“I am going to be the next Ryan Gosling.” – Zach Galifianakis
American comedian and actor Zach Galifianakis is known for his distinguished work in popular comedy films like The Hangover Trilogy as well as his serious performances in dramas like Birdman. The versatile actor first rose to prominence with his Comedy Central special in 2001. He now has his own Emmy Award-winning talk show Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.
“Zach is so conceptual,” Sarah Silverman, who has known and worked with Galifianakis since the mid-’90s, said. “He’s definitely part of the excitement of this shift, this idea of comedy as art. Whether he’s at his piano, offering deadpan one-liners, or trying out some brand-new conceptual piece — like the ways he uses musicians, or flip-board messages, or the first thing that comes into his head — he is so totally original and thrilling to watch.”
“What I call the ‘geography’ of a room — its size, its layout, the overall feel of the place — really determines how far you can push things,” Galifianakis said. “I love to do shows in unlikely places, because the audience’s expectations are less fixed. If you’re going on right after a guy with suspenders and a skinny, 1980’s-style comedy tie, who’s been striking crazy poses — doing the same type of material that worked in 1991 — there’s no space for trying unconventional stuff. A place like this, on the other hand, is more of a blank slate.”
On his 51st birthday, we revisit some of his funniest films as a celebration of Galifianakis’ truly unique comic talent.
The Funniest Zach Galifianakis Films:
8. The Comedians of Comedy (Michael Blieden – 2005)
This 2005 documentary features performances from the likes of Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford on a stand-up comedy tour. Shot during the fall of 2004, it was one of the first films to be financed by Netflix.
“That movie really made a difference,” Galifianakis said, while referring to The Comedians of Comedy. “A lot of people saw that who’d only known me from pretty bad TV shows, or didn’t know about me at all. Now slightly fewer people don’t know who I am.”
7. Dinner for Schmucks (Jay Roach – 2010)
Although this Hollywood adaptation does not match up to the original 1998 film Le Diner de Cons, Galifianakis manages to shine. The film revolves around Tim (played by Paul Rudd) who takes the eccentric Barry (Steve Carell) to his boss’ dinner party in order to land a promotion.
“I play Therman who is a worker at the IRS, who is into mind-control,” The actor said. “I love a character that is really stupid and also confident. It’s kind of a really funny thing to play. You feel joyful that you get to work with really funny people.”
6. Masterminds (Jared Hess – 2016)
Galifianakis delivers another stand-out performance in this 2016 action comedy as armoured car driver David Ghannat who is convinced to rob a bank vault by Steve Eugene Chambers (Owen Wilson) and Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig). This is inspired by a real incident which happened back in March, 1997 where Loomis Fargo & Company was robbed of $18.8 million in Jacksonville by company security guard Philip Noel Johnson.
“The sweetness of the character is borrowed from David,” the actor said. “I find him to be sweet and, you know, even innocent in a way. He kind of got wrapped up in a bad idea and I think we’re all guilty of getting wrapped up in bad ideas.”
5. The Campaign (Jay Roach – 2012)
Galifianakis and Will Ferrell star as political rivals who run opposing campaigns and continuously try to outdo each other. However, their antics seem tame compared to the actual events surrounding the upcoming 2020 elections.
While speaking about his character, Galifianakis said, “My character’s name is Marty. He comes from a political family. But he’s the black sheep of the family, and he only gets plucked out of obscurity because of his family name.
“And he’s kind of been ostracized from the family, and then they decide to take him in again, simply because the powers that be– the puppeteers– decide that the family name will help the political cause of that particular political establishment.”
4. Due Date (Todd Phillips – 2010)
This 2010 road film features Robert Downey, Jr. as Peter Highman, a successful architect who has to drive from Atlanta to Los Angeles in order to be there for the birth of his child. However, unnecessary complications are created by his travel companion, an eccentric aspiring actor named Ethan (played by Galifianakis).
Phillips said, “I think that while it is a road movie and it is a comedy at its core it’s a movie about Zach who’s going through a drama, Zach’s character – Ethan Tremblay – having just lost his father and Robert who’s just about to become a father for the first time and kind of why they needed to meet at this moment and why Robert needed to travel with this man-child who was going through this traumatic experience, who, really, is a purely loving creature much like a child would be and just needed some adjustments, I guess.”
3. Between Two Ferns: The Movie (Scott Aukerman – 2019)
The 2019 Netflix film is a spin-off of the Emmy Award-winning web series of the same name. Galifianakis has a flair for the awkward and it has never been more evident than his celebrity interviews. He masterfully makes the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Keanu Reeves hilariously uncomfortable.
The director Scott Aukerman revealed, “I came in not ever having directed a movie. I directed a few TV things, so I didn’t have a lot of experience. I was a little nervous about that, and the fact that it’s an improvised movie certainly led to some trepidation on my part, even though I felt kind of uniquely positioned to do it at this point in my career. We shot it like a documentary. Celebrities would just kind of sign up for it as we went.”
2. Visioneers (Jared Drake – 2008)
Set in a dystopian time period, Galifianakis stars as George (a descendant of George Washington) who suffers from overeating and impotence in a society where the ideal of mindless productivity has alienated everyone. This black comedy utilises political and psychological elements to create a completely surreal experience.
Jared Drake recalled, “Jory (Weitz) is a casting director as well as a producer and we had maybe 30 people we were going out to at the start. People that we thought were sensible and also right for the part. Zach was always near the top of that list.”
He added, “We didn’t really know what he could do as an actor, which made everyone nervous, but he has this quality about him where you look at him and there’s so much going on behind the eyes.”
1. The Hangover (Todd Phillips – 2009)
Phillips’ 2009 commercially successful comedy was the breakthrough performance for Galifianakis. The plot revolves around a bachelor party gone wrong. Galifianakis stars as the eccentric Alan, alongside Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms as they try to find Doug (played by Justin Bartha). He won the MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance for his work in The Hangover.
“Well Todd lets you — I mean, any actor can go vomit lines out — but coming from a comic background, he lets you do whatever. You can just make stuff up. We do the script and then he lets us kind of play around, you know? A lot of breathing room which is really, really nice. Really, really gracious of him.”