Judah Friedlander is a pretty recognizable guy. You most likely know him for his trucker hats, outrageous glasses, and his role on 30 Rock—but what you probably didn’t know is that he’s running for President. Maybe you missed him on the ballot and that’s fine (maybe you need outrageous glasses too), but it’s not too late to get in on the campaign and learn more about his platform. “The mainstream media keeps blackballing me,” Judah says. “So I gotta get the word out.”
June 10th Judah will be performing at the Creative Alliance premiering some new material from his upcoming album and feature length stand-up movie, America is the Greatest Country in the United States. This title stems from what Judah’s comedy has morphed into over the past few years: “satirizing US domestic & foreign policy as well as American Exceptionalism.”
In simpler terms, Judah is using his comedy to inform the public as he addresses our country’s issues by making audiences laugh. Judah prefers terms like “Social Commentary” to describe his work, not wanting to get mixed up in the clumsy rhetoric the term “political” now inspires. “I don’t get into the minutia of what they do on TV,” Judah clarifies, “which is just calling news like a horse race and not caring about policy.”
The shift in Judah’s comedy was originally incubated touring in Europe. “In Europe I thought I would be learning a lot about other countries, but I found I learned more about my own country,” Judah says, explaining a lot about the perspective his comedy takes, both as an insider and someone who’s been able to take a step back and see our country’s issues from various perspectives.
“It’s kind of like if you’re in a bad relationship, all your friends can see it but you can’t because you’re too close,” he says. “But you step away, and you see how pretty shit can be. That really helped me see things more.” It was this wake up call that forged his new comedic path, and instead of breaking up with the US, Judah decided to work to change it.
Judah’s dedication to policy is what makes both his campaign and platform unique. Unlike several of today’s leading nominees, Judah is open to discussing his platform freely, and encourages questions. At many of his performances he hosts what he refers to as, “mock town halls,” in which he asks audience members to put him on the spot and ask him the tough questions.
“Once when I was in London I asked the crowd if they had any questions about my presidential platform. One guy in the back goes, ‘How come poor people in your country don’t want health care?’” Judah explains, shifting to a dainty British accent without missing a beat to quote the audience member. “And I said, ‘That’s an excellent question, and one I’ve never heard posed in America.’”
These experiences in Europe opened Judah’s eyes to how uninformed our society was about our own issues. “Some of the crowds in Europe knew more about America than most Americans—they knew our politics and our policies,” he explains. “I don’t blame us, I don’t call us a stupid country, but a lot of the problem lies with the news media, especially the TV news media. They really—unbeknownst to most people—show such a small part of the news, and such a biased part of the news. And they don’t really give you much information for being on 24 hours a day. They talk about the election like it’s a race, not what’s good & bad for people.”
When I asked him about the issues he was most concerned with addressing in his campaign, he flipped the question right back at me, truly interested in a potential voter’s concerns. A bit caught off guard, I asked him about his goals to repair our economy, and how he planned on bridging the gap between our lower and upper classes.
“I’m going to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour, and I’m going to lower the maximum wage to 14.95 an hour,” Judah explained with confidence, “put the CEO’s in their place.”
What’s interesting about his work is that his stand-up while entertaining, is extremely informative in a concise way. Of course his economic platform makes sense—as utterly ridiculous as it may seem—it aims to solve a problem our country has been facing for years in truly simplistic and straightforward terms, which is something Americans don’t often see in our elections.
Something else that Judah’s act manages to highlight is how incredibly uninformed the general public is about the issues, thanks to neglectfully skewed media and a lack of society giving a shit. His comedy is allowing people to see current issues through a different lens, creating an alternative way to absorb information that society seems to gravitate towards. It’s an old trope that laughter gets us humans through the toughest of times. With the American political system in overwhelmingly troubling state that it’s in, it’s no wonder comedy like Judah’s and shows like John Oliver’s Last Weekend Tonight continue to gain attention as they provide relevant and informative content, to an audience so desperate for a pick me up.
“A lot of those shows do a better job at journalism than most TV news shows,” Judah says. “It’s a good thing MSNBC, CNN & FOX News put their logos on screen because otherwise, I don’t know if I’d be able to tell the difference between them.”
Here in Baltimore we’re all too familiar with the effects mainstream media can have on a city. How the media portrays events is such a fierce influence on how outsiders perceive experiences from a distance. It was such an insane detachment from the rest of the world, being a part of something like the Uprising first hand, and also seeing how the rest of the world was reacting.
“[Mainstream media] is such an enormous problem in our country,” Judah reflects, thankfully though, he sees an upswing of people educating themselves from these alternative platforms. “More people get their info online, and people are getting more educated through online than they are through TV news.”
This is why Judah’s comedy is so impactful. “I’m talking about a lot of issues people are concerned about. In my act I lean way, way, way, way left,” Judah admits freely, which if you take a second to listen to his work, you figure that out pretty quickly. “I try to do my act in a way so that no matter where you stand on the political spectrum, you’re going to be laughing. You might get pissed off at some times, but you’ll still be laughing.”
His material is both relatable and approachable, especially when he’s addressing his opposition head on. “To me just preaching to the choir isn’t interesting. I like tension,” Judah admits. “I think being uncomfortable in moments can be good. And I like doing things in a way that’s not shaming people. There’s a lot of that, calling the other side stupid, dumb or just wrong. I think there’s a way for satire and comedy to get your point across in a very harsh-biting way, but in a way that’s still not pandering to the side that’s with you, and not shaming the other side.” Through laughter, Judah is able to open people’s eyes to views and issues they may not have considered before. “It might not get [someone] to change their point of view, but you’ll get them to think about it.”
While the current political environment is a large influence on Judah’s act, he hasn’t lost touch of the trucker-hat persona we have all come to know at love. Along with his new feature length stand-up movie, America is the Greatest Country in the United States, Judah will release a full version of Champ vs. Drumpf. The inspiration for this sketch is almost as hilarious as the sketch itself.
“About 20 years ago I saw [Drumpf] play softball,” Judah begins, as I tried to hold back a snort, only imagining what kind of athleticism Drumpf’s capable of, I asked Judah about the spectacle, to which he simple replied, “Terrible.” The encounter happened on a field in the New York’s East River Park where the soccer team Judah played on practiced once or twice a week. In typical Drumpf fashion, Judah’s team was asked to move to make room for Drumpf’s office softball team to play on a nearby field.
“Marla Maples was really good. She was one of the only grounders throwing people out,” Judah pauses before getting to the meat of his story. “Then Drumpf grounds out to first, does a really shitty jog and gets thrown out, and I was like, ‘Wow he sucks.’” This encounter resonated so much that Judah devised his sketch to attack Drumpf in the same way he attacks others. “I think he uses a lot of bullying tactics, so I think you gotta bully him back.”
Along with Champ Vs. Drumpf, Judah’s persona has become more and more defined over the years since he first named himself, “The World Champion”. “Initially [The World Champion] was a satire on narcissism and people who brag all the time,” he says. “Then it sort of morphed into a real life superhero. There’s still elements of those things but now it’s more focused on being a champion of the world, and the rights of the world, and the people of the world.”
Through these personas, Judah has released two books over the past few years, the first How to Beat Up Anybody, reminiscent of his early comedy, the second If the Raindrops United more so in line with his current act. Both books show a great deal about Judah’s growth as a comedian and have helped define his unique style and perspective.
As Judah evolves, so does his persona, but his signature trucker hats and glasses remain. “I kinda always wore glasses and hats, and then I kinda just started jazzing up my own glasses and making my own hats and started incorporating them into my act and my persona and it morphed and grew over the years,” he says. “All the hats in my standup have stories and jokes that go along with them. Everything I wear on stage has history and stories. It all goes in with the persona, the character.”
As the editing process for America is the Greatest Country in the United States nears completion, Judah doesn’t have a tour lined up, but calls his upcoming show in Baltimore his, “Summer Tour, both beginning and ending in Baltimore.” and we can’t be more stoked he chose here for it.
Featured Image by Phil Provencio.