Zach Galifianakis: 15 Apex Jokes (And Why)
Today, we're taking and in-depth look at the jokes of Zach Galifianakis, a man just as great at comedic moments (he's the King of Late Night somewhere in the multiverse, we just know it) as he is at setup/punchline jokewriting. Here are 15 Zach Galifianakis apex jokes and why they qualify:
The Pretentious Illiterate
No bit encapsulates Galifianakis's comedic project like The Pretentious Illiterate (42 minute-mark). Zach puts on a pair of glasses, exasperatedly takes them off, and condescends “uh, I told you, I don't know how to read.” Is Zach far too self-serious, or is he purely absurd? It's the central tension of the Zach Galifianakis experience, summed up a single sentence.
Claustrophobic on The Elevator
Another example of blurring the line between serious and joke, included in the Netflix special Live At The Purple Onion (around the 25-minute mark) is a scene where Zach gets claustrophobic and has to exit a crowded elevator. When asked what it feels like, a stone-serious and physically vulnerable-seeming Zach says "It’s this rush that comes over me and I can’t deal with it…you’re never going to get out of this small box for the rest of your life. You will whittle away. And let’s face it, Joe’s gonna get hungry.” Is Zach actually afraid his friend will eat him, or is it a joke?
Might as well be another missive from the Pretentious Illiterate: “Don’t know what I’m doing…What I’m talking aboot…excuse me I’ve been in Canada…opening for Miles Davis…Kilometers Davis”
"Oh Did You See Out Cold?"
Live At The Purple Onion came out in 2006, well before the Hangover. The scene of alt-comedy weirdos and internet deconstructionists that made Zach famous was barely making ripples in the comedy ocean. So Galifianakis is unsurprisingly taken aback—around the 17-minute mark—when a middle aged man named Carl says he's here to see Zach. “Oh did you see Out Cold? It was a snowboarding movie I did with Lee Majors,” hilariously loglines a dumb teen comedy in a way that's shots fired at both Zach and the only other actor Carl might've heard of.
"When you look like I do, it’s hard to get a table for one at Chuck E. Cheese"
One of a few Live At The Purple Onion jokes incorporated into The Hangover, when Zach's Alan character says “I'm not supposed to be within 200 feet of a school. Or a Chuck E. Cheese.”
Kinda cheating since this is from a movie role, but as we said, a lot of Live At The Purple Onion made it into The Hangover, and in this scene, Alan pretends to be a hacky comedian—maybe as a nod to Zach's work? Alan's Wolfpack speech was immediately made unfunny from overquoting at the bachelor parties of your worst friends, but take a moment to consider it in a vacuum. Batshit insane, right? Genius, right? What you’d associate with the weirdo brain of Zatch Galifinstansky, right?
You Know You Have A Drinking Problem When…
Zach's serious thoughts at the piano were ASMR before ASMR. The realizations, though, are not always happy epiphanies. “By the way, you know you have a drinking problem when the bartender knows your name…and you've never been to that bar before.”
Seth Galifianakis is a Youth Pastor
Zach's twin brother Seth gets an extended interview with NPR's Brian Unger in Live At The Purple Onion, and Seth's affable, “Southern Baptist Live Laugh Love Mom” persona is a delight. Over a decade before Kelvin and Keefe were saving muscly souls on The Righteous Gemstones, Seth was getting pushed around by the high school he Youth Pastors to.
"That's a buzzkill. See, I can…that was a joke!"
Case in point, Seth learns the word “buzzkill” from the football players in Youth Group (29 minute mark), but doesn't quite know what it means. He's pretty certain he's just been funny, though. His brother's not so great, comedy's not that hard, see, Brian Unger, see?
"Are You With NPR? To Me It's a Bunch of Junk"
Seth shows a mean side at 7:42, some seething redneck anger below the red turtleneck. When Unger begins to drip liberal coastal elite, Seth insults his work and workplace while derisively saying they play it “on the college stations.”
Seth Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns
The entire joke is that Seth is here so he can ask Sean Penn about his twin brother Ballpoint. “Or like Felt, or something,” as Seth says. To break out a whole other character just to make a stupid pen pun is next level. But don't worry, Seth's inner rage monster makes an appearance, too. Zach would later tell David Letterman he told director Scott Aukerman the shoot was over, but it turns out, Sean Penn is just good at acting like he wants to beat you up.
"I'm not being mean I'm asking questions"
Bradley Cooper's appearance on BTF uses the central fear of the show as a joke. What if there was a talk show host who knew a whole bunch of personal information about you…and then was just super mean? This dropped right before The Hangover, so before Zach achieved super Hollywood fame, but while Cooper was also still more associated with his misogynist jerk Wedding Crashers character than true stardom. The insecurities of both men are on full display, but at least they can bro-fight about it.
"Beirut, like Obama"
The whole Keanu Reeves BTF is excellent, but we want to hone in on one specific joke. Zach, apparently a birther this whole time, learns that Keanu was not born in Hawaii, but Beirut. It barely takes a split second for the gears to turn “Hawaii = Obama = foreign = Beirut because why not they're all the same.”
Respect and Validation
Respect and validation! We're cheating again with a scene from a movie, and not even a comic one. Zach's persona, though, carries into this role as Michael Keaton's Very Serious best friend in Birdman. Zach’s trademark broken voice in a dramatic role shows there’s real pathos behind his stand-up, but also underscores the dark comic undertones of the scene and an artist’s neverending (often fruitless) quest for respect and validation.
Obama on Between Two Ferns
Respect: the sitting President of the United States of America went on a Funny Or Die show. He even went toe-to-toe with Zach, comedically, or at the Pod Save America bros did. Validation: Zach's silly little show actually briefly became the #1 source for referrals for Healthcare dot gov.