Jon Friedman Celebrates Rejection
For Jon Friedman, rejection has been a good thing.
You wouldn't think so looking at his credits. Aside from his day gig writing for the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon website, Jon is an actor, producer and director of one-person shows, sketch/variety productions, and short videos and films. Past productions include the New York City Beard & Moustache Championships, The Delicious Sandwich Social, The ECNY Awards and many other popular live events.
The Brooklyn-based comedian is best known as creator, producer and host of the New York City cult hit show, 'The Rejection Show.' Since 2003, 'TRS' has gathered some of NYC's brightest young writer-performers — including David Wain, Mandy Stadtmiller, David Rees, Tom McCaffrey, and Kristen Schaal — to gather onstage and share their comic tales of personal and professional woe.
Now Jon has compiled a comic anthology of short essays called Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped, and Canceled. Jon's hosting a party to celebrate the book's release on Tuesday, Jan 27th at Brooklyn's Bell House (149 7th Street, Brooklyn, NY), starting at 8 p.m. Many of the book's writers will be on hand. There will also be performances by The Defibulators and Adira Amram.
We recently had a discussion with Jon about writing, performing, and lounging in front of the TV.
Where do you live now?
I almost can't do one without the other. I go through a lot of phases in my own head of who or what I am. It comes and goes in waves. But ultimately, I am a writer who performs and I certainly perform my own material. But not to make the performance side of me feel bad — performing helps to motivate and fuel my writing.
What was the genesis of 'The Rejection Show'?
I used to talk about a "perfect storm" of rejection all hitting me at once that helped to motivate the creation of the show. The "perfect storm" being rejected at work (not getting the job I wanted), rejected creatively (not having my own writing and material accepted or looked at), and dumped by a girlfriend (unexpectedly). However, those things did not all happen at the same exact time but more one after another over the course of a year.
The real basis of the initial idea of the show came from being an intern at Comedy Central where it was my job to go through all of the unsolicited material (or slush pile) and mail it all back with a standard rejection letter. I was so entertained going through all of this material and I wished there was a forum or an outlet where this kind of work was put on display.
Since then, the overall idea of the show has developed to be much more but that is where it all started and of course was fueled by the events of the so-called "perfect storm."
What was your roughest experience on stage with 'TRS'?
Recently, I've been experimenting with doing the show in a more mainstream comedy club where most of the audience came in off the street or were tourists not knowing that they were specifically coming to see 'The Rejection Show' and they expected more of that "mainstream" comedy club vibe.
The roughness on the stage came during the adjustment period when those audiences were figuring out what they were actually about to see (or seeing). To their credit most of them came around and enjoyed the show.
In the past (previous venues), most of my audiences for the show knew that they were specifically coming to see 'The Rejection Show' and I could feel the difference between those two kinds of audiences and it is a lot more fun to perform and do the show for those who purposefully came knowing that they were going to see me and the performances on 'The Rejection Show.'
Do you think performers need to make their own opportunities?
Yes. Absolutely 100%. If you wait around for others to make opportunities for you, you will never get the opportunities you are looking for. I'm a big believer in doing whatever you can do to make your own opportunities (while being smart about it) and to keep trying and adjusting until you reach what it is that you want to do. Luck also plays a large part in opportunities presenting themselves but the luck means nothing if you are not out there creating a chance to be lucky.
In an average day, how many hours do you spend writing, performing, etc.?
I like to think that I am always in a mode where I am writing or connecting what I am doing to my writing/performing. That's not to say that I don't have regular non-distracted human moments because I do very often, or at least I try to as often as I can because they are very important to me and should be to everyone — but as a writer/performer people connect to you if you are truthful about your life and experiences and that is where the best material comes from.
Was there anything you learned from performing just by doing it?
I can confidently say that everything I have learned has come from "just by doing it." Which also means that I am still learning and it is my hope to always be learning. I include watching others perform in this category. It's great to learn from others by watching them "do it" as well. I've never taken any classes but I don't want to diminish the value of what they can do for a performer/writer. It's a different process for everyone and if you keep "doing it" you will find what works for you.
I learned not to be so fearful of rejection and failure. Yes, it is still terrible and still hurts, but from being so closely involved with every 'Rejection Show' it has taught me that you can overcome hardships and disappointments to the point where it can actually be fun to share those experiences on a stage live in front of an audience (or in a book like Rejected). And just knowing that makes failing a lot less scary.
Can you learn to be funny, or does it have to come naturally?
I think it is a combination of both. However, the "naturally" part comes first. Being funny on a stage is a lot different then being funny hanging out with your friends. There is a skill involved with communicating your ideas and humor to an audience in a club/theater environment. The proper way to communicate what is naturally funny to you and about you to that audience is where the learning process comes in.
With all the projects you do, when do you sleep?
I do sleep during the nighttime. I've never been someone who is good at napping although I wish I was because I love lounging around and watching the TV. TV is my friend.
-- Tom Penketh
The book "Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped, and Canceled," edited by Jon Friedman, is available on Amazon.com.