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Vulture TV Awards: Judah Friedlander on Why Sharknado Is the Year’s Best Batshit TV

We’ve reached the end of our weeklong Vulture TV Awards, honoring the best things television served up in the past year. As a send-off, we leave you with a look at the craziest of the many crazy TV moments eligible for these awards — one that, for us, tops even Miley Cyrus at the VMAs and the minotaur sex in American Horror Story. We asked 30 Rock alum and unabashed Sharknado aficionado Judah Friedlander, who will appear in the sequel set to air July 30 on Syfy, to play us off with his ode to the year’s Best Batshit TV.

As told to Jennifer Vineyard.

Best Batshit TV: Sharknado

Hollywood, for the last seven years, has made the most boring movies ever made, whether they’re big budget action films or whatever. Hollywood makes a handful of good movies a year, but most of them suck, and they’re just kind of soulless, corporate, lifeless. Some movies that suck, they just suck, right? They’re just bad — but not in an enjoyable way. And then some movies are kind of bad movies, but there’s something about them where they transcend being bad and turn into incredible.

For me, movies like that are not a guilty pleasure — they're just a pleasure. It’s not easy to do them right. When some people try to do a movie like this — one that’s so bad that it’s hilarious on purpose — those usually don’t turn out well. But any movie that is bad and unintentionally funny, there’s actually something really good in there. Because it’s not just bad. It goes beyond bad. You can enjoy it on different levels, depending on who you are, and what you’re into.

A movie like Sharknado, whether or not you legitimately like it and think it’s awesome, or you’re laughing at it, or a combination of both, there is no way to not be entertained by that movie. It’s impossible. Sharknado was just a perfect combination of awesome, and I fucking loved it.

Sharknado works on a couple levels. There are people who laugh at it, there are people who laugh with it, and there are people who just take it straight up, like, “This is a good shark movie!”

The iconic moment in Sharknado is when Ian Ziering holds a chainsaw, and there’s a shark on land diving into him, and then he makes a decision to jump up with this chainsaw and let this shark swallow him, and then chainsaw his way out. For me, the moment that makes it incredible is when you see Ian Ziering's face, and he makes the mental decision of going, “Yeah, I’m not going to get out of the way of this shark. I’m actually going to dive directly into the shark with my chainsaw.” And his character definitely had the confidence of like, “I'm going to be able to chainsaw my way out of this shark from the inside.” And then he does it! It's just fucking amazing. And Ziering was brilliant in it. He played it totally serious, totally straight, and he was just awesome.

I watched it live, and I was live-tweeting the whole thing — cracking jokes while it was airing, doing commentary, and having an amazing time. And I started tweeting at the director, and at the film production companies, because I was just loving it. I’m a fan of the Asylum, which produced it. They also did 2-Headed Shark Attack. Those are some of my favorite types of movies, but those are the kind of movies agents and managers of mine would never submit me for! But at the time Sharknado 2 came around, I didn't have an agent, so I just reached out to them myself, when I heard they were going into production soon. And after a while, the directors and producers realized I wasn't kidding, so we started talking. They were able to find a little something for me to do in it, which was awesome.

These movies have so much passion in them, I just love it. In general, if you said to me, "What do you like doing better, a big-budget film, or a low-budget film?" I would say a low-budget film. They're so much more fun to make, and when you're working with a low-budget, there are two things you're fighting against. One is you don't have that much money, so you've got to improvise a lot and come up with stuff to make stuff work. And two is time. A lot of these low-budget movies like Sharknado, they film it in two or three weeks, whereas if it was a big-budget movie, it would be three and a half months. When that happens, a lot of things get sacrificed. You can only do so much, you know? But as an actor, there's much less waiting around. You can just create. If there's a problem with the location, or something with the script isn't working out, you've just got to figure out a way to make it work, and it's that kind of stuff that brings exciting moments in. And usually, you only get one or two takes, so you've got to nail it, you know?

All that stuff sometimes creates an energy that a big budget thing won't have. Like even if you look at comedies, big-budget comedies are hardly ever funny. It's only happened a few times. The best comedies are almost always low-budget, because there's not so much waiting around. When you wait three hours, and then you film a 30-second scene for an hour, and then you wait another hour to film another angle from that same scene, it's stupid. It stifles creativity. And when there's more money involved, there's more fear from producers and studio executives involved, because they want to oversee things, and then people get afraid to take chances. When you're doing a low-budget movie, you have to take chances, because otherwise you can't get the fucking thing done. On Sharknado 2, we were always fighting time. You're trying to do three and a half months work of work in a month, or less.

I hope I'm good in the movie! [Laughs] Sharknado 2, it's an interesting combination of trying to be funny and serious. And it's very tricky when there's a camp factor involved. It's very tricky if you're trying to be funny on purpose! Because sometimes the funny stuff is when you're not trying to be funny. It's an interesting mix to try to get it right. It's not easy. Even if you look at movies like Airplane! or Naked Gun, that's how they play it — totally straight. Reggie Jackson is in Naked Gun, and he's hilarious! And he was never known for being funny, he hadn't done a lot of comedy, but there he was used correctly.

I give a lot of credit to the director and the casting for using people correctly. It's not easy to do. When you're making a movie, it's an ongoing thing, it's not something that's finite, where you can go, "Okay, we're going to do this, and we're going to do that, and it's going to be perfect." There are so many variables. If one thing goes not right, it can mess up the whole thing. So when something goes right, like Sharknado, where it's just a beautiful combination of so many things, that's not easy to do. I think sometimes it can be a mix of the intentional and the unintentional, which I think in all kinds of art, having that kind of combination is actually ideal. If everything's just pre-planned, what's the point in making it?

Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson