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In Depth

People In Film | Zach Galifianakis

Zach Galifianakis | A Man with a Beard

Starting off as a production assistant on a independent film over 10 years ago, Zach Galifianakis introduced himself to the movie’s producer by saying: “Galifianakis—starts with a gal and ends with a kiss.” While his name was difficult to remember, let alone spell, his persona became indelible. As Bobby, a fellow patient at the psych ward in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Galifianakis displays his trademark touches: the out-of-left field responses, the mercurial shifts in manner, the absurd mixture of experience and naiveté.  But the character Bobby, a father fighting to keep his dignity and identity in the wake of his own anarchical actions, also shows the degree of humanity that Galifianakis can bring to his humor. Yes, of course, Bobby is a bit crazy, but more importantly he’s someone who has experienced life on life’s terms. And experience is something Galifianakis has, well, experience with. From college drop-out to stand-up hero, from a bus boy in a strip club to ShoWest’s 2010 Comedy Star of the Year, from bombing at a burger joint to starring in one of the biggest comedy hits of recent time–– Galifianakis never loses his sense of humor. 

Zach Galifianakis | A Man with a Past

Born in the small town of Wilkesboro, North Carolina to a first-generation Greek father and a mother who ran a community arts program, Zach Galifianakis always stood out as a bit different. But he turned that difference to his advantage by creating characters and situations that made people laugh. In reaction to his Southern small-town upbringing, Galifianakis created a character named Kenny Ballard, "an effeminate redneck, with a wildly exaggerated lisp" who managed to deflect conflict from all sides by his sheer absurdity. He went from high school to studying communication at North Carolina State University, where he flunked his last class by one point, a setback that convinced him to move to New York and pursue a career as a performer. But this was no rash decision. As his mother told Austin L. Ray for a 2008 interview in Paste Magazine: “My husband and I had no doubt Zach would go wherever his dream would take him…When he was three or four years old, he named his stuffed Easter bunny John Newman for John Chancellor and [Edwin] Newman, NBC [Nightly] News co-anchors. Around the same time, he pointed to the TV screen and asked, ‘How do I get in there?’ I guess we always knew he would eventually figure that out.”

Zach Galifianakis | Man With a Microphone

“I have done stand up everywhere. It is a very desperate art form and comedians will put a microphone anywhere they think someone might listen. There is a show here in Los Angeles that is held in a Laundromat.”
--- 2005 interview with Upstage Magazine

Galifianakis moved to New York in 1992 to become an actor, but he changed direction after a woman he’d met, Lisa DeLarious, pushed him to try standup. He debuted later that year at Hamburger Harry’s in New York’s Times Square. And after bombing there, he dusted himself off and kept going, honing his skills playing venues from strip clubs to prom-night cruise ships. Although he got his first television gig on the sitcom Boston Common in 1996, he continued to pick up a mic whenever he could. In 2001, he had his first Comedy Central Presents stand-up special, and in 2002, he masterminded his short-lived, but fondly remembered, Late World with Zach on VH1. In 2004, he joined fellow alternative comedians for the “Comedians of Comedy” tour. Most recently he’s shown how much he can do with a mic, a couple of chairs and some tacky office shrubbery in his Funny or Die series Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. In fact, you can catch Galifianakis graciously talking to Ben Stiller about his film Greenberg here

Zach Galifianakis | A Man with a Twin

Over time, Galifianakis has created some memorable characters. From his high school creation of the effeminate redneck Kenny Ballard to his talk show host personas, the real Galifianakis seems impossible to pin down. Just ask his twin brother Seth, who has popped up on the DVD Live at the Purple Onion or filled in for him on the Jimmy Kimmel Show.  While Seth, a high school football coach and youth minister, still resides in North Carolina, he finds time to chime in on his brother’s career and sense of humor––neither of which he thinks too highly. Although in a recent interview with The Onion’s A.V. Club, Seth did imagine joining forces with his brother: “Our dad's been trying to get us to open up a hot-dog stand. I'd love to do that. Zach and I don't get along, but I can work the register and he can cook a good hot dog, I'll tell you that. Just to make his life a little simpler would be nice. He comes back to the farm and stuff, but all he does is smoke pot and ride around on his tractor. He thought it was funny to wear Speedos the other day on the tractor. He had a cape on, too. My mom about had a heart attack.”

Zach Galifianakis | A Man with a Plan

After working the comedy world in New York, Galifianakis moved out to Los Angeles after being cast in the reccurring role of Bobby the local stoner on NBC sitcom Boston Common. While Galifianakis’s quirky talent could handle nearly any role that was thrown his way, few shows and movies could match his sense of humor, as was demonstrated by his film and television resumé . From the oddball morgue supervisor on the supernatural series Tru Calling to Dexter, Computer Hacker in the ill-fated comedy Corky Romano, Galifianakis paid his dues to the film and TV gods. In 2009, the right role and the right film clicked in Todd Phillips’ comedy hit The Hangover, making “Galifianakis” a household name – at least for those who figured out how to pronounce it. But Galifianakis told Paste Magazine he wants to push past the laughter: “I really wouldn’t mind being a serious actor. I don’t know if I could pull it off, but I think a lot of comedians really kind of want to be taken seriously sometimes and I feel I’m a bit guilty of that.” It’s Kind of A Funny Story might give him that chance.

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