The world of stand up comedy is filled with impostors and thieves. Originality and uniqueness are two of the most important factors in stand up, and Zach Galifianakis is without a doubt one of the most original and unique comedians to have emerged from the nineties cut throat scene. With roughly fifteen years of stand up experience under his belt, fans of his recent work will recognize him from Reno 911, Tom Goes To The Mayor, Dog Bites Man, the Sarah Silverman Program and most notably the successful tour documentary he filmed alongside Patton Oswalt, the Comedians of Comedy. His first DVD release, Live At The Purple Onion, is an accurate document of where Galifianakis is in his career, and a prime example of what his live performances are all about. I recently had a chance to talk with Zach while he was on his farm in North Carolina, prepping the land for sustainable crops and brainstorming ideas for Kanye West’s new music video.
Zach: How are you doing?
I’m alright. I actually just got back from Starbucks.
Zach: Oh, good for you.
Well I’ve taken up jogging in the mornings and afterwards it seems like I always need something to sustain me through the rest of the morning.
Zach: What are you doing, like a half a block?
Yeah actually, I’m also a heavy pot smoker so I’m in a bit of a dilemma. I want to get healthy but I also want to smoke a big fat bowl after I get back from the jog.
Zach: Why don’t you smoke before you run?
I actually started out that way back in March, but I found that I would become lethargic much quicker and had some trouble breathing.
Zach: Did you find yourself running in Bed Bath And Beyond?
I would just run like a quarter of a block and then I would stop and cough up black stuff for fifteen minutes. Are you in Los Angeles right now?
Zach: No, I live on a farm part time. It’s in North Carolina.
Is this like a large farm where you actually produce agriculture and raise animals?
Zach: Well, I will. It's sixty acres. Right now we’re just getting the land ready. We’ve already planted some stuff; we’re in this stage right now just to see what will grow. We know what grows we just want to make sure that certain things; my idea is for this farm to be eventually turned into a writer's retreat.
And in regards to animals, are you a huge animal rights activist?
Zach: I wouldn’t say that I’m a huge animal rights activist, but I’m for animal rights, yes.
Do you really have a cat named Mr. Stevenson?
Zach: Cat Stevens. Yes, I used to.
What kind of animals will you have on the farm?
Zach: Probably dairy cattle. And goats, and whatever will eat my land so it will grow.
What do you do when you’re out there?
Zach: Well there’s no TV, so it’s just a lot of writing, conversation and chewing tobacco.
Do you have at least a record player or a radio out there?
Zach: Yeah. Exactly, I got music. That I can’t do without.
If you could curate your one music festival, who would you invite to perform?
Zach: Brazilian Girls, first thing. I would put on. The Annuals, which is this band from North Carolina. Rufus Wainwright, Will Oldham and RUN DMC.
Are you into much hip hop these days?
Zach: Not really, even though strangely I’m shooting Kanye West’s new music video here at the farm. He asked me to do it. He doesn’t want to be in it, but he sent me this new song and then asked me to make a video for him here at my farm. He saw me do stand up a few weeks ago here in Los Angeles, and we chatted after the show. He had seen me do these other music videos; I did one for Fiona Apple and I did one of my own where I sing an Anita Baker song. So he saw the Anita Baker one and asked me if I would come up with something. So we’ve been going back and forth trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the song. So I’m figuring that out here at my farm.
Do you know if this is going to be the first single off his new album?
Zach: No I don’t think so. I don’t know what the single is? I have no idea. I think he just wants to release it. No one really does music videos anymore, so he just turned it over to me and gave me a few bucks. I guess I’ll probably shoot it at the end of the day.
Do you have a large crew for this shoot?
Zach: My director will fly in from California, and he and I will go shoot it. Maybe me, him and one other person will go around the Black Mountains of North Carolina and shoot it.
What about some of the smaller hip-hop acts that are operating on an independent level outside of the major labels?
Zach: I don’t know where to find it I guess, it’s not the sort of stuff I’m seeking out. I don’t really know about a lot of hip hop acts right now. Most of that stuff is hard to find, I mean if you listen to regular radio it’s hard to find. I’m trying to think of the last hip hop group I was really into?
Zach: No. [laughs] Well Digable Planets I really love, they were amazing yeah. I can’t really think of anybody currently that I’ve listened to.
So besides shooting Kanye West’s new music video, what else are you working on?
Zach: Into The Wild is a movie that was shot about a year ago, and I think it’s going to come out in September. I bet that’s probably going to be a pretty good movie. And then Visioneers. I don’t know what the deal is with that movie? I think they’re trying to finish it up; I’m not quite sure what the deal is with that? That was a very odd little movie, which I hope gets released.
It looks like you have a Largo concert film coming up as well?
Zach: Yeah (laughs) I don’t know really what that is? But apparently I do. But I’m not sure what that is? I’ve also got a TV show that we’re shooting here in the Appalachian Mountains for Comedy Central I think? I’m really concentrated on farming and doing stand up here and there. It’s really nice to just kind of fly to a city and then come back to the farm. It’s really kind of nice.
That sounds like a nice way to work and live – just fly in do some stand-up, shoot a couple of scenes for a movie, and when you’re done you can just fly back to your farm and relax.
Zach: Yeah, but that will all come to a crashing halt, and then I’ll be forced to go back to that shit hole Los Angeles.
Can you tell us anything about the show you’re shooting for Comedy Central?
Zach: Well, it’s just a pilot right now, so who knows if it’ll ever air. It’s about two guys on the run from crystal meth addicts. So that’s basically what that is. It’s kind of shot in a documentary style. It’ll be kind of stylish. And I also did a movie with a porno director named Gregory Dark. So I spent five days in Los Angeles on the floor of a porno store, which was disgusting. That movie will be out in a year, that’s a good movie.
I like how with your other films in post production you’re saying stuff like, “I hope it gets released.” But then you mention this porno store movie and you’re saying, “Yeah, this porno guy filmed it. It’s a great movie that will definitely be in theaters next summer!”
Zach: It will be. I can tell you it will be, it’s good. You never know, some movies you do them and then you’re like, “Oh well, I have no idea where that’s going to end up.” But I know Into The Wild will be in theaters because that was a huge budget movie.
What’s the name of the porno store film?
Zach: It’s called Big Fish Strange Pond.
Who else is in the movie besides you?
Zach: Matthew Modine. Ron Jeremy, he’s really in it.
How did you get hooked up with Shout Factory? You really stand out against their roster as it reads: Carol Burnett, Bill Cosby. That Girl, Super Mario Bros and Zach Galifianakis!
Zach: I know it’s weird. I guess they approached me, I don’t really quite remember how that unfolded. They have a pretty good reputation, and they’ve done really good work promoting the DVD. But it is a weird mix where they have Carol Burnett, but they also have shows like Freaks and Geeks that they re-released. I can’t even remember how that all came together. But they’ve done a splendid job I’ll tell you that.
Did any of the independent labels like Matador and Sub Pop make you any offers?
Zach: They have since. But not prior. I mean, we did that DVD two and half years ago. They have since and so has Drag City, which is a label out of Chicago that is pretty good.
That is Neil Hamburgers’ home base.
Zach: And Joanna Newsome. But if I release another [DVD] it probably won’t be stand-up. It will probably be just my twin brother Seth. He’ll probably release a DVD.
For Live At The Purple Onion, you went straight for the DVD, visual and audio. Why not release a comedy album first?
Zach: Because it has to be visual. I rely a lot on visuals, and you cant really make faces on a CD. I’ve been approached to make albums, but it just doesn’t really interest me, I mean why not do a DVD? It’s so cheap. And everybody has access to play it, why not do a DVD every time?
I think with the amount of material that you’re able to churn out and actually make work on stage, you would probably have volumes of albums by now. And I’m sure your fan base would enjoy collecting them.
Zach: Maybe like a radio play type of thing, it wouldn’t be just necessarily me doing stand up. It would be me coming up with audio skits, things that I could kind of produce, just in front of a microphone. Kind of what Cheech and Chong used to do, these really stupid skits when they were high. They really didn’t have much of a live act. They just released albums.
Kind of like a Foley artist.
What was it like when the Comedians of Comedy performed at Coachella?
Zach: It was good. It was weird to do stand up at two in the afternoon in front of 3,000 people in a hundred degree heat. But it went nicely, it was a very attentive crowd. I was a bit thinking it wouldn’t work, just because of the geography and the temperature. But it turned out really good, and I was really happy with it. It's kind of a trend now to do these music festivals. Patton came up, got it going, he introduced the first comic and then we each introduced each other as we went along. There was about ten of us, it was a big show. It was about two and a half hours.
What were some of the bands you caught while there?
Zach: I actually snuck into the photo pit and watched Brazilian Girls. I was like five feet away from them, and I’ve kind of been a big follower of theirs for the past year so it was really great. I saw Bjork, but I got claustrophobic so I left Bjork. Rufus Wainwright was good, that was about it. I didn’t see that many bands. I only stayed for one night so I didn’t check out a lot of bands. I’m too old. Plus I did SxSW and I started hating rock and roll. Like there’s gotta be some kind of other music out there right now. I’m just so sick of rock and roll.
These days it seems like comedians and rock stars go hand in hand. A lot musicians probably come up to you and say stuff like, “Man you are really funny.” And then you’ll reply, “Thanks a lot I don’t really like what you’re doing.”
Zach: (laughs) It’s not so much that, but being at a festival like SxSW and being on stage for five hours… [to someone in the background] Hey Gwen there’s a humming bird! It just left! Sorry. Just hearing a drum beat for five hours, and it seems like the same drum beat I mean just like anything, everything gets saturated, so people start sounding just alike and there’s not a lot of new newness to it. Just because it’s indie rock doesn’t make it cool at all. I think indie rock has been floating on this, “Oh, we’re cool just cuz we’re indie rock.” You can’t just say you’re indie rock and wear you ironic t-shirts, and not be talented. There’s a bunch of horse shit involved in it. Like, I’ll look at these people and go, hey that guy’s good looking and he’s skinny and he’s got his tight jeans on and his two hundred dollar haircut, but he’s a terrible musician. That’s probably why I’m jaded, there’s so many of these independent type people are all cloning each other now.
You went to college in North Carolina right?
Archers of Loaf fan?
Zach: You know, I was. And I haven’t heard their music in so long.
Yeah, they broke up right around 1998. One of my favorite lyrics from an Archers of Loaf song is “The underground is overcrowded.”
Zach: It’s just a poseur scene. It’s a joke, I mean it’s been a joke for a long time. People have been getting away with being cool looking and reading DETAILS magazine and whatever horse shit. They’re learning it, they’re not naturally it. They’re learning how to be cool and there’s just something disheartening about that.
It seems like any kid with a credit card can start his or her own indie label these days.
Zach: Which is good in a lot of ways because it’s more grass roots. But still it has to be, and of course all this is subjective, but it has to be entertaining to listen to and I’m a little bit sick of ironic music.
What do you consider ironic music?
Zach: I don’t know if I know anybody by name, but I know when I walk through these festivals, people give me their CDs and I’ll listen to them sometimes, and that’s what I would call ironic music. It’s just kind of joke music. Which is fine and good. I don’t know anybody by name but I’m sure I could…
Let me shoot a name at you: Mika. He has a song out about Grace Kelly and he’s very flamboyant. From the UK.
Zach: Um. Hm. Don’t know him.
Yeah, well good. You don’t want to know him and I feel bad for even putting his name in your head. Yo La Tengo is a great band when it comes to music and comedy. Have they ever asked you to perform during their eight-night Hanukkah stand at Maxwell’s in New Jersey?
Zach: No I haven’t. And I don’t know them; I’ve actually met them but I don’t know them. I know they kind of mingle with the stand up world. I really love that group but I really haven’t hung out with them at all.
That would seem like a great logical choice to pair you up with them.
Zach: Gordon, I’ll do anything. I’ll perform anywhere.
Something I did want touch on was a quote you said from the Comedians of Comedy film. And that was that you felt that you were going insane. Do you still feel that way?
Zach: No, I think it’s subsided a bit. It comes and goes, I think. I don’t really believe in pharmaceutical medicine, and therapy. I think the mind is supposed to be tricky. I think this attainment can be a good thing. But attaining it means you’re usually sedated; I don’t know if sedate is the right word but you’re calming it down. And I’ve never really been a proponent of that. I mean people are screwed up and I’m not screwed up at all, it’s just sometimes reality has become such a weird joke, then why am I considered the outsider? I feel I’m more normal than those women that dance in the crowd at the Ellen DeGenres show. Why am I seen as the weirdo? That to me makes me a little weirded out. And also, not to get to political but the state of the world and all that stuff. The only reason I’m going crazy is because I feel like the world is fucking going nuts and I’m seen as some eccentric guy, and I don’t think I am at all. That drives me to the brink of I don’t know what’s going on and you question it. It’s a little bit more layered than; I don’t think I’m losing my mind at all. It’s just why am I seen as someone who is out there? I don’t feel it but other people see it I guess? The whole mind is a selfish reaction I should say to what’s going on in the world. And sometimes I just can’t take it. I think some people think its too ahh…
It’s too real.
Zach: Yeah, and it’s also something you would only tell a doctor or somebody like that. Whereas I don’t think it’s a taboo subject but it’s usually something most people don’t want to admit. We are all fragile, and we all probably cry when we don’t want people to know that we’re crying. And we bottle that up and we feel like we can tell some fucking goddamn doctor from Harvard who you just fucking met all your secrets and it’s just crazy to me. It’s fucking nuts! I’m gonna go spend two hundred dollars an hour just because this fucking guy has a Ph.D? The mind is too complex for that. That’s my theory. It can all be handled by pot, Gordon.
I absolutely concur. A comedian is supposed to be able to find the humor in any subject. I read a headline recently where a mother hung all three of her children, killing them and then hung herself as well. How can anyone find anything possibly funny in that?
Zach: Whoa. Well, that is a mental disorder. It just depends. I think what happens a lot times… My cousin and I just had this conversation, he saw me perform live in Atlanta, and I made a joke where I said I was as photogenic as Teri Schiavo. Afterwards we talked and he said, “Is there anything that is off limits to you?” My point is I guess, that a lot of people make jokes about certain things, some people are doing it just to be cruel and because they don’t have a heart. Some people though are doing it because that’s they way they deal with it. I know some people that are some of the funniest darkest people that are also some of the kindest most giving people. So the question is, I feel like sometimes it's how people feel with things. And to make jokes about a terrible hanging, I could do it. And I know I could get a laugh and do it on stage. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make me want to cry. You know what I mean? I think people think that people that joke about shit are heartless, well some people are and some people aren’t. It’s just their way of dealing with things. Just because you’re making a joke about it, doesn’t mean that you’re heartless. There are some radio DJs that could give a shit about anything and they have no personalities and no soul. But sometimes I wonder if I’m like that? But I dunno, I cry too much not to think.
Yeah I when I heard about this Mom hanging her kids I was just…
Zach: No, I’m going to look that up. I’m going to look that up and then Mika. And then I’m going to play Mika underneath the picture of it.
Does Zach Galifiankis have a message for the children?
Zach: I believe the children are our future. That’s it.
Zach Galifiankis performs with Sarah Silverman at the Embarcadero Marina Park in San Diego, CA this Saturday June 23rd. His DVD Live At The Purple Onion is in stores now.