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October 23, 2015

A Night with the Hilarious Judah Friedlander


Comedian and actor Judah Friedlander is well-known for his portrayals of characters such as Toby Radloff in American Splendor and Frank Rossitano in NBC's "30 Rock," but few people know that he has also been drawing for most of his life. This Tuesday, I received a copy of IF THE RAINDROPS UNITED, Friedlander's new book of hilarious and satirical comic drawings. I devoured the book overnight, and on Wednesday I had the opportunity to see Judah discuss his book at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn, NY.

I've attended several events at Powerhouse, and I've really come to adore the close, intimate seating and laidback style of their author talks and Q&As. Even so, I was surprised and delighted when Judah came out a few minutes before he was set to start and addressed the audience directly, asking if it would be okay if the show started a bit late, as they were waiting for more people. Judah was obviously hilarious, but, more importantly, he was extremely humble and approachable. I already felt as though I was watching a friend rather than a celebrity.

As Friedlander's book features only short lines of text and many, many drawings, he prepared a Powerpoint with some of his favorite pages of the book, which he then discussed in greater detail. Oftentimes he just used the slides to make fun of himself, but there were also moments of great insight and reflection. He quipped that his book was about 95% comedy, with 50% satirizing serious issues. Although I picked up on much of Friedlander's satire while reading IF THE RAINDROPS UNITED, his discussion helped me see the symbolism behind some of his drawings that I had dismissed as simply funny. When it came to his drawing of the types of toes, for example, he explained that people take themselves too seriously and are too quick to pick apart their flaws. Finding the humor --- or the love --- in our flaws may be all we need to feel comfortable. He humorously advised that the next time anyone in the audience sees someone with crooked toes, eyes or teeth, we must remember that their body parts are "in love, and that's something special."

Of course, Judah is nothing if not observant. Throughout the night he reflected on many issues that affect Manhattanites, from $50 cupcakes to plastic surgery nightmares and even gentrification --- his "Gentrification Man" comic is not to be missed. His ability to identify absurdities and poke fun at them makes his simple drawings absolutely hysterical. This is a man who is clearly informed and able to draw his own conclusions about the world around him, making his sense of humor a wonderful plus.

As the night went on, Judah used his drawings to chronicle his background in art. During the filming of "30 Rock," he revealed, he barely drew at all. When the show ended, however, he began touring again, resigning himself to hectic schedules and sleepless nights. Drawing helped him combat his anxiety and allowed him an outlet for jokes that do not work with stand-up. Stand-up, he said, has to be "big, heavy issues with laugh after laugh after laugh." This need for big laughs can be limiting, so Judah enjoyed writing IF THE RAINDROPS UNITED because it allowed his humor to flow more naturally.

To end the night, Judah invited the audience to ask questions either aloud or one-on-one as he signed books. I overheard a girl ask for advice about approaching her first stand-up act and was once again amazed by Friedlander's humility --- not to mention his advice, which was to not invite any friends. He truly seemed to care about each member of the audience and was careful to thank everyone for attending. 

Full disclosure: I admitted to Judah that I would be blogging about the event. His response? "Bookreporter? That's the best blog ever!"