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Ten Minutes with Judah Friedlander

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It was the book signing that wasn't. On a balmy night in Los Angeles, Judah Friedlander who plays Frank Rossitano on NBC's hit comedy 30 Rock, was slated to do a book reading and signing at Barnes & Noble for his new book, How to Beat Up Anybody.

Except the books didn't turn up; they were... on a loading dock at Los Angeles International Airport. Making the best of a bad situation, Friedlander nonetheless made his audience chuckle before a group of us decamped to a nearby restaurant for dinner. A little rushed for time, Friedlander and I caught up over the phone earlier this week to talk karate, book signings and all things funny.

Hey man, what are you up to?

I was just working on 30 Rock, we just wrapped for the day.

Cool, cool. So tell me about the book. I loved your presentation at the Barnes & Noble book signing--

Yeah, do you have a copy?

No, remember...

Oh yeah. I fly to LA to do a book signing and the publisher and the store have no books at the signing. No books. And finally I put on a show and do a Q&A and the store found one book. So, it was literally a book signing, not a books signing. A little publisher and bookstore f*** up. It wasn't my job to bring the books.

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I mean, you have to admit it was kind of comical.

Yeah, I even offered to sign other books. I think it was How to Think Like a Man. I forget who wrote it, I think some woman wrote it. Oh well. I'll just sign any book in the store.

Ok, but the signing aside, this is a book about karate so tell me a little more about it.

My book is instructional, written by me, the world champion. I am the greatest marital artist in the world. We're in tough economic times and everyone knows when times are bad, crime goes up. So, that's why I've written my book: to keep people safe.

Shouldn't you learn karate in a class?

No, don't learn at karate schools. They overcharge you for karate uniforms. They make you pay like fifty or seventy-five bucks just for a karate uniform, and you don't wear a uniform in everyday life, so why train in one? Most fights take place outdoors, not inside with perfect lighting and mats.

Is there anything else in the book?

Well, my book teaches you how to fight bigfoots. With deforestation going on worldwide, bigfoots are being forced out of their homes and they're being forced into towns and big cities. I'm the only person talking about this serious issue. Not even the Green Party. You think they'd be all over it. Nope.

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Anyway, the book has about 500 photos and it's all visual jokes with the photos and jokes with words. So, what I gave in the presentation was just photos and little jokes with each one. I gave you one photo of me fighting the man with three arms and [the actual book] goes into much more depth not only about how you fight a man with three arms, but why you need to learn this...

How much of the book come from your stand up?

The book is based on my stand up but there's only two jokes from the whole book that are in my stand up. The rest of it is all brand new stuff that's written exclusively for the book. I've been doing stand up since '89 and world champion stuff for 10 years and this book I started about seven years ago. The last 20 month or so it's been pretty much non-stop.

How do you manage both filming 30 Rock and producing the book?

It's tough because I still do stand up full time so it was kind of like having three full time jobs. I was invited to be at the SAG awards [last year] because I was nominated [as part of an ensemble award for 30 Rock] but I skipped it to work on the book. And over the summer I turned down three or four movies because of the book.

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What kinds of movies are you looking to do?

I definitely wanna do my own movies and I wanna do my own world champion movie, which will be part stand up concert movie and part documentary--and part behind the scenes of what it's like to be winning world championships and beating up big foots and taking out ninja communities and inventing new forms of karate that nobody has seen before.

And what kind of movies have you done previously?

I've done all kinds of movies but I wanna do some more independent films that are not your run of the mill type movies like American Splendor, which I had a big part in, that are really trying to do something unique.

So, how did you get started in entertainment?

I started doing my own animated movies when I was in ninth grade that's when I got filmmaking bug. When I was about 16 I started writing jokes for doing stand up and then I was 19 and started doing stand up.

What's it like to be a novice stand-up comic?

You try to get out every night and get on stage somewhere and keep getting better. Stand up is not like being a musician. You can get really good at guitar by practicing at home. With stand up you need to be in front of an audience. Stand up's always been number one for me and always will be.

Why is that?

I think what I found out years ago is that, personality-wise, it fits me the best. Making a movie takes a lot of skills. If you wanna be a good director or producer, you have to be a good sales person and business person and you have to convince so many people that this idea for a movie is the one to put money into. And the other thing about making a movie--take Meet the Parents, [which I had a part in], for example: a movie won't be screened until 6 months later. But in stand up, it's immediate; you know within a second if your joke is funny or not. I like that immediacy and comedically nothing keeps you grounded like stand up because you're right there, inches away from everyone. If you're on a film set, you can tune out from regular society. But with stand up you're right there with everyone. You gotta be funny. I like being live and interacting with the audience, as well as doing lots of prepared material.

But now you're on 30 Rock, after having worked in the business for so long. What's it like being on a show that regularly makes fun of industry you work in?

I don't know if I've been on show quite like this, but it's such a smart show and sometimes I learn things on 30 Rock that I didn't know was an issue [in the industry]. But ultimately it's a great set of writers and cast and crew and you kind of have fun with every one and learn form everyone.

What are some of the things you've learned working on the show?

All the actors have a different process. Just watching Alec Baldwin work, I learn a lot. He's got such a great screen presence and charisma. You tune in so intently to everything he's doing to every physical and facial gesture, to every intonation. He gives the viewer a lot to listen to and look at.

And Tina [Fey] is so impressive with all the things she does because she does so much--being head writer, star of the show, and creator of show. That's a hell of a lot to be working on. When we're in between takes, she's going over scripts for upcoming episodes. Her work ethic is astounding. A lot of people work on 30 Rock but Tina does an insane amount of work.

So, what's next for you next work-wise?

Well, making sure that book shows up at my next book signing. That is what is immediately next for me.

Then, I'm doing more promotion for the book, and after Christmas, I will focus on my stand up comedy DVD and CD and then I'm looking toward making my own movie projects. One thing that's good about making a book is that it focuses you to get something done. Some people are very organized, but with stand up, you can never really pull it together [as long as you have it together for the show]. Some people find it stressful. For me stand up comedy is the most relaxing thing I do in the day. It's my favorite thing to do and I've been doing for 20 years.

For more information about Judah Friedlander's book, check out his website at ww.howtobeatupanybody.com.