Zach Galifianakis’s brother used to strip him down and drag him across the lawn, holding him by his ankles so passing cars could see his naked, pubescent body. But Zach didn’t mind. It’s this kind of nonchalance toward trauma that sculpted the good man I think should be the new king of comedy.
Galifianakis is best known as the affably slow brother-in-law in The Hangover (now the highest grossing comedy of all time). Since then, America hasn’t been able to get enough of the bearded cherub. In the last year alone he’s hosted Saturday Night Live, posed for the cover of GQ, starred in an HBO comedy series, hosted one of the most popular comedy shows on the Internet, cameoed in a half dozen other TV shows, and played uproarious side roles in movies.
Not bad for a farm boy who bussed at a strip joint fifteen years ago.
Galifianakis’ rise to fame is both troubling and charming.
A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, he grew up with loving parents, a (clearly) abusive older brother, and narrow-minded schoolmates. From an early age, Galifianakis began creating bizarre characters that have become staples in his standup bits. In high school he would waltz the halls as “the effeminate redneck,” much to the chagrin of his classmates. This was perfect fodder for his bits as the “pretentious illiterate,” “the timid pimp,” “the forgetful vegan,” and “the effeminate gay basher.”
Reaching the national ranks of standup, however, took some trial and error. After his best friend died and he suffered a nervous breakdown, Galifianakis moved to New York in 1992 and worked handfuls of odd jobs—bus boy, house cleaner, nanny. Along the way, he persevered with standup. After a few years, people began to take note of his offbeat comedy—the borderline offensive characters, the relentless non-sequiturs, the intentionally awful jokes for the sake of satirizing comedy, the somber piano ballads, and the berating of innocent patrons.
Zach Galifianakis will soon be dubbed the king of comedy. You just watch. This fall, he will star in Due Date, one of the year’s most anticipated comedies, and in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, one of his first serious roles. Next year he’s already set to star in The Hangover 2 and play Humpty Dumpty in the Shrek spin-off Puss in Boots.
But he hasn’t let his head to get too big. In an interview with Paste, Galifianakis said…
“I take things that come my way. When I go do acting jobs, I really miss standup, and when I’m on the road for a while, I need to act. If I’m in an Ashton Kutcher movie here and there, I know it’s really against my style, but I’m not so elitist.”
He also still resides on a farm in North Carolina that he hopes to one day share by converting it into a retreat for writers. A philanthropic A-list comedian who doesn’t take himself too seriously? It sounds like a joke, but it’s Galifianakis’s non-acting character.
After years of comedians like Dane Cook dominating the stage—brash jokers who spat bro humor, overtly offensive jokes, and not much else—now may be the first time since Eddie Murphy that a good man has climbed the mount of comedy.
Galifianakis’s humor mixes the probing with the absurd, the high-minded with the unabashedly low-brow, the topical with the trivia of yesteryear. Watching his humor forces you to simultaneously philosophize and guffaw.
In short, we’ve been waiting for a good man like Galifianakis to take the top spot in the world of comedy.