Archive for October, 2010
Disclaimer: Bear with me. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this post.
Zach Galifianakis has been one of my favorite comedians for some time now. I’ve been a huge fan of his since watching his stand-up special, “Live at the Purple Onion” (which you can stream on Netflix), and from all of the various YouTube videos he’s done from the Absolut Vodka ads he did with Tim and Eric, to Between Two Ferns to his Kanye West “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” video. I’ve always liked him a) Because he is fucking funny and b) Because every thing I saw him do was entirely original and unexpected. Part of the reason for this is because it was relatively rare to see a new Zach Galifianakis video. When he did have one and I had the opportunity to enjoy his brilliance, it was special. Like certain fans feel about obscure, but awesome underground bands they discover, I too felt a sense of ownership over Zach. There’s a sense of pride and delight which stems from the feeling that a person is seemingly making material just for you, and that no one else “appreciates it” like you do.
Cut to Summer 2009. The Hangover arrives in theaters. Suddenly Zach Galifianakis is the star of the highest grossing live action comedy of all time and everybody in Hollywood wants a piece of him. His name is attached to more movies than Charlie Sheen has marriages ending in domestic disturbance calls. How do I feel? First deliriously excited. I thought The Hangover was one of the funniest comedies in a long time, I loved watching Zach be funny for longer than 3 and half minutes and I was genuinely happy for his success. After like fifteen years in the business its great to see someone finally make it and get the recognition they deserve. And what’s more, Zach seemed to be taking all of his success in stride. Every time someone would ask him how his life had changed given his success, he would say something like, “I get a better table at Arby’s now.”
But to my understanding, the main reason why The Hangover did so well was not only because there were no other good comedies out that summer, but because Zach Galifianakis was a zany breath of fresh air who’s every word and gesture was surprising and therefore exciting.
SEMI TANGENT: There are actually two more under-discussed reasons why I think the movie did so well.
1. The soundtrack was filled with songs that were “hot” that summer–Rihanna’s “Live Your Life,” Flo-Rida’s “Right Round,” Usher’s “Yeah” (ok that song came out years ago but its still in the public’s collective memory). And though it sounds silly I believe it made the audience excited to hear songs they knew in a movie!
2. Those end credits. Those were probably the funniest part of the movie. The overwhelmingly positive word of mouth was no doubt due to audiences leaving that movie on such a “high,” probably immediately texting their friends or twittering
Ok. Back to Zach. After The Hangover, I must admit that a part of me was a bit jealous that so many people had the great fortune of discovering Zach Galifianakis for the first time. Now they could experience the ridiculous pleasure I had from seeing “Tairy Green’s Acting Seminar for Children” for the first time. How those people must feel! It’s like if you had just seen Old School and were like “Oh man! That Will Ferrell is hilarious! I wish I could see him do more stuff,” only to discover that there was seven years worth of Will Ferrell SNL sketches!
But what if, like Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis stops being funny and gets stale?
What made Zach so funny was partially his whole “alternative comedy” appeal. He made fun of actors who took themselves seriously and talk show hosts who pander to celebrities. On Between Two Ferns he used his anonymity and lack of fame as character traits. He could get away with making fun of actors much more famous than him because (and I get that these were all staged) the comedy came from the audience being shocked that a weird looking “nobody” would treat a celebrity with such disrespect. The comedy also came from watching the celebrities try to hold in their anger and discomfort while trying not to look bad even while being “humiliated” by this jackass. Now because of his fame, it’s Zach trying not to seem like a celebrity asshole. Recently at a press junket for Zach’s new film, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” a no-name Austin, Texas reporter started interviewing Zach Galifianakis, “Zach Galifianakis-style,” asking him stupid questions like–“Compare and contrast this film to all the other films that have been made,” designed to make Zach uncomfortable and pissed. At first it wasn’t clear that Zach realized he was being punk’d, but when he did realize that this interviewer was doing his own schtick, he was put in a dilemma. Should he call the guy out on copying his style, thereby looking like a typical celebrity asshole? Or should he go along with it thereby looking like a typical celebrity wussy? Interesting right? Zach handled it as well as he could, revealing his discomfort while at the same time trying to answer the questions with light-handed humor.
To me this touches on a larger issue about celebrity. Fame is a double edged sword. I don’t blame Zach Galifianakis for working as much and as often as he is. As an actor, as soon as you hit your fifteen minutes of fame, you’ve got to cash in right away. But the more you cash in, the more the market becomes saturated with your product and the less valuable it becomes. Especially when your product is being an “outsider.” You’ve got to leave the audience wanting more or they end up wanting less. Like Wild Willis says, unless you’re George Clooney, people are going to get sick of you. So here’s the choice: cash in as fast as you can (by that I mean doing your shtick as often as you can get paid for it) and let people get sick of you, or ditch the shtick and the money in the hopes that you can branch out and not be typecast. Here’s a cautionary tale of an actor who took the first choice:
Will Ferrell’s bread and butter was playing the obnoxious, arrogant idiot. Milked that guy in Anchorman, Bewitched, Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory. Once he did it again in Semi-Pro, people were just not having it anymore. Once he did it AGAIN in Land of the Lost, the audience was REALLY not having it. It hadn’t helped that he also had made like 11 movies from 2005-2007. If he had one more bomb, he would have been cooked. But luckily, after not appearing on screen for a whole year, he stretched his persona in The Other Guys. That movie was a hit because audiences hadn’t seen Will Ferrell in a while, he was doing great material from Adam McKay, and it wasn’t Will Ferrell doing more of the same.
On the other hand there is the career of Jim Carrey. He made his bread and butter doing crazy characters and physical comedy but from 1997 to 2003, he only made one real comedy. By 2003 audiences were clamoring for more of the classic Jim Carrey they knew and loved, and that’s why Bruce Almighty made like $85 million in it’s opening weekend. You got to keep the audience wanting more. You have to stretch and pace yourself so audiences dont get sick of you.
The one guy who audiences consistently want the same thing from is Adam Sandler. Dude has played the same guy for like 20 years and audiences can’t get enough of it! He’s the most bankable comedian in Hollywood right now, but he’s an exception.
In closing, the Zach Galifianakis I knew and loved is gone forever. He made it. He’s making talk show appearances. He’s doing heartwarming dramedies. He no longer possesses the allure of an underground comic. But that’s the way it is. And I’m sure Zach is grateful, and in a way, I am too. But here’s some advice I hope Zach Galifianakis listens to: Milk your persona for a little longer and then ditch it. Be funny in other ways. Stay fresh and don’t go all Hollywood on us. Don’t star in stupid studio comedies that ask you to be like a babysitter for kids. Keep audiences guessing. And keep doing shit with Tim and Eric.
Having said all that–I’m really looking forward to Due Date. As much as I love Zach Galifianakis as a comedian, I love Robert Downey Jr. as an actor.
I realize this was kind of a long ramble of sorts, but I hope it made sense. Besides, its my blog and I do what I want.