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Reynolds: When did you first learn that you had a talent for likenesses, relative to your overall interest in cartooning? It seems to me that you had this from the get-go...
Friedman: I've always loved drawing faces, first "Monster" faces, then my own family and inevitably, my teachers, which would get me into a lot of hot water, especially when I rendered them (sometimes sans clothing) on my desk. But I knew I was on to something from the response I was getting from my friends and brother. Lots o' Laffs! My early influences were the MAD guys, especially Mort Drucker and Don Martin. I knew that's what I wanted to do, work for MAD (which I would!). The "stippling" actually slowed me way down as far as drawing too fast and cartooney. It forced me to take my time and concentrate more, and using the photo ref helped me achieve the more "realistic" look to the work, which worked for my early "documentary style" comic strips.
Reynolds: Who is your favorite caricaturist of all time?
Friedman: I have a short list of mostly the obvious ones (David Levine, Drucker, Basil Wolverton, etc.), but Al Hirschfeld is probably on the top. The fact that he stayed so talented, sharp and still relevant till he was 99 is so amazing to me, when so many people seem to burn out when they're HALF that age. I still marvel looking at his work, especially his early TV GUIDE covers. I love the color stuff!
Reynolds: Which came first: the idea for a book collection called Old Jewish Comedians, or the portraits?
Friedman: I had drawn some of the OJC'S over the years (The Stooges, Jerry Lewis, Berle), but all the portraits were specifically created for the books. Monte [Beauchamp, BLAB! editor] asked if I'd be interested in doing a book for his "Blab storybook" series, which I was, and I tried to think of what I enjoy drawing the most? Old Jews, and Comedians! So I combined them and Viola!
Reynolds: For the first OJC book, the exclusive Friar's Club in NYC hosted an event to honor the book. A second is now planned for the new book. Can you explain a little bit about what happens at these events?
Friedman: The Friars club "Book-warming" parties came about because I had added Freddie Roman, the "Dean" of the Friars, at the last minute to the first OJC, and his son Alan, who's a comedy writer in LA, sent the book to his dad who loved being included and asked to host a party for it. The first party was hosted by Freddie and Mickey Freeman, who was also in the book, in the "George Burns Room", and was attended by a lot of old timers from that era of Catskills comedy, as well as many younger people. The two old comics got up to make speeches about the book, as well as doing some of their tried and true Schtick. I got up to say a few words and thank everyone for coming, and of course It was almost impossible to wrestle the mic away from the "Sunshine Boys"! Everyone had a ball! The next party will be co-hosted by the great Larry Storch, who's in the new book, and was the first OJC who ASKED to be included.
Above: Mickey Freeman (left) and Freddie Roman (right) celebrate Friedman's work at the Friar's Club in New York. Photo © 2006 K. Bidus.