OK, so The Hangover Part III might have been a bit much, what with the decapitated giraffe and all. But Zach Galifianakis, who became a certifiably bankable star with the first installment of Todd Phillips' zany trilogy, has never met a comic premise he wouldn't exploit to its fullest.
His career started rather inauspiciously, with several false starts and canceled series. But the odd duck from North Carolina soon found his footing in scene-stealing bit parts and on the Comedians of Comedy tour with Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford. He's made his unlovable oafs some of the most beloved figures in modern comedy.
Here he is in 1999, onstage in Luna Park, Los Angeles. "I went to my stylist today," he opens, and the laughs flow easily from there.
One of several shows the young comedian was involved with that were canceled early, Late World With Zach deserved a better fate. Here, the beardless host tries to shake off his cynicism by going back to his comedy roots: doing stand-up in a preschool classroom.
The Hangover was Galifianakis' obvious breakthrough but his web series Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis, in which he interviews real-life celebrities on a mock chat show, might have marked his true arrival. In it, he's an envious, contemptuous jerk and Jon Hamm, Sean Penn, Steve Carell and many more play along, happily stone-faced.
The DVD of his 2005 live set from San Francisco, Live at the Purple Onion, features plenty of righteous Galifianakis anger and a healthy portion of his piano-bar stylings.
A clip from Comedy Central's short-lived mockumentary Dog Bites Man. Asked what he's reading, Galifianakis' Alan Finger nods to High Fidelity's Rob Gordon ("Johnny Cash's autobiography, Cash by Johnny Cash") with the line "Dennis Rodman's Bad As I Wanna Be by Dennis Rodman."
There's a kernel of good humor somewhere deep in the seething pit of Kanye West. There has to be, since he hired Galifianakis (and Will Oldham) to play two podunk farmboys lip-syncing his lyrics in the awesome video for "Can't Tell Me Nothing."
Galifianakis took his Method acting to new levels of intensity when he played Therman Merch, Steve Carell's boss at the IRS in Dinner for Schmucks. He nearly popped a blood vessel on this suffocating, squealing, sinister laugh.
Like Sam Kinison, Galifianakis has gotten a lot of mileage out of unbridled rage in his act. He's been great in every appearance on Saturday Night Live, a show where he once spent two miserable, laugh-free weeks as a writer. Here, he's off the hook as a disgruntled last-place finisher in the 15th Annual Jennifer Aniston Lookalike Contest.
Galifianakis was pretty amusing with Will Ferrell in The Campaign, but the promotions might have topped the film. Here, the co-stars read from 50 Shades of Grey: "'Feel it, baby,' Christian whispers in my ear."
We saw his ass cheeks and learned he was prohibited from coming within 200 feet of a Chuck E. Cheese. With The Hangover's Alan Garner, we got much too much information, and it was more than enough to make the comic actor who played him an overdue star.