Zach Galifianakis Was Pushed Into Doing Standup Comedy By A Girl
Unlike some comics, Zach Galifianakis’ sense of humor came from having a happy upbringing, rather than a tortured one. He grew up in North Carolina with two siblings and plenty of cousins, and was surrounded by comedy from an early age.
“My family is all very funny, funnier than me,” Galifianakis said in an interview with Charlie Rose. He used to “perform the robot” in front of his family and they would give him money in return, making it his first paid comedy gig. “That’s kind of how it started. Just a lot of laughing in the family.”
In high school, Galifianakis created his first “character,” which was an effeminate redneck with a lisp, according to a profile in The New York Times. Galifianakis was interested in pursuing acting after high school, but instead he listened to his parents and majored in communications at North Carolina State University. But he failed his last required course in college and decided to move to New York City to pursue acting after all.
Despite having a childhood filled with comedy, Galifianakis apparently had no intention to pursue a career in it. When he got to New York, he worked odd jobs as a nanny and busboy, among others, took acting classes and scored a role in a play. He only entered the comedy world by chance when he met a girl who did stand-up.
From the Times profile:
“Zach came up to me one night in 1995, in Max Fish, a bar on the Lower East Side,” Lisa deLarios, a Texas-born comic in her mid-30s, told me. “He pointed at some guy in a suit at the end of the bar and asked me to ask that guy to buy me a drink. When I asked him why, he said, ‘So I can have it.’ I thought he was cute.” Galifianakis began tagging along to deLarios’s stand-up gigs, and from then it was only a matter of time. “My first show was in the back of a hamburger restaurant in Times Square called Hamburger Harry’s,” Galifianakis recalled fondly. “As soon as I got offstage, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. The next 35 shows were terrible, but that didn’t matter. I was going to every open mike, seeing every show, taking every gig that I could get. I did shows in Midtown, standing on bar stools, with a hockey game on, and everyone in the bar looking the other way. You were literally yelling over the sound of the game, trying to get people’s attention.” He shook his head at the memory. “I figured out pretty early that comedy comes out of discomfort.”
It took well over a decade from that point for Galifianakis to achieve true commercial success with movies like The Hangover. In between, he endured awkward standup performances, bit roles on Boston Common (which was later canceled) and very briefly hosted Late World With Zach on VH1. For all the hits and misses, once Galifianakis started in comedy, he never really stopped.
“To go from performing in the back of a hamburger restaurant to being on the front of GQ magazine takes a lot of lying to yourself that you can make it, and hard work,” Galifianakis said in the interview with Charlie Rose. “I don’t have any other skills, so I had to do that. That was all that was given to me.”
BONUS: here’s an early clip of Zach doing standup. What’s striking is how similar his standup act is then compared to what it is now.
Image courtesy of Flickr, Joel Washing.