diarrhea. This guy and I were friendly, but I had never even been in his apartment before.  So I’m like “Sorry about that, thanks for that but I got to go or I’ll be late for my spot.”

I do my set and it went great and afterwards I get a little twinge in my stomach again and I’m like “Uh oh.” But I’m only about 10 minutes from my house at this point so I’m like “I’ll make it.”

So I start driving home and the urge for diarrhea is getting very, very strong. I have to push my foot down on the gas pedal in order for the car to move, but I also have to hold in diarrhea at the same time. It got to the point where I realized “I can’t do both of these.”

I either needed to crash my car, or shit my pants. So I made the mental decision to shit my pants. So that’s what I did. It was a mental decision. I didn’t accidentally shit my pants. I made the decision to intentionally shit my pants. It was the choice I had. I had to shit my pants to be safe.

10 minutes later I was back in Brooklyn, and 45 minutes after that I find a parking spot. Then I walked a few blocks back to my apartment. Then I showered for an hour and threw out all my clothes.

Keith: So I have been correctly attributing that story to you then.

Judah: That’s what you want to be known for.

Judah Friendlander will be performing America… Still Number One 3 nights at Just for Laughs Thursday the 26th through Saturday the 28th. Tickets and showtimes hereAmerica is the Greatest Country in the United States is streaming on Netflix now.

Keith does all sorts of things here on 9to5.cc, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.

 

 

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