Zach Galifianakis lives in the cringe
By Chris Kornelis
Zach Galifianakis grew up on Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Redd Foxx and David Letterman, but he never sat in front of the family television thinking he wanted to be them. He was more interested in keeping up with his family.
He liked the way his older cousins imitated people. His parents were hilarious. They all performed skits at reunions. He once dressed his sister up as the Ayatollah Khomeini. He got good at doing the robot.
“The way we communicate is through humor,” the comedian and actor said in a phone interview in July, before Hollywood actors went on strike, adding: “It’s as basic as: I enjoyed the sound of people laughing.”
In his latest film, “The Beanie Bubble,” he portrays the billionaire behind Beanie Babies, the stuffed animals that were a cultural craze in the 1990s. There are moments when viewers might not know whether to laugh or cringe.
“You don’t see it much in movies because movies want to sometimes show a different side of humanity,” Galifianakis said. “I live in the awkward and cringe because I find life can be like that.”
Galifianakis, a 53-year-old resident of the “Canadian woods,” discussed writing jokes on his tractor, avoiding Twitter, and the radio he listens to on the road. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
I grew up rural, and all I wanted to do was run to the city. Now that I’m older, all I want to do is run back to the woods. I always tell people: Don’t forget about the woods, because as city dwellers, as urbanites, as suburbanites, we forget. There’s a lot of poetry in the woods.
2. Nature documentaries
I often go back to “Alone in the Wilderness,” this documentary about Dick Proenneke, a man who lived in a remote cabin in Alaska that he built himself. I’m envious of his skill, of being able to live off the earth. There’s something beautiful about that kind of life. I’m a complete hypocrite. I’ll never get there. But had I reworked a couple things, I would’ve probably aimed a little bit more for that kind of life.
3. Local radio
I don’t know how to work apps. So, when I’m in the car, I listen to the radio. In Canada, CBC always has something good on. When I’m working in Atlanta, radio there has a lot of good, old hip-hop. And when I’m in California, I listen to KCRW, which still plays new music.
4. Gardening-adjacent hobbies
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I planted peanuts, and I’ve been gardening ever since. My hobbies are usually garden-related, like making my own fertilizer. My kids will go get deer bones out of the woods, and then I’ll grind them up and make my own bone meal.
5. Grilling for dummies
I cook pizza on my Big Green Egg, which I bought during the pandemic. I’d always been intimidated by grilling. But any moron can cook on that thing and you’ll think you’re eating at an amazing restaurant.
6. Thinking while on my tractor
I’ve had a tractor for a number of years. It’s where I do most of my thinking about standup — specifically joke-writing. It lets me sit there and numb out and think about jokes I’ve done and try to add to them.
7. Visiting Greece and taking it easy
This is the thing about Greece, where my dad’s family is from, and Europe in general: It’s about walking to go get a coffee. It’s about sitting down and having a conversation. I feel like these older societies have their priorities a little bit more in check sometimes. They’ve been through it. They’ve seen it. So there’s a coolness to me about Greece. And I just agree with the lifestyle. Also, the history there is unbelievable.
8. ‘The Simpsons’ (Made in the USA)
I’m always pleasantly surprised at how much that show can still make me gut laugh. There’s not many shows like that. Shows like “The Simpsons,” and the fact that Prince was from America, that just makes me proud to be an American.
9. A book worth paying attention to
When I read a book, I want everyone to know I read books, so I talk about it to everyone. “Stolen Focus,” by Johann Hari, is basically a deep, deep dive into the phone and social media. When you finish this book, you’ll go: We’ve all been duped, especially young kids who feel social media and constant contact is a must. I highly, highly recommend it, especially for parents.
10. IRL observations
The biggest crime of social media is that it’s so boring. I’ll hear people say: You should see what I just tweeted out. As soon as I hear “Twitter,” my face glazes over. For somebody like me, I have to observe. I need to see the small spaces in life as an actor, as someone that tries to make people laugh. I’m not going to get that from Twitter. But, look: I’m 53. I’m old. I’m out of the loop. Nobody should listen to me.