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(Credit: Focus Features)

Film

How Zach Galifianakis helped to transform the world of comedy

@Russellisation

It wasn’t until the release of the iconic blockbuster comedy The Hangover in 2009 that comedian Zach Galifianakis was recognised on the industry circuit, despite his existence making audiences laugh long before then. In the TV parody series Dog Bites Man, sitcom Reno 911! and the bizarre antics of Tim and Eric Nite Live, Galifianakis helped to establish a brand new type of alternative comedy that would flourish into the 21st century. 

“Zach’s built for comedy” 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan stated, “Like Mike Tyson in his prime – he was built for boxing, from the tip of his head to the bottom of his feet – just straight boxer. That’s how Zach is with comedy”. A comedian like no other, Zach Galifianakis is committed to the pleasures of alternative comedy, not because this is a particularly marketable gap in the industry, but merely because this is what he personally finds entertaining. 

Capturing a particular puerile hilarity that had come to define the western culture at the dawn of the internet age, Galifianakis became an icon of comedy following the release of The Hangover in 2009 and his eccentric, immature caricature, Alan. This bizarre character was, in many ways, inspired by the actor’s real-life persona, and as the two quickly merged together a refreshing individual who often rejected the ideals of stardom emerged. 

It was a formula the grew organically from the performer. He is deliberate and daring, even sparking up a joint live on Real Time with Bill Maher, reflecting the attitude of a truly authentic comedian. It’s likely why Zach Galifianakis has since struggled to regain his Hollywood acclaim, as he represents exactly that which the industry fears. This type of risky, alternative comedy has since become wildly popular, however, with TV series such as The Eric Andre Show, Rick and Morty and I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson each making use of an alternative comedy that embraces silliness and rejects popular convention. 

Speaking to GQ, the actor noted, “I love to laugh when nobody else laughs. When I say something that nobody laughs at, that actually makes me laugh”. Elaborating on his particular form of comedy, he states, “It’s difficult to explain. I like anti-comedy, because I’ve been doing it for so long, that kind style. Traditional stuff bores the shit out of me. I love something that’s so un-funny, it’s funny. Maybe only other comedians understand that, but yet again, I don’t care”. 

In fact, even before Zach Galifianakis broke out in 2009 with The Hangover he had already released Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, a surreal talk show for the comedy website Funny or Die. Itself a direct predecessor to the bizarre comedy of Eric Andre, Galifianakis was strides ahead of the contemporary era, creating shows that questioned modern tastes and presented a genuinely revolutionary vision for the future of the medium.

Appearing in mainstream comedies with an alternative streak Bob’s Burgers and Big Mouth more recently, the surreal comedy that made Galifianakis famous has now suffused into popular culture, with the lines between the two now blurred. In 2021, comedy has shifted from the attitudes of old blockbuster comedies, The Hangover and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, taking on a new identity that shuns the mainstream and embraces experimentation. Zach Galifianakis is merely one of modern comedy’s pioneers.

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