28 March 2017 | 16 °C

How Making A Murderer's Prosecutor Got The Comedian's Treatment

By Ben Venables Last edited 12 months ago
How Making A Murderer's Prosecutor Got The Comedian's Treatment

During the height of Making a Murderer's first flush of popularity, our sister site Gothamist persuaded the Netflix documentary's main 'villain' to sit down for an interview.

This villain wasn't the alleged murderer, but prosecutor Ken Kratz. And Gothamist's interview became a sensation due to the person firing the questions: Jena Friedman.

Now Friedman brings her hit stand-up show, the simply-titled American Cunt, to Soho Theatre. Ahead of her London debut, it's Friedman's turn to face the questions.

Jena Friedman | Photo credit: Seth Olenick

It's only weeks ago the Netflix documentary about Steven Avery, the man who spent 18 years in prison for a wrongful conviction and who is now incarcerated for the murder of Teresa Halbach, became a phenomenon.

Jena Friedman had started watching Making a Murderer just after Christmas. But, even 10 minutes into the series she'd already found humour in the macabre subject matter and was already suspicious of the documentary's apparent objectivity. She tweeted:

Friedman's take on the series caught the attention of Jen Carlson, deputy editor at Gothamist.

"[Jen] felt my opinion on the show was different from what she'd been reading," says Friedman, "At the time I was getting a lot of flak for joking that Steven Avery might not be innocent.

"People assume innocence on the basis of a documentary, but without thinking how that documentary may be subjective.

"We talked about doing a video, perhaps with someone from the Gothamist office who had a different point of view, but we felt then it'd be just two people debating. That didn't seem right, not when connected to a woman's murder.

"It definitely helped that my background was as a field producer for The Daily Show. We interviewed a lot of people and I'd learned a lot from that experience.

"Then, I threw out the idea that maybe we could get Ken Kratz."

"What was going through my head was, 'Holy Shit, we got Ken Kratz'." | Credit: Gothamist

Ken Kratz's portrayal in the documentary had not exactly endeared him to the documentary's fans. During Avery's trial he comes across as arrogant and overbearing.

Added to this the later detail that Kratz had since resigned as a prosecutor after 'sexting' a client — herself a victim of domestic abuse in a case he was representing — and it starts to seem less odd that it was Kratz who'd become, to use Friedman's description: "the most vilified person in a show about a woman's murder. And he's not the murderer."

But, what was in it for Kratz?

"He had nothing to lose," says Friedman. "I thought, regardless of who he is as a person he really was vilified in a way that was extreme. And, the public reaction to that vilification was also extreme. We have internet lynch mobs now — and we've all been a part of that."

‘That is a fantastic question!’

The interview swings between a mostly serious first-half to an increasingly near-surreal second-half. There's a game of Fuck-Marry-Kill which Kratz finds especially irksome.

Always quick to respond to some condescending turn of phrase, Friedman never allows Kratz room for posturing. And his faux-politeness becomes obvious for its lack of depth. For example: 'That is a fantastic question!' and 'You've been right on-the-ball here'.

When Kratz says the latter phrase Friedman gives a look to the camera which recalled to us Martin Freedman's Tim in The Office, looking straight at us and inviting the audience into his world.

"I wanted to bring people in," says Friedman. "Everybody online at the point of the interview had such negative feelings towards Ken Kratz. We had to acknowledge that."

On one level, she says: "What was going through my head was, 'holy shit, we got Ken Kratz'"

But, "In the moment I look at the camera it's playful, but I'm looking at the camera like it's you.

"I wanted to say "come with me on this.”

The full Gothamist video-interview is below:

An element of humanity

Friedman's oscillating interview technique leaving Kratz never quite sure of what was coming next means the former prosecutor does not come out of it with any aplomb or at all sympathetic.

But as the public had already made there minds up on Kratz, was there a point? Interestingly that's a definite yes. By getting under his skin Friedman shows he is human, rather than the pantomime villain he's been portrayed as.

It can take a comedian to do that, to take the piss out of someone yet reveal them better than an 'objective' documentary.

Friedman and Kratz share a high-five | Phito credit: Gothamist

"From responses, I think more people in the UK got that I was a comedian and that this was what I was trying to do rather than thinking, 'this reporter is bad.'

"But we were trying to go about this interview with responsibility.

"After the interview even I wanted to punch him the face. But, before I met him he was a caricature of a villain. I did see an element of humanity in him, and I did like that he was at times self-effacing.

"We wanted to show him in a different light, and I hope we accomplished that."

Jena Friedman: American Cunt runs at Soho Theatre, 22-26 March 2016, 7.30pm. Tickets £10-£17.50

Last Updated 02 March 2016