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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Zach Galifianakis is one of the stars in the country's number-one movie, "The Hangover," about four guys who go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party to awaken in a ruined hotel room with a tiger in the bathroom.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hangover")

Mr. ZACH GALIFIANAKIS (Actor): (as Alan) Stu, do not go in the bathroom.

Mr. ED HELMS (Actor): (as Stu) Will you throw on some pants?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Alan) There is a tiger in the bathroom.

Mr. BRADLEY COOPER (Actor): (as Phil) What's going on?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Alan) There's a jungle cat in the bathroom.

Mr. HELMS: (as Stu) Okay, okay. Let's go.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Alan) Don't go.

Mr. COOPER: (as Phil) I'll check it out.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Alan) Be careful. Don't, don't.

Mr. HELMS: (as Stu) Holy - you weren't kidding. There's a tiger in there.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Alan) Yeah.

CONAN: After many years in comedy, including a TV show that made fun of how unpopular it was, Zach Galifianakis is an overnight success. If you'd like to talk with the actor and comedian about his career in standup, TV, on the Internet or in the movies, give us a call. 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site npr.org just click on TALK OF THE NATION. Zach Galifianakis joins us from the studios of the BBC. He's in London for the British premiere of "The Hangover." Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Neal, thanks for having me on.

CONAN: And is there going to be royalty there in the theater tomorrow night to watch you stand around in your jockstrap?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah. I think the Queen is coming. We're hoping that she gets here. I get to kiss her hands or whatever they do. No. I don't know who is coming to the premiere, maybe some of the cast members from "Benny Hill."

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That would be - probably be appropriate...

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: That's more appropriate. Yeah.

CONAN: Red carpet and the whole thing.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Right.

CONAN: I assume you're going in a tuxedo.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I will have a, like, a suit that I've been forced to wear.

CONAN: Given your years of working at local comedy clubs in New York and out on the West Coast on TV, on the Web, where your audience were not always that large. Is it difficult to imagine being in the number-one movie in the country?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I always knew it was going to happen, Neal.

CONAN: I think that - ever since you wore that sweater into the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...the shrubs.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: The shrubs. No. I - it's pretty exciting to - I haven't seen the receipts. I'll believe it when someone shows me the receipts. I just - I don't really believe that that's the case right now. So...

CONAN: It was interesting because the first numbers came out on the wires and it was actually number two. "Up" was number one for two weeks in a row. And then, they said, wait a minute, we've recounted and we're number one.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah. Yeah. It's - that's what they keep telling me. It's pretty exciting. I got to tell you. I never - you don't really think in those terms when you're working on a movie. You just go and work on a movie. But it's - I can't - I wish I could be more cool. But it's really exciting.

CONAN: Is it - when you're doing the film, do you get the impression that this - gee, this is going awfully well, or sometimes are you wrong when you get that?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I have never ever had a chance to be proud in any - of anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

So this was the - when we were shooting the movie, a couple of other cast members, Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper - when we would go to dinner, I - we kind of said to each other, this feels like it's going to be very good. And a lot of coincidences have to happen actually for a movie to be good. And the stars lined up for us and aligned correctly and Todd Phillips, the director, kind of put together a very funny movie.

CONAN: You mentioned Bradley Cooper, the co-star in "The Hangover." You had a Web series called "Between Two Ferns" where you played - you were the host of a cable TV show. And your main job appeared to be to embarrass or insult your guests, much like we do here. This is an interview you did with Brad Cooper about all the publicity he was getting from an earlier picture that he was in.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: You're on the cover of "Details" magazine which is a really good publication if you have run out of cologne.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRADLEY COOPER (Actor): All right. Why do you have to be like that?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: What?

Mr. COOPER: I was - why are you being mean to me?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I'm not being mean. Just asking questions. So you hosted Saturday Night Live?

Mr. COOPER: Yeah. I mean, that was like a dream come true.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Whose?

(Soundbite of laughter)

What's the matter, did Elaine Boosler drop out?

Mr. COOPER: Come on, man.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Come on, man.

Mr. COOPER: Zach.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Zach.

Mr. COOPER: What are you doing?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Reading my notes.

Mr. COOPER: Just so you know, it wasn't true about that.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Well, man, you know, you can't stake on your looks alone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: There's a line - there was a profile of you in the New York Times Magazine a couple of weeks ago. You're quoted as saying, "I figured out pretty early that comedy comes out of discomfort. Your discomfort? The guests' discomfort? The audience's discomfort?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I think the audience's discomfort. I'm very comfortable doing it. However, I'm very non-confrontational offstage or if there's not a camera rolling. I won't even ask anyone directions because I feel like I'm in their way. But there's something very interesting to me about miscommunication and misunderstanding each other, and the "Between Two Ferns" series specifically is about kind of miscommunication.

And also, it's a - not to get too deep, but it's a - the sycophantic Hollywood that we've kind of all experienced last few years in the States is a - it's kind of making fun of that, of the press junkets and all that. And everything's wonderful in Hollywood and all actors are great. You know, it's just funny to be inappropriate.

CONAN: Our guest is Zach Galifianakis, who appears in "The Hangover." If you'd like to get in on the conversation, 800-989-8255; email talk@npr.org.

And David's with us, calling from Birmingham, Alabama.

DAVID (Caller): Hey, Zach. I really loved you in "The Hangover." I've been watching you on, you know, Comedians of Comedy and "Between Two Ferns" and stuff. And I'm really glad to see you on the screen.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Thanks, David.

DAVID: I had a question, though. How do you get actors like Jon Hamm and Natalie Portman and stuff to do "Between Two Ferns" with you?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: It's a skywriting campaign. No. Jon Hamm is a - has been around the comedy scene in Los Angeles for a number of years before he was known. And he's kind of a comedy nerd and goes to a lot of comedy shows. So I just asked him if he would do it. And Natalie Portman, when I - that kind of went through the regular channels. From what I understand, she wanted to do something a little - she likes doing comedy so she wanted to do it. So that's how those two came about.

CONAN: David, thanks for the call.

DAVID: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

You also hosted a show called "Late World with Zach," which ran for nine weeks on VH1. And again, you talked about how - when the show was cancelled A) you first had a really good time with the last few shows because you could do a show about that. But then there was a sort of a fallow period, where if once you have a talk show and it's cancelled, everybody thinks you're a has-been.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I kind of felt that that was the case. Maybe that was in my own mind. But yeah, you - sometimes you're given that one shot. And if - in my profile, they kind of really publicized that talk show and it didn't give a chance - it wasn't given the chance to grow on its own. It was kind of forcing people to watch something instead of it being organic. So I think people were just turned off by it.

And at the time, VH1 was - it wasn't really a place to be doing comedy, and I was irresponsible and I didn't - I couldn't pay attention to the guests because I was very uninterested in what they were saying. And I was not a very good host and - because I just didn't care that much.

And I think maybe "Between Two Ferns" eventually became my fantasy talk show because that's what I wanted to do, is have this irreverence on the VH1 show, but I wasn't really allowed to do it.

We did one show where we just put one person in the audience. So we made it look like in the studio audience that no one wanted to see the show. And we didn't tell the actor I was interviewing. And in the laugh track of the show was just of a four-year-old girl laughing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: And it was so strange and bizarre. But I just tell you, it was the funniest thing to me.

CONAN: Let's go to Gabe. Gabe's with us from Kansas City.

GABE (Caller): Oh, hi, guys. How's it going?

CONAN: All right.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Hi.

GABE: Well, Zach, I just wanted to say that my friends and I got to see a couple-day premiere before it actually came out and we really felt like that you held the movie together, like you are ultimately the glue. And it was just a great film. And I also wanted to ask if - and I'll take this off the air - if you, Brian and Patton will ever be coming out to the Kansas City area.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: He's speaking of the Comedians of Comedy tour that I - we used to do a few years ago with also Maria Bamford. We don't have any plans to tour together anytime soon. But one day I hope to get - that would be really nice.

GABE: Cool.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Gabe.

GABE: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email from Michael Savage in - I'm not sure it's the Michael Savage. Anyway...

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Oh, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: How old are you, Zach, and how do you maintain such an impressively manicured beard?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Oh, I hope you're right. I hope that's not the Michael Savage. I am 22. No, I'm 39 years old. And my beard has just always been this way. My grandmother's beard was like this.

CONAN: Well, I'm told by my producers, by the way, that it's Michael in Savage, Minnesota.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Oh, thank goodness. Okay, good. Good.

CONAN: We wouldn't want to have another one of those. Let's see...

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Zach, we have another call from David Duke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Megan on the line. Megan calling us from Chicago.

MEGAN (Caller): Hi. I'm really excited to be calling. I'm a big fan of the Snuggler and Spagett. They got my friends and I through the winter in Chicago. But I do have a question about the trio of Absolut Vodka ads. I'd heard that you had sort of demanded complete creative control over those ads and that Absolut could only - they only mandated that you use their vodka. So I'm wondering if that is true.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: What happened was I got a phone call from a Swedish advertising agency, and I - they told me they wanted me to make a commercial for their vodka. And I really couldn't concentrate that much because I was - I remember specifically thinking, this is going to be an expensive phone call on my cell phone from Sweden. So I just wanted them to get off the phone.

I agreed to do it. I told them that they - no, they told me I had creative control, that - they gave me one note, which was please do not make it look like a 1980s type of thing because we're kind of known as an 80s brand. And then that's what gave the guys the idea to build a "Golden Girls" set.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: And they did not touch anything. They were very, very gracious. And those - that's kind of how those ads came about.

MEGAN: Can I ask you one more thing about the final one?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: That's up to Neal. Neal, can she do that?

CONAN: Yes, she can do that if she does it quickly.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Okay.

MEGAN: Thank you. I was wondering, is the scene where you guys - where Tim and Eric start to throw the flower at you, was that improvised or was that scripted?

CONAN: Are we talking daisy or are we talking Pillsbury here?

MEGAN: I think it was a generic flour.

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: It was probably a generic flour. It was - that was improvised, much like a lot of things that I'm involved with.

MEGAN: Yeah.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Yes, improvised.

CONAN: Megan...

MEGAN: All right.

CONAN: ...thanks very much.

MEGAN: Thank you.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Neal, who do we have on the line next, Pol Pot?

CONAN: Pol Pot is joining us on the line from the hereafter. We're talking with Zach Galifianakis. He's the star - one of the stars of the "The Hangover."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get Shawn(ph). Shawn is actually on the line impersonating Pol Pot from Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.

SHAWN (Caller): No, I'm actually going to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAWN: I'm going to impersonate Mark Sanford.

CONAN: Why don't you go ahead, Shawn?

SHAWN: Hey, Zach, classic movie, real classic. Just wanted to ask about - a follow-up on that last question. What would - what lines were improved? If you can go into a little more detail on that movie. I heard - I read somewhere that the baby masturbating scene was improvised.

CONAN: Oh, God.

SHAWN: I was just curious as to what other ones were improved.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Never thought - first of all, I never thought I'd be on NPR. And second of all, if I ever did get to NPR, I would hope that would not be a question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Out of context, that's a very odd - okay. So that was improvised. A lot of the lines that we all did were improvised. We stuck to the script. And then Todd Phillips, the director, lets us kind of go into different realms sometimes. And he chose a lot of the improvisations to end up in the movie. The baby thing...

CONAN: Should point out the baby is not abused in the scene in any way.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: No, no. Of course not. The baby thing - I'm trying to see how I can describe this poetically. You know what? I can't. You'll just have to go see it and figure it out yourself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Then why do we just move on to the next call?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah.

CONAN: Here's someone, Brian writing us on email. As someone who's appreciated your style of humor since your days on "Boston Common," a TV show, I know that even for somebody as hilarious as you, it's tough to make it in the world of comedy. What's sort of advice, if any, do you have for aspiring comedians?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: The only advice is - for me, I just got on stage when I first started as much as I possibly could at every terrible open mic. If - just go and do it. And I would advise maybe to also maybe a bigger city where you can see - I mean, an open mic in the back of a nursing home in Louisiana might not be the place to do it. You kind of sometimes have to go where there other comics and all that kind of thing. But just - I just did it the old-fashioned way. I got on stage and I slept my way to the top.

CONAN: This email from Mack, I think it is, but in North Carolina. I heard Zach say on Letterman that he is from North Carolina. Whereabouts. Any North Carolina's choice to tell about his upbringing or his rise to fame? Is he kin to Nick Galifianakis, who ran for office some years ago in North Carolina?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Nick Galifianakis was a congressman from North Carolina. He's my uncle. He's my dad's brother. He's a very sweet man. Yes, I grew up in North Carolina. I have very fond memories. I still live there part of the time, in the mountains of North Carolina.

CONAN: And you have a tractor there.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I do have a tractor, yes.

CONAN: The tractor that's featured in the Kanye West video.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: There is a tractor - I did in Kanye West video from my farm in North Carolina, yes.

CONAN: Okay. And what is your next project after the spectacular success that you've been able to score?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I don't know, Neal. I just probably shave my beard off and mail it to myself and figure it out from there.

CONAN: Zack Galifianakis - basking, I think, in his success. He's among the stars of "The Hangover," joined us today from the studios of the BBC in London, where his movie premieres tomorrow night. Good luck.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Thank you very much. And thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Appreciate it. Tomorrow, Political Junkie Ken Rudin will join us, plus Richard Wolffe about his book about the Obama campaign, "Renegade." Be with us then.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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