One afternoon in October 2006 I met Zach Galifianakis for some day drinking at the Subway Inn on 60th St. and Lexington Ave. Even though Comedy Central had cancelled his show Dog Bites Man earlier in the week, he didn’t reschedule or cancel the interview.
We chatted for about thirty minutes, just enough time for two rounds of beers. He drank Stella. Since it was 2006, I guess I had Brooklyn Lager or Guinness.
The upcoming midterm elections, which ultimately served as a referendum on the Bush presidency, were on his mind. We also discussed his fear of flying, gentrification in New York City, the tabloids, Michael Bay’s TransFormers movie, and how present-day America mirrored the last days of Rome. It’s a really fun interview! Of course, the story—a one-page magazine profile—got killed.
The funniest part of the interview happened after the interview with us bullshitting outside the bar about how we were both feeling the booze.
Me: “What are your plans for the rest of the afternoon?”
Zach: “I’m late for a doctor’s appointment.”
Out Cold was my introduction to your work. [Laughs] No, seriously. During college I worked in Disney’s marketing department. I remember the publicist working that movie was so mad at you.
I was on Conan O’Brien and said, ‘A lot of actors come on TV and tell you their movie is really good and then you go see it and you’re disappointed.’ I looked directly at the camera and they did a close-up and I said, ‘Out Cold is the best movie you’ll ever see in your life.’ But it was so tongue and cheek that the audience knew I was making fun of it. She got upset about it. I would much rather go see an actor in a film that’s like that than if I saw some blowhard actor go on TV and lie saying, ‘It’s good.’ The audience is too smart. They don’t fall for that shit. Actors are always talking bad about the movies they’re in when they’re not being interviewed. You got to be truthful about it. You can’t be a jerk about it though because people worked hard on it. It’s funny to be deprecating about, I thought. The audience liked it but she wasn’t too into it. I’m not saying anything bad about her. But you know publicists — I can’t stand those people. You know that world. It’s crazy. I don’t have a personal publicist.
Do you like promoting stuff?
Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s self serving to talk about yourself. I get really bent out of shape when I get on an airplane and I see everybody reading Us Weekly and People magazine. I’m like, ‘There’s a goddamn war going on you fucking idiots.’ It’s like they’re reading their high school yearbooks they’ll never get into. Not that I’m not one at all, but I have a real disdain for celebrities. They’re given way too much clout in this society. It’s crazy. Honestly, who gives a fuck about a lot of this stuff?
Have you ever been in Us Weekly?
Oh God no.
Do you feel like you have to be on all the time?
I’m not on a lot. If I’m in a good mood I’ll be. But no, I don’t feel like I have to be on. I’ve done interviews where people were like, ‘Well, that’s not funny at all.’ Well, I’m not on stage. Sometimes if I’m in the mood I will be.
There’s the stereotype of the tragic clown.
That’s the same thing as saying everyone in hip hop is from the streets. It’s a stereotype. Sometimes it’s true. I come from a very happy family with loving parents. I have some things but who doesn’t? Some people paint and some people go save the world and some people make people laugh.
What are you working on now?
Nothing. I just did some movies though. I did this movie that Sean Penn directed, called Into the Wild. I think it’s going to be pretty good. And, I did this odd little movie called The Visionaries. I don’t have any work. I’m just wandering around New York aimlessly.
What do you do?
I do shows a lot. I write on napkins during the day. I have a farm in North Carolina and that’s really where I want to be but I have to find another job. I kind of want to be down there but I need to find another acting gig. I won’t pick anything.
You should have auditioned for Transformers.
That’s the Michael Bay movie? That looks like a good commercial. I saw the preview for that. Did you see the preview? It puts a little of reality. It references the Mars Probe. You know what I’m talking about? That’s weird that he’s making that kind of connection with the Transformers, which was made way before the Mars Probe. When I saw his name on it, I was like, I am not going to see that piece of trash.
What do you read on the airplane?
I’ve got this huge fear of flying now. I used to read all the time. But I’ve gotten so bent out of shape about flying. When I flew here from Seattle the other day, out of just being nervous my arm knocked the food off the tray. It was a little turbulence and I went nuts. What I started doing was drinking whiskey to calm my nerves but the whiskey makes me cry so I’ll be openly weeping on a flight. But I’d rather do that than be scared. I’m never really fearful of anything but being enclosed in a high, high, high…I was reading an article in The Economist that commercial flights in Baghdad [descend] straight down because [otherwise] they will shoot it down. My fear is turbulence based. If it’s smooth, my mind relaxes. If it’s bumpy I get bent out of shape.
Didn’t you used to live in New York?
Prefer LA or New York?
I’m kind of over big cities. I would rather do the rural thing for a while. I don’t miss Los Angeles at all. I live by the beach so its nice. People’s priorities are just screwed up there. It’s hard for women. When you’re a kid you dream of being in the entertainment business and then you’re in it and it’s like, ‘This is what it is?’ There are times I really do love Los Angeles but it’s a boring city. You’re always in a bubble. You’re in a car or you’re in your house. Here, you’re always rubbing shoulders with people. All you have to do in this town to be entertained is walk up and down. This is a pretty entertaining neighborhood. I live on the Upper West Side now. I’m not crazy about it but it’s the only place I can find without looking too hard.
Why not East Village or Williamsburg?
Nah, I’ve done that already.
Why not Astoria? You’re Greek. You’d fit right in.
I would love to.
I grew up there.
Do you know Uncle George’s? I love that place. Yeah, you are Greek. I lived in Williamsburg, Park Slope, Lower East Side, West Village…
The gentrification in LES is crazy.
Yeah, I know. I lived on Ludlow for four years and had a two bedroom for $500. It literally was a crack house. It’s not the same city, that’s for sure. There are too many chain stores and it’s going to keep going. What are they going to do, make the whole city a mall? How many Sbarro’s do we need? I remember when Ray’s moved to Ludlow and there was a big protest.
Do you want another one?
I’m drinking Stella.
How did you get the idea for Dog Bites Man?
Local news was such a joke when we were doing Dog Bites Man. The thing to do was get stoned and watch the local news. There was this great teaser commercial and it said, ‘These cereals claim to be crispy in milk. When we come back, we put them to the test.’ There was a three minute story about what cereals stay crispy in milk. It was followed by a story on weapons of mass destruction. Another thing I love to do is watch Entertainment Tonight and watch Mary Hart. Her face is unbelievable to me. It’s inhuman how she moves her face. ‘When we come back, we’ll see how these celebrities faired in high heels on the boat ramp.’ But local news is the best. Goddamnit, I love watching it.
This was before Anchorman?
Oh God yes. I knew an intern that worked in a station in North Carolina and he said the anchor was so coked up. That’s so funny. That must be miserable to be stuck in local news. New York is the big time though. Sue Simmons, Ernie Anastos made it. Is he Greek?
You know it.
Thanks, Ernie. Sue Simmons and Chuck Scarborough. I like them both a lot. He seems like he should be on the national level.
Did you see the Bill Clinton interview on Fox News last Sunday?
I thought it was wonderful. Why the Democrats aren’t coming out and saying more stuff like that is beyond me. Clinton admitted he made mistakes. ‘At least I tried.’ That’s not to say Bush isn’t trying. But prior to 9/11 he wasn’t trying. That’s the problem. That memo came out, ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States.’ Condoleezza Rice is just a jerk. She’s a jerk. It just is so pathetic that she’s so self-interested in doing the job for the administration. I think she’s probably a good woman.
And the media came out afterwards and played it like Clinton was crazy.
That’s the big liberal media. That is such a lie. There is no liberal media. Do you think GE, who are nuclear contractors, are going to have a liberal agenda? The only person who says something is Keith Olbermann. He’s amazing.
Do you read papers?
I read the Times and a little of the Post.
Did you read the Daily News today?
Did you read the Op/Ed?
I emailed the guy. Goodwin. I typed it and my girlfriend sent it. That’s so weird you bring that up.
Nah, I read it every day and I’ve noticed how much more conservative the News has become.
There are articles that get ignored because the news comes out so fast. There was an article in the Washington Post about how all the jobs given out in Iraq, one of the questions in the screenings to the applicants was, ‘Who did you vote for?’ They were checking their loyalty to the Bush administration. When you are going to be that moronic and you’re going to do it based on that, shit’s going to be fucked up. Everything is based on loyalty: ‘Will you back me up.’ Ah, it was a good run, this country.
Are you optimistic about November?
I was. Yesterday I was. Today I’m not. I change because I think what’s happened was the media was like, ‘The Democrats are going to win.’ Republicans will get out and vote. If those idiot Bible thumpers are fearful, they will get out and vote. I still think there was voting fraud in Ohio.
Did you read that Rolling Stone article [about potential voter fraud in Ohio]?
Yeah. It was the first mainstream…My friend is John Kerry’s right hand man. He went to high school with him. I called him, ‘Does Kerry know about this?’ ‘Oh, he doesn’t want to seem ungrateful.’ What are you talking about? How’s that for funny? It’s just sad and crazy.
Did you read that chart in GQ this month about Nixon vs. Gore?
Gore’s smart. I’ve thought about this. Here’s what should happen: He should sit out the Democratic primary. He should not really bother and just see what’s happening. If he’s going to do it, he should enter it late. I think people would really vote for that guy. He’s a little bit above shaking hands in New Hampshire. If he goes to the convention, the Democratic Party could be, We want this guy. What do you think about Barack Obama?
Too soon. [Writer’s note: Whoops!]
Well, Bobby Kennedy ran really soon. Hillary Clinton might pick him as her running mate. There’s no way America will vote her in. The Democratic Party will. If it’s just her and Biden, Kerry, Evan Byah may run…The problem is with Democrats is you have to have a southerner because Southern Democrats are more conservative. The way the country is nowadays, there is no way a guy from Massachusetts is going to win. Kerry might have still won. He did have a southern Vice President running with him. Have you seen that video of [Edwards] combing his hair for two minutes? It’s really telling. That’s what it is now. TV, image, looks. Kucinich. What he was saying made sense but look at him. Among the younger generation, where is this voice. The comedians are doing it. Janeane Garofolo, Al Franken, Bill Maher, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart are saying stuff. Jeannine was saying stuff when it was really unpopular to say. I was at this peace rally and Joan Baez was there and there were people who didn’t know who she was. You have to get someone to speak for the younger generation.
MTV once filled that role. Remember Choose or Lose? But nowadays it’s filled with Abercrombie and Fitch model types and more…
That will go away eventually. I think there will be another movement. It’s crazy people waste so much time on it, but you can really use MySpace to link people together. Hopefully, I can do that when I get my revolution started. I had a meeting with the head of MTV once and I was in her office. Britney Spears was on the television behind her. She caught me looking at it. So, she looked at it, looked back at me and she goes, ‘I know I’m going to hell for this. I’m perfectly aware of what I’m doing.’ I think the nerds will take over again. After 9/11 people were saying, ‘We’ll never do another OJ type story.’ It’s only gotten worse.
It’s only gotten worse.
It’s comfort food. I know drug companies after 9/11. There was this unbelievable commercial for an anti-depressant that aired right after 9/11. It was just people talking in a camera and one woman said, ‘The images just keep repeating over and over in my mind.’ The drug company was completely exploiting 9/11. This country, you know, how everyone is like, ‘I’m proud…’ It used to be a great country. When your father came here, and my grandparents came here, and the Greeks before them, I’m sure there was something great about this country. It’s become so greedy now. It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses. I have to buy this to keep up with them. Until this country realizes this and wakes up, it’s the fall of Rome. Thank you. (Laughs. Sips beer.) I’m so sorry. I apologize for going on. I’m not very good at interviews. I would rather talk about the demise of the world.
Every comedian I knew in college was the most judgmental…
They’re a weird breed. Comedians are sometimes a little bit passionate and self centered and out of their minds. Comedians can be hard to deal with.
Do you still play the piano at shows?
If there’s one there. It’s become too much of a crutch…When you first start you don’t pick and choose [roles]. I picked Tru Calling because it was a drama and they were shooting in Vancouver. Now, I can say ‘No.’ I just said ‘No’ to the guy who did Sex and the City and now he’s doing a male Sex and the City. I read it and it’s just not me. It was Marty. I think they would all wear Banana Republic. I’m sure that they’re going to be those type of guys. If the script has the word ‘Dude’ in it, I stop reading it now, unlike Out Cold. Now, I can be a little pickier. Back then…My last job was as a bus boy when I was 26. You take roles, and then you have to figure out, I have to do stuff that makes me happy. Tru Calling was terrible. It was a lot of fun to do but it was made for 14 year old girls. I don’t have a TV—well, it doesn’t work. I’m never at home. I love watching football. I go to a sports bar and sit there in the corner and watch it. I don’t know any players names.
Are you a Carolina fan?
Panthers, God no. I went to a Panthers game once and it was so embarrassing to see the amount of rednecks in one area. Not all of the South are mouth breathing…there are a lot of great, smart people in the South except when you put them in a football stadium drunk it’s quite embarrassing. My friend called me and said, ‘At first, I was ashamed to be from North Carolina. Then, it was, I was ashamed to be from the South. And as I left, it was, I’m ashamed to be a human being.’ When I went to a Panthers game, I went with my father and some family friends. And this one guy, a family friend, was so drunk that he was talking about how he eats a girl out. I was in the car, and had to sit and listen to this with my father. He was talking about this in front of his father, me, my father and a couple of his friends. His two friends were laughing. I was so embarrassed. Do you like football?
Yeah, I like the Redskins.
I was a front runner when I was four. They won the Super Bowl in, like, 1984.
(Laughs) What’s their record this season?
When I watch football, I don’t really have a team, so I want it to be close. If a team is up seven, I want the other team to score. Did you watch the Notre Dame game on Saturday?
Yeah, but I left at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
It was unbelievable.
I think college football is the best team sport.