The self-proclaimed “fat Jesus” sat low on the tattered cushions and corroded springs of a pleather couch and fondled a half-drunk Keystone Light. More elvish than portly, and barely breaking 5’8,” his thick brown beard was about the only validation offered for the divine nickname.
But he knew how to command an audience. The college kids standing around the room watched and listened as intently as the half-naked beer models staring down from the posters on the walls.
The biggest thing to hit the SDSU campus since Screech, comedian Zach Galifianakis had just wrapped up a stand-up show at a packed Doner Auditorium. After sticking around to sign autographs for a couple of hours, he took advantage of an offer to join some stragglers for a beer at a local party house.
There is a hush in the room. Brookings is less than a hotbed for celebrity sightings–even of the B-variety–but Galifianakis spoke of his career and roster of friends from the comically elite with hometown humility.
“I used to drink a lot in college. I drank alone in college. That’s probably why I was like ‘yeah, I’ll come over to your house. I never had friends in college!’ “
He seemed to appreciate the encore audience and went beyond the simple one-liners that form the basis his stand-up.
“I failed my last course in college by one point, and then I just left college and went to New York and started doing stand-up in the back of a hamburger restaurant,” he said.
“And look at me now … I’m drinking Keystone Light at South Dakota State University. Kiss my ass!”
The 32-year-old never did stand up at North Carolina State University, and has since started playing the piano just beneath his deadpan delivery.
“I started doing the piano about three years ago because it helps–with the bizarre things that I’m saying–to have serious music underneath it.”
The Doner show stuck to simple irony and one-liners.
“I used to have dyslexia and I would write about it in my dairy.”
Obviously distracted by 3 young children he noticed in the balcony, he finally brought them onstage for a chat. When he noticed Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen on the cover of an issue of People the little girl had, he plugged the her ears.
“That’s what I call my testicles,” he whispered.
He went back and forth to the piano and tell stories throughout the show, like how he likes to read the Bible in public places and periodically yell,
Before his stop at SDSU, Galifianakis was on a 20-city tour with Janine Garafolo.
“She has a huge following, it’s unbelievable … she’s funny, a very political and serious comic which I wish I could be, but people are like, ‘…tell us about your dick.’ My penis wants to be political.”
Galifianakis, who lived in a closet in New York City and worked as a waiter while playing tiny clubs around the city, is sort of a poster child for the performer’s rite of passage. He eventually made several TV appearances including four guest spots on Late Night with Conan O’Brian.
“I know all those guys that work at Conan and they’re pretty good … I just like the absurdity of it, that kind of humor.”
VH1 offered Galifianakis a chance to flex his own talk show muscles with the short-lived Late Night with Zach for 9 weeks. The show was recognized critically, but Galifianakis’ dry humor and anti-pop sentiments often clashed with the clean-cut adult contemporary VH1 format.
“I think there was a time they came around and put signs up on the wall saying do not make fun of Cher, Celine Dion, all these people … and I took the signs down, I went, are you crazy?”
“I said I’m gonna do it. I don’t care. There’s more to life than just doing TV and it was getting this werd kind of cult following because we were going against the grain of VH1.”
While the show struggled to find a concrete spot among the network’s music documentary fare, Galifianakis earned press comparisons to early David Letterman as a talented performer stuck in the wrong format.
“That’s a little too flattering … (early Letterman) was kind of irreverent, didn’t know what he was doing, … I got some of that stuff because we didn’t know what we were doing. I mean, I was the boss. There was nobody telling me what to do after I realized I’m just gonna crash this plane myself.”
He said the show’s quick cancellation didn’t come as much of a surprise.
“I knew it was going to get cancelled … right away. I knew that they got the wrong guy.”
The comedian said he wouldn’t mind doing another talk show.
“I would [like to] as long as I could make fun of Hollywood and not be the celebrity ass-kisser that I find that a lot of these shows are … honestly, it’s all crap, it’s all a facade.”
“I think the whole Hollywood thing is just people blowing smoke up each other’s … well, I don’t want to say assholes, but what else is there? It’s kinda that … but yeah, I would love to do another one.”