Judah Friedlander at Mayne Stage | Comedy Review

Judah Friedlander, who plays girl-gobsmacked, man-child TGS writer Frank on 30 Rock, began his stand-up career in 1989. Similar to Stephen Colbert, Friedlander rarely breaks character: He’s a karate enthusiast who tweets as @JudahWorldChamp and authored How to Beat Up Anybody (“even if they read the book”). Last night at Mayne Stage, Friedlander’s attire included three articles of “World Champion” garb: jean jacket with red stitching, signature trucker hat with the phrase spelled out in Braille, and a mustard-colored tagline-emblazoned shirt, which sells for $20 on his website. (Incidentally, an autographed SpaghettiO’s can sells for $25).

Although schlubby and seemingly un-agile, he espoused many athletic declarations during his set. For instance, on bodybuilding: “I weightlift weightlifters while lifting weights.” On tennis: “My [second serve percentage] is zero because I’ve never had to take one.” And on badminton: “I play amazingminton.” A conceivable tribute to a certain real-life karate expert, any of these examples of one-upmanship might double as a “Chuck Norris Fact,” a joke that begins with a reference to the 8th degree black belt grand master (and actor) and ends with a preposterous insinuation (example: “Chuck Norris doesn’t flush the toilet; he scares the shit out of it”).

Friedlander’s boasting was ego-free, and he initiated more crowd work then I’ve ever seen, conversing with at least 20 audience members in an affable, non-creepy way (“What do you study?” “History.” “Why? It’s over”). Anyone in the 230-seat venue could ask a question. Friedlander was that accessible, greeting fans and posing for photos in the lobby after his hour-plus set. Although he could have relied on improvisation—generating plenty of fodder and invoking endless callbacks—much of the prepared material was excellent, especially the one-liners: “I saw a man with one arm shopping in a second-hand store.”

Again like Colbert, Friedlander feigns presidential ambitions. To fix the homeless epidemic, he proposed “full-time, live-in tollbooth operators—they’re always asking for change.” Prompted from the audience, he addressed corporate personhood, climate change, birth control, immigration, gay marriage, oil spills (solvable with “mermaid tampons”), foreign invasions, and restructuring America’s geography (“I’m going to move Hawaii to Lake Michigan. It’s beautiful, but it’s too far away”). He had an easy way out of any national predicament. Almost. “What are you going to do about the hunge’?” one man asked. Friedlander replied, “That is an impossible issue, considering you’ve already eaten the letter ‘r’ off the end of it.” 

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)