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Judah Friedlander Keeps Truckin’

Judah Friedlander Keeps Truckin’ (photo)

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Comedian-turned-actor Judah Friedlander (“Zoolander,” “American Splendor”) wears a lot of hats, and that’s not to say he’s bogged down with multiple titles. No, if you’re familiar with his stand-up, VH1 appearances — or most likely, his role as sketch comedy writer Frank Rossitano on NBC’s “30 Rock”– you’ve seen his endless array of trucker hats with pithy messages on them (“World Champion” being his most recognizable proclamation). Add an oversized pair of thick-rimmed glasses and five o’ clock shadow, and you’ve got the Friedlander look, which has its own methodology, as the Spirit Award nominee (for “Duane Hopwood”) would soon school me.

Adding to Friedlander’s eclectic résumé is the new indie rom-com “I Hate Valentine’s Day,” an encore reunion for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” leads Nia Vardalos and John Corbett. Vardalos makes her directorial debut and stars as a Brooklyn florist with a strict five-date philosophy on romance, and Friedlander plays her quirky neighborhood pal Dan. While the funnyman was off the clock during an unusual gig in Las Vegas, we discussed the new movie, what he learned about Mickey Rourke when they worked together on “The Wrestler” and why Manhattan comedy club promoters are always asking passersby if they like comedy.

Is it true that you’re at a table tennis tournament in Vegas?

That is correct, sir. There’s a special ping-pong tournament called Hardbat. Hardbat basically uses amateur-type paddles, the type used in the 1950s and earlier. It’s not the modern game. The professional paddles are very fast. These are slow and not very spinny, so it’s a different game. Anyway,, Fremantle and the Mark Gordon Company got together with Bud Light and ESPN to put on a three-day Hardbat event [that will] air on ESPN in September. I play competitive ping-pong, so I came to them and said, “I want to be a part of this because I want to help promote ping-pong.” I was a TV host, sideline and fan interviewer all weekend.

I saw your skills in action in a Sports Illustrated video. What’s your history with the game?

Straight up, I played as a kid in the basement and rec centers. I remember one of our childhood friends, all of a sudden, had all these new serves and shots. We found out he was learning them from a Chinese guy who lived down the street, and then we found out from the Chinese guy down the street that there are official tournaments. My brother started playing some events, he went to ping-pong camp. This was when I was around 14 or 15. I only did one tournament, but I mostly learned from my brother. Then we stopped playing for about 25 years, and this past September, I started playing again. I play several times a week. Ping-pong’s an awesome sport. I’m the World Champion, you know. I never lose, so it’s pretty satisfying.

What is the “World Champion of the World” competition like, and have you accomplished any new feats to keep your title?

Well, I just did another World Championship event, and I won it again, so I’m still the World Champion. It’s straight-up death matches. That’s pretty hardcore, dude.

I’ve never seen that televised. How do I know you haven’t been making it up?

Just ask around, dude. Do some research. See if anyone will deny it. I got the windbreaker to prove it. [Anyone] could make a “World Champion” hat or t-shirt. I have the windbreaker that says “World Champion” with my name on it. I think that’s proof enough.

07012009_friedlander44.jpgI’m convinced. Perhaps now is a good time to talk about your role in Nia Vardalos’ new feature.

She’s a sweetheart. She’s such a nice lady with great energy. Very warm. She’s certainly an actor’s director, and great to work with. It was a crazy shoot, 15 or 18 days. We did [my scenes] in the Windsor Terrace and Park Slope areas in Brooklyn. I don’t know how much I’m going to be in the movie — I’m guessing not very much. I’m one of a group of friends that [Vardalos] hangs out with sometimes, that group being played by Zoe Kazan, Rachel Dratch, Mike Starr and Jason Mantzoukas.

How do you feel about Valentine’s Day? Sweet and romantic, or a greeting-card holiday for lemmings?

As the World Champion, every day is pretty much like Valentine’s Day for me — as far as hooking up with the ladies. But Valentine’s Day is definitely one of those days where it’s either awesome or it’s a downer.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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