Zach Galifianakis has been on TV before. He had his own "Comedy Central Presents" special, appeared on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "Late Show with David Letterman," "Jimmy Kimmel Live," had a recurring role on FOX's "Tru Calling," and was the star of his own shortlived show on VH1, "Late World with Zach." The reason for all this exposure is that Galifianakis is one the top underground comedians working today. Galifianakis normally performs while playing piano, issuing one-liners like, "I've got a lot of growing up to do. I realized that the other day in my fort. " Recently he was featured in a documentary, as well as a television show, entitled "The Comedians of Comedy," which also follows Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, and Maria Bamford as they tour the country. For more information and tour dates, check out his official site. The following interview took place after a 2004 "Comedians of Comedy" stop in San Francisco, and Brian Posehn entered the room during the tail end of the interview.
What was it like growing up in Wilkesboro?
Wilkesboro, North Carolina. That's a great question. It's a small town of 2,000 people and there's a lot of racism there. That's why my family originally moved there. No, it's really kind of a nice little town; it's quiet. I was a boy scout and I used to get my pants pulled down a lot on the bus in high school. And one time the bus driver did it.
How long did you live there for?
Until I was 18. And then I went to college. How do you know Wilkesboro?
I did a little research.
Yeah, it's a chicken town. They make a lot of chicken. Well, the chickens make themselves. I think it used to be the biggest chicken producing plant in America, which is a lot to be proud of. Noam Chomsky is from there. And the cast from “Sanford and Son” were all from there. All of them, surprisingly, are all from the same town. And Noam Chomsky actually got his television debut on “Sanford and Son.” A lot of people don't know that, because I just made it up.
So you lived in a crack house, or by one?
No, I lived in one on Ludlow Street in New York. I had a two bedroom for 500 bucks, which is pretty cheap for New York. And I lived in a crack house. They stopped being crack dealers about a year after I was there. All the artists started moving in. Fucking art. The last thing we need is art.
Were the artists worse than the crack dealers?
No, but you know what happens is that commerce follows art and ruins everything. And then all of a sudden there's a Baby GAP in your fucking den. Have you ever seen a midget shop in Baby GAP? I don't mean to make a joke, but there's something there.
What's your opinion on religion?
I grew up Greek Orthodox and I wish I knew more about the bible. But, I haven't really made my mind up about it. I think it's all mythology. It would be nice to believe in something, just in case. I mean, what do you have to lose? We can be all scientific about it, but just in case. I don't know. I'm still thinking about it.
You've worked at a strip club. What's been the worst job you had?
That was pretty bad. But I used to work at Webster Hall in New York, which is this big dance club. And I used to have to crawl on my hands and knees on the dance floor during raves to pick up beer bottles.
How long did you work there for?
That must have been tough.
No, I didn't work very long, maybe just a couple weeks. And then I cleaned houses, I was a nanny, a private investigator, and then a bus boy. They were all pretty bad. But if I had a comfortable job I don't know if I would have turned to something like stand-up. I started doing stand-up because I don't have any skills; I don't know what else to do. They were all bad. I was a waiter at a drag queen restaurant in New York that was owned by Kurdish rebels. I remember that—his name was Talib— and he tried to get me to dress as a woman. He'd call me on the phone and he'd be like, “Ok Zach, this is Talib, your schedule is you work Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and don't forget to dress as woman.” And I'm like, “Talib, I'm not going to dress as a woman. That's not my thing.” And he'd say, “You'd make more money.” And I was like, “Why is there a guy from small town North Carolina talking to a Kurdish rebel about dressing like a woman?” It was so bizarre, but that was the state of my work experience. I would work there from 7 at night ‘til 7 in the morning. And then at 8 in the morning I would go baby-sit and just fall asleep. I would just fall asleep and hope that the kid wouldn't escape his duct tape handcuffs.
I read that one of the kids said that if you didn't let him watch TV he would say that you touched him.
Oh yeah, one of the kids that I was a nanny for said, “If you don't do what I say, I'm going to tell my mom that you're touching my penis.”
And did you just let him do what he wanted to?
No, I touched his penis, right after that. I was like, “Well, if you're going to run your mouth about it, here comes my mouth.” No, what happened is I freaked out about it and called all my friends and I was like, “What should I do?” and they were like, “You've gotta tell his mom.” Years later—last summer actually I was back in New York—I called them and I went over to dinner and all this stuff. I told the mother and she laughed—she thought it was so funny—and said, “That sounds just like my son.” I told him and he didn't remember. But yeah, he said it. He stood up right in front of his TV, “Beavis and Butthead” was blaring and he pointed right at me, and said it.
How's “Tru Calling” going?
It's the worst TV show I've ever seen. It's cancelled, thank God. I like to call it “Truly Appalling.” I sold my soul to FOX, and I'll never do it again, unless they double my salary. But yeah, it was terrible. I was just trying to see if I could be a dramatic actor. And that failed.
Did you get a different fan base?
Yeah, I get letters from 13-year-olds. And I got a great—I didn't bring my computer with me—but I got a great piece of fan mail via email from a guy in Venezuela. Well, he emailed me and I emailed him back, insinuating that I was gay—I'm not—but I was so over the top about it that I thought he would think it was a joke, but in return I got back about 9 pornographic shots of himself.
How did you insinuate you were gay?
He had emailed me initially saying, “I'm a fan of ‘Tru Calling.' There's a lot of young, good-looking guys on the show. I prefer chubby, older, bearded guys. Every time you smile makes me crazy. And I'm a doctor in Venezuela. I have hair on my belly, legs and chest.” And then on and on. I emailed him back and said, “I'm so happy that you found me. I've always been looking for a guy that had hair on his belly, chest and legs. I dated a guy that just had hair on his chest and belly, but never on his legs. I used to call him ‘little girl legs'.” Like this ongoing, stupid letter. And then I get 9 shots of him standing there nude, laying on his back, and then another guy enters the picture—yeah, that's my fan base on “Tru Calling.”
So do you get a lot of bear connoisseurs?
Yeah, he made a reference to that in his email—but don't I have to gain more weight to be a bear? That pisses me off.
When you were younger what sort of plans did you have as to what you wanted to do?
I don't know. I didn't really have any aspirations except to be really good looking. And that was accomplished years ago, and it's still the mainstay.
What sort of work did you do to achieve that?
I mowed lawns. I got plastic surgery when I was 7. I had a double chin when I was 4 that I got removed. And my mom entered me—in North Carolina there was a stupid reality show called “Who Wants to Look Like the Governor?"—so I entered that and got my face altered to look like the governor. I had a stage mom type thing.
So did you get the beard at that point?
It's funny; I was just talking about that today. I was conceived in a jacuzzi. The sperm that I was had a beard.
Speaking of jacuzzis, what was it like to be in one with Victoria Silvstedt?
Oh yeah. That was embarrassing and terrible and awkward. I was in this movie called “Out Cold,” and I'm in a jacuzzi with this Playboy Playmate. And I was telling her, “Listen, I'm uncomfortable about this.” I assumed that she was too. She seemed to feel that way. And I said to her, “Is there anything I can do to make you feel more comfortable?” And she looked right at me and said, “Yeah, you can go under the water and eat my pussy.” That was completely what she said. I swear to God. And when she said that I was like, “She has such a great sense of humor.” She and I started doing comedy bits after this. Actually she called me twice after this and I proposed to her, “Let's do one of those Playboy video things and talk about how much you love diarrhea and we'll have you in bed with a bunch of Snickers bars on your sheets.” And she was so into it. She was pretty cool.
So you guys might collaborate some time?
Yeah, we're still dating.
Brian Posehn: But, did you eat that shit underwater bro?
I could have, but I didn't. Yeah, I mean, I fucked her later. I mean, I'm pretty sure I did.
How do you feel about David Sedaris? It seems you guys have a lot of similarities.
I used to work for the Sedaris family in North Carolina, in Raleigh, but they were his cousins or something. I know, it's really weird. He comes from North Carolina, Greek, his father married a non-Greek. I wish I could write like that, I don't think I'd ever be able to. I would love to meet that guy. It's weird that there's two Greek North Carolinian guys trying to make people laugh. But God, I'd rather be him than me. Because he lives in Paris with his boyfriend—wait, way outside of Paris in France with his boyfriend.
Brian Posehn: You want to live with his boyfriend?
No, I would rather have his life.
Brian Posehn: Yeah, have his life and have his boyfriend.
He uh—have you ever seen him read live?
Brian Posehn: Wait, go back to the boyfriend part.
He's great. I told my dad to see him and my dad was like, “I hated him. I hated him.” My dad hated him.
Did he say why?
I said "Why?" and my dad just looked at me and said, “Faggot.”
Is there any way your show [Late Night with Zach] will come out on DVD?
God, I don't know. There are some really embarrassing things about it. I saw it once a year ago and was like, “What was I doing?” But I don't think so. I don't think there will be any requests for it. I hope not.
How do you feel about VH1 now?
Video hits 1? It was a stupid place to try to do comedy. When I got that show, and it was on, it was the first time I ever had cable. I saw my show one night and then I cancelled my cable the next day. So I don't think I'm missing anything on VH1, excuse me, video hits 1.
Photo by Megan Jankowski