We wrap up our interview with Drew Friedman by discussion the seriousness of comedy, his relationship with Crumb, and the role he played in Anthony Weiner’s resignation
Do the comedians you deal with tend to have a better or worse sense of humor about themselves?
A lot of them take themselves very seriously. They’re actually very serious people, and a lot of them admit it. Jerry Lewis is a very serious guy. When I talk him, he’s very serious. He asks me what I’m doing and how I do this and that, as if he’s taking notes. He’s so interested in what I’m doing. He doesn’t want to talk about himself, which is kind of strange. Howard Stern is the same way. You’d think these guys would have huge egos and would be self-obsessed, but a least in those two cases, it hasn’t been that way. When I talk to Howard Stern, he wants to talk about what I do.
A lot of them are very serious. Especially the ones who write their own material. Their mind is always working. Woody Allen is obviously a very serious guy. He hardly even smiles. I don’t know if he’s a comedian anymore—he’s more of a director. But once a Jewish comedian, always a Jewish comedian.
That’s why I could put Gummo Marx in the book. People asked me how I could do that. When was he a comedian? He was a comedian in 1918, he retired before World War I—once a comedian, always a comedian. Plus he was a funny guy—I’ve heard he was funny. Groucho actually maintained that Zeppo was the funniest out of all of them. Go figure.
The Joe Franklin strip was a more traditional comic style. Are you working in that format at all, these days?
Over the last couple of decades, I’ve mainly been doing editorial illustration, these books, and a book of sideshow freaks that came out earlier in the year. But I’m actually getting into comics again right now, as we speak. I’m doing a long piece about my association with Robert Crumb. It’s an eight page piece for a book that’s coming out from Simon and Schuster next year.
When I get back into doing comics, I think they’re going to be more of an autobiographical nature, not really the show business parodies. I’m getting a lot of satisfaction out of the Crumb piece I’m doing right now. I’m trying to do things that I really enjoy. A lot of the editorial stuff was lucrative enough, but the political stuff and the business stuff, I just wanted to finish it up. I’m trying to concentrate on something that I had more of a passion for.
Politics and business are two pretty depressing topics, these days.
Are they too draining?
Kind of. I don’t really do that much anymore. For a while, I was doing a lot. Too Soon is half political stuff. I was doing it a lot, mainly during the Clinton and George W. eras. And then less and less with Obama. I’ve backed off of it a bit. I still do it occasionally, like the Anthony Weiner cover for The New York Observer. I posed him like Burt Reynolds, naked on the bear skin rug.
He resigned a day after that, and a couple of people suggested that that may have been the case. Because it was too embarrassing. It’s great when something you’ve done may have had an effect.
I’m sure he wished that was the most embarrassing thing that came out of that event.
You’re right, you’re right. Maybe it was the final nail in the coffin. I didn’t even dislike the guy. It was just a funny drawing.
You said the book is about your relationship with Crumb—what is your relationship with Crumb?
It dates back to when he was editing Weirdo. He’s always been my favorite artist. I was buying his when I was too young for it—like eight, nine years old, smuggling it into the house. Me and my brother became obsessed with them. It knocked me out. I went to SVA and he visited the class. I didn’t talk to him, because I didn’t want to be a fanboy.
But then he starts Weirdo, and I sent him some of my early work, thinking I wouldn’t hear back from him. Then he writes me back instantly. He’s thrilled and says he’s been following what I’m doing. From there, we just established a correspondence that went on for years and years. I run into him now and again and I’ve drawn him a few times. I ran into him at the Society of Illustrators show earlier in the year, and we had a great reunion.
All of this stuff is going into the piece I’m doing. It’s part of a book—cartoonists drawing other cartoonists’ biographies. I took Crumb, but I wanted to do it from my perspective, not a standard biography, because Crumb has already done that. What more can you add?