Comedian Zach Galifianakis has his share of impressive credits, including Comedy Central's "Dog Bites Man" and "The Comedians of Comedy" and his short-lived VH1 show, "Late World with Zach." Unfortunately, what he is popularly more known for are the less-than-impressive credits — roles in "Out Cold," "Heartbreakers," "Bubble Boy," "Corky Romano" and "Tru Calling," or as he aptly puts it on his website, "Truly Appalling."
Despite an imbalance in his acting résumé, there is one area in which he continues to excel: stand-up comedy. His style is unorthodox — incorporating a piano and occasionally other musical elements, often straying from his scripted jokes and interacting with audience members. He is a force on stage, taking the audience along for a ride, an experience beyond your average day at the comedy club.
In anticipation of his upcoming Madison performance, I spoke to Zach about his influences, his style, Wikipedia, gang activity and mimes.
Mike Peters: First, I'd like to thank you for agreeing to do this interview.
Zach Galifianakis: Of course. I'd like to thank you for letting me agree to do it.
MP: I'm going to start with a basic question: Who is Zach Galifianakis?
ZG: I don't know; you'll have to go on Wikipedia. Well, born and raised in North Carolina.
MP: Are you getting that off of Wikipedia?
ZG: Yeah, I'm looking at Wikipedia right now. Half Greek, half redneck, around 6-foot-4. And that's about it. It's not that complicated. The 6-foot-4 thing may be a little bit off. Actually, it's 4-foot-6.
MP: Who are some of your biggest comedic influences?
ZG: When I was younger, there was this great mime team called Shields and Yarnell that had a television show on primetime. I know it's kind of taboo to say that you liked mime, but they were very good. And then I would listen to my uncle's Cheech and Chong albums, so I think I was probably influenced by a mime team and Cheech and Chong. That was probably the earliest, but my family's quite funny. I would listen to my cousins and brothers have discussions, so I was kind of influenced by them. They're all still very, very funny, but they have regular jobs now. They're kind of duds. (Laughs) No, they're not duds. They're very good people.
MP: Any chance your twin brother Seth will be making an appearance in Madison?
ZG: No. He will not go on the road with me. He did a show with me in L.A. about two months ago, but he didn't like it. We're probably not going to hang out together for a while.
MP: Did you ever consider another career, or was it always comedian?
ZG: It wasn't quite comedian. I just knew I wanted to do something that came natural with me. I remember when I was a kid, the guy that whistled the theme to "The Andy Griffith Show" came to my school, and he whistled. I remember early on thinking, "God, this guy whistles for a living. He does what he does best and doesn't have to go to an office. I've got to do that. I've got to figure out what I do best." And it happened to be making people laugh. It grew from there. Then, I had to figure out how to do it, but I was from a small town in North Carolina, so I didn't really know how to do it. So I moved to New York to figure out how to do it. Are you asleep?
MP: No, I was listening intently.
ZG: Wouldn't that be so great if an interviewer … (Laughs)
MP: I'll just let you ramble on as long as you want. Would you say it's fair to say that your performances are about half-written and half-improvised?
ZG: Yeah. That's fair to say. I mean, it depends. If it's an hour-long set, I get kind of bored with myself, so I'll tend to go off the beaten path; but if it's a 20 to 30 minute set, I'll stick to my jokes. Well, no. You're right. It's half and half. I get bored very easily.
MP: Do you have a go-to joke, like a personal favorite?
ZG: I have a couple personal favorites. I usually use them as a barometer as to whether or not the crowd's going to like me, and if they don't laugh, I know I'm in trouble. I have some secret jokes in my arsenal as kind of a barometer.
MP: Would you care to share one of those jokes?
ZG: No. Those are secrets.
MP: You do a lot of audience interaction. Has an audience member ever gotten truly offended or retaliated in some way?
ZG: I was offstage, and this guy wandered up to me, and I asked him what he wanted. He said he wanted his money back. The show was going really well. I think he was just being a jerk, and he wanted to be part of the show. But he wasn't really offended. I've had people be offended where the club manager had to tell me that they were waiting for me after the show, and that I had to leave out the back entrance. It was like a gang, literally a gang — you know, guys with gang tattoos, waiting for me after a show — because I had humiliated one of the guys on stage because he was being a jerk.
Will Mr. Galifianakis' life be threatened again? If he were to die, does he want to be remembered as the guy who flung mayonnaise on Brian Posehn's face? Will the interview ever end? (Yes, yes and yes.) Find out this and more in tomorrow's exciting second half of my interview with Zach Galifianakis.
Zach Galifianakis will be performing at 8 p.m. on March 23 at the Barrymore Theatre.