In the final part of our American Invasion, Thomas Black asks the well revered comedian and actor Judah Friedlander what has brought him over the Atlantic to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Edinburgh is often described as a big risk. A big financial outlay and ever growing competition for ticket sales, what’s the attraction for an established act from the States in coming to The Fringe?
I’ve been wanting to go to the festival for years. And I’m doing a 5 week European tour, and i was fortunate to be able to book a run of 4 shows.
What do you think the UK and American comedians can learn from each other? It seems like the British “hours” tend to follow a narrative whereas US comics focus on having a collection of strong bits which aren’t necessarily linked in any way?
I think both methods are good. They’re different and they can each have their positives and negatives – or they can be all positive – it just depends on the show. There are so many different types of stand-up, and I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other. One is definitely more of a one-person show, and the other is more of one person doing a show. My shows at the festival will be a little bit of a mix of both. There will be a general theme throughout my show –
satirizing the idea of American exceptionalism including its narcissism, as well as US domestic & foreign policy – covering many of the big human rights issues in America. But while I have a theme throughout my whole show – there is not a storyline – and in addition to doing many jokes – i also do a lot of crowd work – including having many jokes within my crowd work. And because I run kind of a mock town hall of my presidential platform – there are some nights where I will be doing different material than other nights – each night is it’s own show. And while I have well more than an hour of new material – I’m still building new material, as well as adding on to established material. But I will not be doing any material from my stand-up performance film “America Is the Greatest Country In the United States” which came out on Netflix last year. I will be covering some of the same topics (like healthcare, immigration, gun control) – but with all new jokes. And as for how I view stand-up for what I do -stand-up is a continuing process – that never ends. A bit is never done. A set is never the same as the previous one or the next one. It’s never a finished art form like a painting can be or a film can be.
Now, my stand-up performance film “America Is the Greatest Country In the United States” is a finished product . It’s a movie which is thematic and captures what I was doing over a period of about a 8 months – even though the material spans a couple years worth of material. The material spans two different presidencies & critiques them both. So, while there may not a narrative in it – there is a theme throughout it. And when making it, I did think in terms of a structure. And i think having the structure of a theme or a story can make a product stronger.
Right now, I’m thinking I digressed from your original question, and should’ve had more structure.
The whole world is watching America just now with a mix of fear and confusion. As you travel around the world performing, do you see any change in people’s attitudes and opinions towards America and Americans?
Let’s face it, America has a lot of problems, and now probably more than usual. But you’ve got to admit…we’re an entertaining country. You can’t accuse us of being boring. We are the number one democracy-curious nation in the world. And I’m sure that’s interesting and scary to watch.
Does Trumps America make it easier or harder to shine a light on the humour in the idea of American exceptionalism?
I’m not sure that it’s harder or easier. But it does change things. I think things are a little more complex right now. For example, there are many anti-trump people who view trump as just an anomaly – and if we remove him from office – well then everything will be just dandy again. And i think that point of view is incorrect and dangerous because it implies that America was working perfectly before trump was president. And it wasn’t. So people who believe that – are part of
American exceptionalism. And while I do think trump is much worse & potentially more dangerous president that the u.s. has had in at least 45 years. But if the U.S. really was a country that was just and working well for all it’s people – someone like trump wouldn’t have had a chance to win. I do think that a lot of America has become more politically aware (across party lines and ideologies). And I do think there are more people now starting to realize that America isn’t the perfect country they thought it was. And the other area that is interesting & I think potentially dangerous is the dangerous mix of activism and narcissism. Social media makes it easier to promote acitivism – but social media can be intrisically naricissistic – so if
you’re on twitter talking about a certain issue – it can unfortunately be real easy to make it all about you and not the cause.
I often see #judahforpresident on Twitter. Day one in the oval office, what would you do?
Move out. And turn the White House into a Walmart. That’s the American way.
And if I move out. Then I’m literally an outsider. And I’m more comfortable as an outsider. And as an outsider I can be more effective in my critiques of the presidency. And I’m not cut out to have a corporate job.
Interview by Thomas Black