A little fat man with a bushy beard and bright eyes, Zach Galifianakis resembles a garden gnome.
By Jason Johnson
November 05, 2010
This image is only strengthened by his behaviour, which is equal parts earthy and fey.
In his new movie Due Date, which opens here today, he plays Ethan, a sort of exaggerated version of his own persona.
While travelling across the US with the snooty lawyer played by Robert Downey Jr, Ethan reveals himself to be a complex, eccentric man-child.
Like Galifianakis, Ethan is a country boy with a strangely effeminate manner.
He’s both innocent and decadent.
He’s by turns a genius and an idiot.
‘Ethan is very emotional, and he’s sensitive, and he’s eager to not be lonely,’ said Galifianakis in a recent interview.
‘But he also has this strength, I don’t mean an emotional strength, he has this physical strength that’s in the movie that’s not really explained.
‘It’s not superhuman, but you know there’s some people you meet and you think, gosh, they’re very strong? He’s very strong.’
Born in North Carolina, where he still has a farm, the 41-year old comedian has proved his own strength by slogging it out on the fringes of the entertainment industry for well over a decade.
He got his start doing stand-up at a New York burger joint, and also did children’s birthday parties.He soon graduated to performing in clubs and universities, where his decidedly odd brand of humour often left audiences perplexed.
In one clip floating online from 2001, there’s footage of him in a Los Angeles comedy club facing off against eerily silent patrons.
‘I’m not very successful in this town. It’s my own fault – I have a Jew block on my phone,’ he says.
One guy laughs.
Galifianakis hangs his head.
There’s another clip called Tough Crowd By Zach Galifianakis that shows him telling jokes intercut with clips featuring stoney-faced characters from old movies.
‘Do you remember that kid who had sex with his teacher? I read online today that he died. He died from high-fiving.’
But unlike most comedians, who fear bombing with a fear greater than fear itself, Galifianakis revels in it. It’s part of his schtick.
Indeed, Galifianakis is almost funnier when he’s not being funny, if that makes any sense, a little garden gnome uttering gnomic nonsense that is as likely to make you scratch your head as laugh.
Still, even when he’s perplexing, he’s entertaining.
Said Due Date co-star Downey Jr: ‘It’s incredibly uncommon that you get someone who has a ton of skill on the technical side of making a movie, and then is also really sharp in the moment, and can come up with a better idea than anyone else pretty much every day.’
In addition to his stand-up, Galifianakis also managed to scrounge up work in TV and movies over the years, appearing in marginal cable shows such as the short-lived Dog Bites Man, and little-seen flicks such as Bubble Boy.
Though he never managed to break into the mainstream until last year’s The Hangover, he’s been building up a substantial cult following.
His excellent work in those less-then-excellent shows wound up as clips on the Internet, along with all the original stuff he put together for Will Ferrell’s website Funny Or Die, where he’s one of the most popular performers.
His recurring interview show, Between Two Ferns, takes his Theatre Of The Awkward idea to the limit.
Sitting down with such luminaries as Natalie Portman, Steve Carell and Bruce Willis, Galifianakis subjects them to the most painfully impertinent questions imaginable.
To Portman: ‘You shaved your head for V For Vendetta. Did you ever consider shaving your V for v””’?’
Though Portman is obviously in on the joke, her mortified expression is priceless.
Due Date will no doubt help Galifianakis build upon his success in The Hangover (he’ll be back for The Hangover 2), but one wonders if he’ll ever make it as a name-over-the-title star like Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller.
Reminiscing about the first time he met Galifianakis, Downey Jr said: ‘Before we started shooting I was down in Venice and some weird guy comes up to me and says, ‘I think I’m doing a movie with you.’
‘And I’m thinking I might have to punch this guy. And then I realise, oh my god, that’s Zach!’
Even to his co-stars, he’ll always be that weird guy.