Zach Galifianakis’s new Brooklyn apartment is almost bare. There’s a couch and a table with a vase of sunflowers, some books and papers. Taped up on the adjacent wall are three maps of the Middle East. “Oh, don’t worry about those,” he grins when he catches me eyeing the Gaza Strip. “I’m just planning something. A little organization. Let’s just say we have beards and we’re secretive.”
You may recognize Galifianakis’s own face muff from its appearances in his lip-synched video for Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” his cameo in Sean Penn’s film _Into the Wild_, or one of the comedian’s most hilarious standup impressions: the 5-year-old who complains about having a beard (“I don’t like having a beawd! It hoirts!”). It’s so distinctive that if he shaved it, the thirtysomething Greek-American points out, no one would recognize him on the street. But despite the fact that beards have replaced moustaches in the hipster uniform (Galifianakis calls his neighborhood “Williamsbeard”), the comedian’s facial hair is not an affectation. “I’m just not into grooming,” he shrugs.
In fact, the very idea of posturing seems anathematic to this North Carolina native. He doesn’t understand why anyone would have a publicist (“If you’re good at what you do, people will find you”) and he hasn’t planned a single career move since he failed to graduate from college by one credit and headed to New York to become an actor. After a less-than-auspicious start telling jokes in a Times Square burger joint, Galifianakis went on to attain the mainstream comedy trifecta: acting in a big-screen flop (Out Cold, co-starring Lee Majors), hosting his own failed cable talk show (Late World With Zach) and pranking in a cancelled Comedy Central Punk’d-esque reality show (Dog Bites Man). The comedian also played a morgue worker in FOX’s Tru Calling for two seasons and has appeared on Reno 911 and The Sarah Silverman Program, but it’s the years he’s spent on the comedy circuit and his recent lip-synching work that have earned Galifianakis a devoted following.
On a whim, he lip synched a favorite Anita Baker song for a friend’s camera and posted it on YouTube. Then Fiona Apple asked him to do the video for her song, “Not About Love.” When hip-hop god Kanye West sought out Galifianakis for his music video, the comedian obliged but was hardly starstruck. “That kind of cockiness, I’m not impressed with,” he says. “I was going to fly to North Carolina the next morning and I said, â€˜I’m not sticking around to shoot the video.'” Galifianakis has owned a 60-acre farm in the Appalachians for years, near where he grew up. “So he e-mailed me the song,” the comedian explains, “and we shot it on the farm. We just drank a lot of whiskey and rode around on the tractor.” Since then he has gotten requests to lip synch for bands around the world, and is working on an unauthorized Fugees video.
It’s hard to imagine how he’ll find the time. Earlier this year, Netflix released Galifianakis’ DVD Live at the Purple Onion, and right now the comedian is putting together a show for Comedy Central with friend and fellow comic A.D. Miles, touring with The Comedians of Comedy when he can and working on his first star vehicle—a Jerry Bruckheimer animated hamster film called G Force (“The hamsters are animated, not me,” Galifianakis clarifies). He’s surprisingly busy for someone who has never lobbied for a role in his life, and he certainly hasn’t found a spare moment to decorate his new apartment.
“I’ve been flying back and forth to L.A. because I’ve been shooting a movie there and another one here,” he says, rubbing his eyes. “But it’s too much work. I mean, Tyra‘s on!” Galifianakis pauses, mugs and picks up the Middle Eastern history book on the table. “I need to streamline a little bit, get rid of a few people.”