Jon Friedman takes his comedy seriously. Or, at least, earnestly, popping up at venues like Rififi, Apocolypse Lounge, and The Living Room, and finding ways to turn everything from a lost job to a blind date into comedy fodder. An example of his weird sense of humor: when I get his answering machine, after what seems like a normal "I'm not here, leave a message," there is some crazy loud howling type of noise that is both funny and unexpected. Kindof like his comedy, which starts off with his totally deadpan delivery and then instantly morphs into something creative, memorable and sidesplitting, like his "Dear Tank Top Inventor" letter ("Do you know the guy who invented shorts?").
Jon is also the creator, producer and host of The Rejection Show, which features rejected comedy sketches, cartoons and all manner of funny passed over bits, and has had Colin Quinn, Jessi Klein, Christian Finnegan and a host of others grace its stage. This month, the show moves from The Tank to its new home at P.S. 122. And if you go see him do standup, I suggest you request his "Dear Blind Date" letter, which had me literally falling out of my chair (it starts off with "Dear Blind Date, I'm really nervous about our upcoming date. Perhaps we could go out the night before?").
Where do you live?
Prospect Heights, Brooklyn or just off Grand Army Plaza.
How long have you been doing comedy? What were you doing before that?
I've been doing comedy for almost two years. Before that I was convincing myself not to do comedy by finding every reason to not try. I was also an intern (working for free) at NBC and Comedy Central. When you're an intern the people that you work for often refer to you as "the intern" and not by your name. They say things like "Have the intern do it," and you're standing right there.
You write a series of letters that you read onstage, including my favorites, "Dear Tank Top Inventor" and "Dear Blind Date," along with "Dear TV Executive," "Dear Professor" and "Dear Comedy Club Owner." Are these inspired by specific events? Would you ever really send one?
Some of these letters are inspired by real events and most are parallels to actual events in my life. I started doing them as a private writing exercise to get my creative juices flowing so I could get to the "real" writing. I didn't know then that these letters would be what I love to share most. This was before I ever went on a stage. I'd write them and then get a friend to read one out loud at a party or gathering. Then I sort of became addicted to it and would write a new one every time I went out and would always have one in my back pocket ready to go. I have close to 60 of them. Those days were really valuable in setting initial groundwork for trusting creative instincts. The only letter that I have sent off as being real was my "Dear Comedy Club" letter which I sent to a few comedy clubs when I was first starting out. One owner actually asked me to send in a tape of the performance I describe in the letter. If you haven't read it, I say I bring a dead whale on stage and go inside it's mouth and open and close it to make it look like he's talking.
You've been running The Rejection Show, featuring work that's been rejected by other venues from comedians and cartoonists. What made you come up with the idea for The Rejection Show? What have been some of the highlights from it?
I spent a lot of time as an assistant in various development departments. My main task at these jobs was sorting through the slush piles of unsolicited submissions. I did this at Comedy Central and very briefly at The New Yorker in the cartoon department. I found a lot of the "bad" stuff to be more entertaining then the "good" stuff. There's pieces in there that were hilarious for many different reasons that would not come close to being seen by the people that need to see them to get them published or on the air. Politics, finances, and perceptions always come into play when trying to get your work, especially unsolicited work, noticed. The work either got sent back, filed away, or put in the garbage. There was no forum that I knew of that put this stuff on display.
When I interned at NBC I wrote a bunch of sketches that I wanted people at SNL to see. Instead of bringing them to someone who understandably didn't have the time to look, I put them directly in Tina Fey's garbage can when she wasn't in her office. That was a very freeing moment for me. Before putting together The Rejection Show I hosted a regular comedic variety show called The Big Night Out. At one show, friend and New Yorker cartoonist Matt Diffee presented his cartoons that The New Yorker did not accept. The audience and I loved seeing them and the fact that we all knew they were already rejected made us all feel relaxed and more open to enjoying them in a different way. These cartoons were already failures which built in a unique comfort cushion. Normally when performing your craft you're afraid to fail. It's different when people already know what you're presenting has been turned away. That's when I knew that a comedic based variety show on rejected material could be something special.
Some of my favorite highlights, aside from working along side great people like Adam Cole-Kelly, Matt Diffee, and Jeromy Barber, has been seeing legendary New Yorker cartoonists like David Sipress and Sam Gross working in front of an audience. As they say, as cartoonists they don't often get to hear the initial laughter that comes from their work and for me to have a part in allowing them to experience that, especially from work that was turned down by their main publications, has been so spectacular. I also loved when SNL writers Leo Allen and Eric Slovin spun around saying "Spaghetti, spaghetti, spaghetti" from one of their rejected SNL sketches. As an overall highlight, it's been great to see anyone feel new life and confidence in a piece that was deemed not good enough by someone else. I think that's very inspiring to the audience and the performers. I've personally tried to apply that attitude to my own creative and personal life.
Are there any kinds of rejections you'd like to see performed at The Rejection Show that haven't been done yet?
Yes, I'd love to see live rejections. Work that's normally reviewed behind closed doors to now be rejected or accepted live at the show and then hear why. Stay tuned for that. I also want to have a Rejection, Rejection Show featuring all the people who so far have submitted to be on the show but not yet scheduled.
Since you run The Rejection Show, I'll ask you a little about that topic. What's the best/easiest way for a comic to get his or her work rejected?
It depends if you're trying to get rejected or not. If you're trying to then there's endless very easy things you can do but realistically, saying something like "This isn't very good, but" or "I don't like this but I want you to read it," are perfect ways to set yourself up for failure.
On the other side of that coin, do you have any advice for aspiring comedians?
As someone who is still aspiring and growing myself, I have learned that it's important to be having fun on stage and to really make sure what you're doing and saying is funny to you. Avoid the trap of trying to give an audience what you think they want. Take fun risks. Audiences are smart and accepting and they can sense if you're confident and having fun in what you're doing. If you can do that then they'll most likely connect with you. Use what you have and don't try to imitate someone else's pattern. Be you and keep going.
What's the worst rejection (of any kind) you've ever received?
A girl I loved once heartbreakingly told me that she did not want to be with me anymore. That was my worst rejection ever. BUT, what I've learned from that is—rejection can make you see how you can be better. Then it's up to you to do something about it.
You also have this t-shirt business Elameno Tees, which have weird/odd/confusing sayings like "I Like Bacon More Than You Think" or "My Father Has a Moustache" or just words like "Hat." What made you decide to start these? Are there any that you'd be embarrassed to wear?
There will always be some shirts on Elameno Tees that are confusing to some but make total sense to others. If you go through the site with a friend I bet that you'll understand some that he/she won't and vice versa. There are some that I'd be embarrassed to wear in certain situations, for example I wouldn't wear the one that says, "I'm sick of always dry humping. I'm ready to move forward" to meet a girlfriend's parents. I did once wear the one that says "I HAVE TO MAKE" to a concert. Some people were like, "Make what?" others wanted to punch me but it was ideal when I was in line for the bathroom. These started out as a fun hobby with friends just trying to make each other laugh. Then I actually started making them and wearing them and it grew from there. It's still growing. Stay tuned for major improvements on that site and beyond.
You're also putting together the "Movies I Made As A Kid" festival. Can you tell me more about that and if you're still taking submissions, what are you looking for?
Yes, I'm definitely still taking submissions. As long as there are still submissions to take I'll still be taking them. Our generation is sort of the first generation to grow up with camcorders and video cameras. There are tons of entertaining films, shorts, movies, videos, and general weird things out there that we all made as kids. I'm making a forum to display all of these kinds of videos. For now I've been previewing some of them at my other shows and eventually it will be its own show with its own website and an end of year film festival featuring all or most of them. So send them in to www.tremendousrabbit.com/kidmovies.
In your Confessions of a New Coffee Drinker at McSweeney's, you seem to have an affinity for the exclamation point! Is that your favorite form of punctuation?
It has always been my least favorite. I was always against it until (for real) right around the time I started drinking coffee about a year and a half ago. Coincidence? I think not! That piece was my exclamation point coming out party. I use it now more often but still strategically. If you read any of my work from before that you probably won't find any of them.
So, really, why is your website called Tremendousrabbit.com?
I do explain that in the FAQ's section of my website because it is frequently asked. It is not a reference to Donnie Darko. The phrase "tremendous rabbit" comes from a line in a short film that I wrote called "Santa Claus and the Jew" in which Santa Claus accidentally goes into a Jewish house on Christmas Eve. In it he describes the Easter Bunny as a "tremendous rabbit that hides chicken eggs" when teaching the Jewish child about religion. It was written before Donnie Darko was released. I like animal suits. They make me laugh.
What's something that a lot of people think is funny that you don't?
I don't like those internet things showing people getting hurt. Please stop forwarding them to me. If you'd like to point me in the direction of a newscaster sneezing by all means go ahead but no more funny violence.
Your name is probably a pretty common one, and there is a Jon Friedman who writes for CBS's Marketwatch. Do you ever get confused with other Jon Friedmans or get email that's meant for them? If so, how do you respond?
I don't ever get emails intended for other Jon Friedmans but I did once email the CBS Marketwatch Jon Friedman and said, "You are my Google nemesis!" I never heard back from him. Apparently he's too busy watching his markets.
What is the funniest thing about living in New York?
I love watching people nodding off to sleep on the train. The slow drifting, eyes closing head fall, with the immediate neck snap back right before the point of no return will continue to delight me for years to come. Someone once drifted to sleep on to my shoulder. That was not so funny but I let them stay.
How can people be a part of your shows? Are you accepting submissions for anything else?
Yes, I'm looking for people's rejections both for the stage show and for the upcoming Rejection Show book. You can also send me sketches you wrote and have them acted out on stage by the newly formed Rejection Show Players (if they have been rejected of course.) Send me your Kid Movies, send me stuff. You can email me and get more info at www.tremendousrabbit.com.
Jon Friedman does standup tonight at The $1 Room at Telephone Bar, and Friday performs as a "Law and Order" guest at Juvie Hall in Sara Schaefer is Obsessed With You. The next Rejection Show happens October 20th at P.S. 122 with Scott Dikkers, Todd Hanson, Nick Kroll, Todd Rosenberg, J.B. Handelsman and Andy Friedman. Find out more at Jon Friedman's website, blog and Elamenotees site.
Interview by Rachel Kramer Bussel