When her guest role on Fox’s Family Guy drew criticism from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, actress and activist Andrea Friedman found herself the focus of some unexpected publicity. But Friedman’s not about to let one negative review get her down. At her Santa Monica office, Friedman, along with her father Hal, sat down with ABILITY’s Chet Cooper to discuss the Family Guy fallout, living with Down’s Syndrome, and the impact of the “R” word. (Watch short video)
Chet Cooper: This is a great view of Los Angeles you’ve got. It doesn’t even seem like the city. What kind of work do you do here?
Andrea Friedman: Yes, we are looking at the Santa Monica Hills. I work in accounting downstairs. I mostly send out bills and go around and bring things to lawyers.
Cooper: And you also work for something called Pathway? At UCLA?
Andrea: Yeah, whenever they need an assistant teacher, I’m on the board.
Hal Friedman: Pathway has been great. It’s a two-year residential program for people who could not otherwise go to college. The students are taught how to live independently, but they also take whatever kinds of classes they’re capable of managing. There are some students there who have autism but who have very high IQs.
Andrea: The classes help them lead independent lives.
Hal: And it’s just another way for people with challenges to get an education. It’s been quite successful. It’s so successful now that the students and their parents have asked for a third year, and maybe it’ll eventually be a four-year program like most colleges.
Andrea: Whenever they need me, they call me. Right now we’re doing fundraising for scholarships.
Hal: We know of one young man there who—I think because he has some type of cerebral palsy—had difficulty tying his shoes, buttoning shirts, and things like that. He is an Orthodox Jew, and the school gave him a roommate who is a Muslim from Iran with autism. The autistic roommate would not let anyone touch him, hated to be touched. The young man with cerebral palsy is a very happy, outgoing guy, and eventually his roommate started to help him with his shoes and shirts! They became very good friends. The parents of the Jewish boy called the parents of the Muslim boy to tell them they appreciated the relationship that had formed. And the parents of the Muslim boy said to the parents of the Jewish boy, “It’s for us to thank you, because our son has never been able to touch anybody, and now he’s getting over that.” It was pretty amazing.
Cooper: That’s an incredible story. We might have to look into that one.
Hal: Sometimes I think people stir up differences for their own purposes. There’s more that makes us the same than different.
Cooper: Andrea, you’ve been in the news a bit lately, thanks to an episode of Family Guy that you did. When did this all start to become a news item?
Andrea: I think that Family Guy episode came out on February 14th, on Valentine’s Day. That was the first time I’d ever done a voiceover. But, you know, I’ve been out here 34 years and it’s the biggest news I’ve gotten, I guess.
Cooper: And now you’re right in the middle of some controversy with Sarah Palin. Do you remember what your line was in the show that got so much attention?
Andrea: Yeah. It was supposed to be a joke.
Cooper: Do you remember what your character had said?
Andrea: I’d said, “My father is an accountant, and my mother is governor of Alaska.” Sarah Palin said that was insensitive and cruel, so—
Cooper: Have you tried talking to Governor Sarah Palin?
Andrea: No. But I did an interview with The New York Times yesterday.
Cooper: They wanted to see what your take on it was?
Andrea: Right. I mean, it was only a joke, and it would be nice if she would just—to me it was a joke, to her it wasn’t.
Cooper: You didn’t expect it to get this kind of feedback?
Andrea: No, not at all. I didn’t realize what was happening. It’s a job.
Cooper: There’s also been a lot of discussion lately about use of “the R-word.” What are your feelings about that?
Andrea: “Retarded”? That R-word? I don’t really like it at all. It really affected me in many ways, because I’ve been teased a lot. I was teased with that in elementary school, in high school, and I didn’t like it. I was going to stand up for myself, but I didn’t have the courage. So I’d say something like, “Leave me alone or my sister will come after you.” (laughs)
Cooper: (laughs) Well, there’s been a lot of discussion about that word lately, and about how hurtful it can be. You’re familiar with what happened with Rahm Emanuel and Rush Limbaugh?
Andrea: Well, I’m not into that controversy part of it. I’m not into that.
Cooper: Do you know who Rush Limbaugh is?
Andrea: No. Never heard of him.
Cooper: Have you been able to get in touch with Sarah Palin at all and share your views?
Andrea: Not really. She never called to find out what I think, so I can’t really give her any information or my thoughts. And I’ve never met her before, so I don’t know what she’s like.
Cooper: I think it would be a good conversation. I would like to see if we could—
Andrea: I don’t know how she would react when she sees me. Attack me again?
Cooper: (laughs) I doubt it. I think you guys would probably get along. I think most people who get into the political arena tend to speak out on certain things—
Andrea: I’m not in the political arena.
Cooper: But she definitely is. That’s my point.
Andrea: If she’s nice, then okay. But sometimes it looks like she’s using her son Trig as a prop. And that’s not right. My mom raised me as someone with a normal, independent life, like most people have, and I’ve been around and happy for 39 years, going on 40. I feel like sometimes Sarah Palin wants to get more votes by bringing her son out. She’s dragging Trig around as something to be used, and that’s not right to me. It’s totally not. To me, it’s downright wrong.
Cooper: I would be curious to see what she would say to you. I know that in respect to use of the “R-word,” she had called for Rahm Emanuel to lose his job, but she was okay with Rush Limbaugh using it because she thought it was satirical. So it’d be interesting to hear what kind of conversation you might have if you told her that your work on Family Guy was meant to be a joke, as you’d said.
Andrea: Yeah, it was a joke. Either way, whatever she thinks, it’s okay. I’d like to meet her if I had the chance, and I’d like to meet Trig, too, and hold him.
Cooper: Well, I think anybody would enjoy meeting you. What other kinds of acting work are you looking to do? Is there anything in the near future?
Andrea: I don’t know. I always get one show each year, but that’s about it.
Cooper: Maybe that is about to change. You’re getting some notoriety again.
Andrea: I’m all over the place now! From The New York Times to PerezHilton.com to The Insider XD.
Cooper: And now to be back in ABILITY Magazine after all these years! You were on the cover of our second issue. That’s how long ago that was.
Andrea: I still have it at my parents’ house! When this new one comes out, can I have lots of copies? I’d like to have one for my grandmother, and I have cousins all over the place.
Andrea: Oh, and I forgot to mention that I would also like to meet President Obama one day.
Cooper: (laughs) If you guys hang out let us know.