Listening Station

PAINful Laughter: Some Bits of Wisdom From Zach Galifianakis


Austin L. Ray

In 2008, I sat with actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis in a tent on the grounds of the Bonnaroo music festival. We talked for a couple hours until it became pitch black and I could no longer read the questions I’d scribbled in my notepad. It was a fun chat. The Hangover was released about nine months later, at which point he became a millionaire star. As far as I can tell, he’s still a pretty genuine and interesting and kind-hearted person to this day. Here are some interesting things he said that night in Tennessee.

“College, to me, was a gigantic waste of time. It really was. If I ever have kids, I’m going to tell them, ‘If you’re 18, go rob a bank. Hijack a train. Don’t go to college. Go to India and open up a 7-11. That was a horrible joke.”


“My brother was very mean. He’s now not; he’s the sweetest person I know. But I’d be sitting at the kitchen table, and this is when I was going through puberty, and he’d get me up from the kitchen table, he’d take me outside and he’d rip all my clothes off me until I was completely naked. We lived on this grass hill, and he’d drag me up and down naked on this hill and hold me by the street until cars came by and they could see my naked body. My brother really kind of designed me, because I always thought his cruelty had a creative edge to it.”

“My first gig was in the back of a hamburger restaurant in Times Square. I lied to myself a lot: ‘You can really do this.’ Then you just keep doing it. I really loved it, going out, standing on bar stools with people’s backs turned to you and trying to tell jokes while they watch a hockey game in the background. At least with music, you don’t need an instant feedback. But with comedy, if you don’t have that laugh, you don’t have much to go on.”


“When I make horrible racist jokes, that’s because I think racism is so stupid that it’s funny. If people get it, they get it. I’ve also noticed that certain races are okay to make fun of and certain ones aren’t. I used to have a joke about a Chinese roommate and everyone would laugh at that joke. But if I did more touchy things about people who had more representation in our culture… To be quite honest with you, not a lot of Chinese people go to comedy shows. So I kept thinking, ‘Why is it OK to say that?’ I respect you if you’re offended by all of it. That’s fine. But don’t be offended by one thing and think another is OK. That just blows my mind. I’ve tried to preach to audiences that are uptight. But then I’ll do a joke that has the n-word in it and black people are the first to laugh.”


“I take things that come my way. When I go do acting jobs, I really miss standup, and when I’m on the road for a while, I need to go act. If I’m in an Ashton Kutcher movie here and there, I know it’s really against my style, but I’m not so elitist. One day I hope to be that, don’t get me wrong; I’d love to be so snobby.”

“I really wouldn’t mind being a serious actor. I don’t know if I could pull it off, but I think a lot of comedians really kind of want to be taken seriously sometimes and I feel I’m a bit guilty of that.”


The Fiery Furnaces

  Rehearsing My Choir (2005) It’s the opposite of a Christmas present. Today’s indie-rock scene sports some incredible and varied experimental music. Deerhoof’s frenzied squall,