Judah Friedlander is not the slacker he appears to be. The ostentatiously unkempt Gaithersburg native, best known as Frank Rossitano on NBC’s acclaimed, nearly done sitcom “30 Rock,” is also author of the satirical karate manual “How to Beat Up Anybody”; a film actor known for his roles in cult favorite “Wet Hot American Summer” and critically lauded “The Wrestler,” and a stand-up comedian who routinely performs up to four shows a night.
The number of hats he wears professionally may be rivaled only by the number he wears literally — and makes himself. The colorful specimens of hand-labeled headgear have become his idiosyncratic calling card, not to mention Easter eggs for “30 Rock” fans.
(Mary Ellen Mathews/NBC) - Judah Friedlander
“I always thought it was dumb that there are so many hats out there with stuff already on them,” he says in his lumbering cadence. “Why not put your own stuff on them?”
So he does, plodding around in a green trucker hat that reads “E.S.P. Tutor” or the yellow accessory emblazoned with “Extra Cheese.” Or, perhaps his most notable, the one he claims to be wearing when calling this week from his home in Queens: a hat that simply says “World Champion.”
That’s the name of Friedlander’s greatest creation, his bombastically self-assured alter-ego who headlines his stand-up routines (and occasionally butts into interviews). He’s a man who claims to hold an extra-dark black belt in karate and demonstrates how to take down Bigfoot. He asserts that he gave up water skiing because he couldn’t find a boat fast enough to keep up with him and that he plans to run for president on a platform that includes moving Hawaii to Lake Michigan.
His grandiose declarations seem all the more delusional given Friedlander’s vagrant-chic style and mellow delivery. Massive glasses obscure his perpetually heavy lids, stringy brown curls cascade from his oversize trucker hat toward his drooping shoulders, and mutton chops often adorn his cheeks. For a purported athletic powerhouse, his 43-year-old physique is not exactly Olympic-ready.
The hours he hasn’t spent at the gym have been devoted to working on his World Champion shtick, which has won him fans, gigs and the designation of “one of the all-time great weirdos,” according to “30 Rock” creator and co-star Tina Fey. He’ll take his act to Sixth & I Historic Synagogue for “Chanu-Comedy: A Festival of Laughs” (which, despite its name, will have nothing to do with Hanukkah).
The onstage persona didn’t come to him at a single aha moment. The character emerged slowly during the years since Friedlander’s first open mike at the D.C. comedy club Garvin’s in 1989, as he attempted to distinguish himself from fellow comedians.
“This is going back 15 or more years ago, when almost every comedian out there was trying to bond with the audience. Comics would be like, ‘Do you ever notice . . . ?’ or ‘Don’t you hate this . . . ?’ ” he said. “I decided to take the opposite approach of just being unable to relate to the audience on anything. I’m just so far superior to them.”