How Zach Galifianakis Is Using His Success to Do More of What He Wants
Yesterday, FX announced that Zach Galifianakis is starring in a new pilot that he’s co-writing with Louis C.K. On top of sounding like a comedy nerd’s wet dream, the project is surprising in the sense that movie stars of Zach Galifianakis’s caliber are usually too busy and are making too much money in the feature world to ever star in TV shows. In the past three years, Galifianakis’s films have grossed a total of $453.5 million domestically, making him the comedy industry’s leading comedic actor in terms of box office returns. You don’t see his peers like Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell starring in their own TV shows, but this is just the latest evidence of Galifianakis marching to the beat of his own drum as he continues to shift his focus away from his movie career so he can make cool stuff with his friends.
Ever since his breakthrough role in The Hangover in 2009, Zach Galifianakis, who splits his time between LA and his farm in the mountains of North Carolina, has been pretty open about how he holds show business in contempt and found becoming a movie star to be annoying. It’s understandable considering that he was pushing 40 and nearly two decades into his comedy career by the time he achieved that level of popularity; if he’d starred in a movie like The Hangover in his 20s, it’d be easier to imagine Galifianakis embracing his celebrity, although the phoniness of the industry goes against the grain of his no-bullshit identity and persona.
It’s not like Galifianakis is leaving movies behind to return to TV by any means. It’s just that if FX picks up this Louis C.K. pilot (and they’d be crazy not to, given Galifianakis’s popularity), he’d have way less time to spend starring in movies, especially considering that he’d likely have a hand in the writing of the show since he’s the co-creator. He was acting on HBO’s Bored to Death for three seasons at the start of his career breakthrough, but he’d already signed onto and filmed the first season of that show before The Hangover came out and changed everything for him.
Galifianakis has already been cutting his movie output down a bit. In the wake of The Hangover trilogy losing popularity in its final installment, Galifianakis has been starring in fewer films and has been making more prestigious movies. He’ll next be seen co-starring in Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s directorial debut You Are Here with Owen Wilson and in a supporting role in Oscar-nominated director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s comedy-drama Birdman. These are loftier films than his initial batch of post-Hangover projects like Due Date and The Campaign. Galifianakis’s next movie, a bank heist comedy that also co-stars Wilson, looks as mainstream as those other films, but five years after his initial box office hit, he’s starring in far fewer movies and being choosier about what he does while devoting more time to making web and TV projects with respected peers and friends.
Like Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis enjoys making time for off-the-beaten-path passion projects. He and Scott Aukerman are continuing to make new episodes of their web series Between Two Ferns for Funny Or Die sporadically, he co-starred alongside comedy duo/frequent collaborators Tim & Eric in the pilot for their new Adult Swim show Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories, and he’s recently guest starred on Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang! and last night’s premiere of Kroll Show. Even when hosting SNL, Galifianakis is doing unconventional stuff like the sketch “Darrell’s House,” one of the most unconventional and best sketches on the show in recent memory.
This past year, Galifianakis has started producing TV projects for friends and admired peers, something he hasn’t used his clout to do until now. He executive produced the Comedy Central documentary series Brody Stevens: Enjoy It!, which he appeared in as himself alongside his friend, standup Brody Stevens. “He thought I was funny and weird and likable,” Stevens told us in an interview. “That’s the kind of guy Zach is, it’s not like, ‘Hey Brody, buddy, let’s make him famous, and I’m Mr. Producer.’ He’s actually doing it because he thinks I’m funny. He is a good person.”
He’s also executive producing, alongside Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, a Comedy Central pilot of The Chris Gethard Show. After appearing on the public access version of the program (and cutting people’s hair on it), Gethard says Galifianakis “sent me a very nice email, like, ‘I feel like what you’re doing is really interesting, and I don’t know if you want to keep it as this outlet for you to keep doing what you want, but if you ever do want to push things, to see where it can go, I’d love to help.'” Shepherding in two of the more unusual comedy shows on TV may just be the start of this new wave of Zach Galifianakis’s career as he continues to eschew traditional movie stardom to devote more time and effort to stuff like Chris Gethard and Brody Stevens’s shows and whatever exciting thing he and Louis C.K. come up with for FX.