Before landing his most recent gig blogging for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Jon Friedman, an award-winning comedian, and a New York-based writer and producer, had already been around the block with work featured in the Los Angeles Times, on NPR, and ABC News. He’s also the creator and host of The Rejection Show and the editor of Rejected — a new compilation of sad tales from funny writers from places like Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and The Kids in the Hall — and rejectionshow.com, otherwise known as “the Web’s official home for all things rejected.
After the jump Flavorwire chats with Friedman about his penchant for seeing the glass of tears half full, dancing bears, and the healing power of cathartic group laughter.
Flavorwire: We find it funny that while rejection is something that’s very personal, your show and the book are both very public ways of dealing with it. Why do you think people respond to that?
Jon Friedman: I think the idea of the show works for people because rejection and failure are things that everyone can relate to. No matter who you are or how successful you are, we’ve all had to face and deal with rejection and disappointments. The show allows the performers to share their humiliations through humor and performance while the audience gets to view the performer in a different, more relatable way. Usually what you can relate to will make you laugh.
FW: Do you think the laughs are cathartic because there’s something slightly sadomasochistic happening?
JF: I think that is only one part of why there is laughter. The rest has to do with the fact that what they are seeing is actually very funny and entertaining. I think what you’re talking about is a part of what brings people there to see the show more than why they are actually laughing.
FW: Right. So, was translating the live show into a book a challenge? Or was it pretty organic?
JF: It was definitely a challenge. Although I didn’t take segments from the live show and turn them into book form, I took the idea of the show and created an anthology of rejected material that would translate to print as opposed to what is entertaining in a live comedic setting. It was both organic (because of my experiences with putting the live show together) and a challenge because this is my first experience putting together a book.
FW: Are most of the writers you included friends?
JF: Many are people I’ve become close with as a performer and a writer in NYC, and I’d like to think that some of them also have become my friends, but the book is not a compilation of my friends’ rejected works. There are a few people in the book that I actually never met.
FW: Who was your biggest “get” from a personal standpoint? Do you have any favorites?
JF: To tell you the truth, I really don’t have a biggest get. Being able to do the show in the first place and have people come and enjoy it and also be able to make a book based off of that has been my biggest get. The question feels similar to asking me who I love better, my brother or my sister (although, I don’t have a sister, but you know what I mean). In the same way, it’s hard to choose a favorite piece, but I can remember laughing aloud while reading David Wain’s Cheese Factory sketch, a piece which was rejected from The State.
FW: Is it true you’ve had kids in the crowd at The Rejection Show?
JF: Yes. There have been children in the crowd. I remember particularly one show where I was doing “Slow Dances with a Bear”; I invited audience members to come up on stage and slow dance with a man in a bear suit to Madonna’s “Crazy for You”. When no adults made the move the kid in the crowd jumped up and danced with the bear. He was there with his parents.
FW: Whose idea was it to keep in the editor’s notes in your introduction to the book?
JF: That was my idea. Although to my editor’s credit, she said yes right away. I felt like doing that really help to set the table for what this book is all about.
FW: Is certainly creates transparency. Was that a goal?
JF: Yes, absolutely. That has always been one of the goals with the show and of course the book. I want people to actual learn valuable “insidery” insights to the process while also relating to the rejections. I want it to be funny, interesting, educational, and entertaining.
FW: Do you really believe that rejection can be your ally? Or are you just an optimistic guy?
JF: It’s both. Being optimistic helps to over come rejection and find success. You can use rejection to learn how to be better at whatever it is you want to do and keep trying and keep going until you find your path. I like to think that when you’re rejected you are one step closer to being successful, that is of course if you don’t give up on what it is you want to do. Sounds corny, but I kind if think it is true. It also depends on what one’s definition of success is too.