Judah Friedlander takes pride in putting stand-up first. He starred as “the Hug Guy” in the Dave Matthews Band’s “Everyday” video, portrayed Toby “Genuine Nerd” Radloff in Harvey Pekar biopic American Splendor, spent seven years on 30 Rock, found the time to release two humor books and still hit the comedy clubs whenever possible. So what took him nearly 30 years to release his first special?
The Vegas Comedy Cellar is emphasizing showcase-style lineups, yet you’re headlining two weeks after their opening. They asked me to headline, so I was like, “Yeah!” I’ve heard they’re designing it to be exactly like the Comedy Cellar in New York, which is a great room. From the lighting to the sound to the design of the tables and chairs, it just works. It makes the performing experience better; it makes the viewing experience better for the audience.
How is it that your October 2017 Netflix special, America Is the Greatest Country in the United States, was only your first special to date? I’ve turned down three or four offers for specials over the years. There’s always some kind of censorship, whether it’s language or subject matter or certain brands you can’t mention. And not only would they own that certain performance, they would own all your words. And I usually don’t like the way they’re produced—these crane shots, and they do it in some theater where they don’t even do comedy, and get professional audience-gatherers to gather this big crowd. But then it gets to the point of, “Am I just never going to make a special?”
I realized I needed to make it myself. So I filmed sets for over a year, figuring out what camera angles and audio recording works best. It’s almost like an anti-special. Instead of going big, I went small and just filmed it at the Comedy Cellar, where I work the most. I view stand-up as kind of like jazz, where it’s ultimately a small art form. You don’t want to see jazz at a stadium, you know what I mean?
Now that more celebrities are running for office, how serious could your #JudahForPresident hashtag become? (Chuckles) I’ve actually had some people legitimately tell me to do that. Even though I talk about all the big issues, I never do anything in a preachy way. It’s always from a joking and satirical way. I don’t like telling people what to think. So I don’t know that I would actually run. I think I’m more effective as an outsider than an insider. I’ve never been an insider in anything. Even in the comedy world, I’m kind of an outsider.
You’re also a bit of an international-cuisine foodie. Any favorites you plan to hit in Vegas? Vegas has fantastic food and really at all price levels. I’m definitely going to have to go off the Strip and hit Roberto’s, which is 24 hours and attached to a gas station. I get the shredded beef, refried beans and cheese burrito. With rice on the side, not in the burrito. I don’t do that. Rice goes on the side. It’s unacceptable.
JUDAH FRIEDLANDER April 18, 7 & 9 p.m., $45-$65. Comedy Cellar, Rio, 702-777-2782.