Galifianakis Gets (Sort Of) Serious In 'A Funny Story' Zach Galifianakis became known as one of the funniest actors in the business after The Hangover catapulted him to stardom. But his new role, in It's Kind of a Funny Story, is a far cry from the high jinks of The Hangover.
NPR logo

Galifianakis Gets (Sort Of) Serious In 'A Funny Story'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Galifianakis Gets (Sort Of) Serious In 'A Funny Story'

Galifianakis Gets (Sort Of) Serious In 'A Funny Story'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm David Greene.

And we end this hour with a movie about a young patient in an adult mental hospital. But as the name says, "It's Kind of a Funny Story." And that's due, in large part, to one of the funniest actors working today, Zach Galifianakis. He plays Bobby, himself a patient but also a mentor to the film's young hero.

Here's Bobby doing a bit of role-playing.

(Soundbite of movie, "It's Kind of a Funny Story")

Mr. ZACH GALIFIANAKIS (Actor): (as Bobby) You can practice on me.

Mr. KEIR GILCHRIST (Actor): (as Craig) Practice what?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Bobby) Asking Noelle out.

Mr. GILCHRIST: (as Craig) Uh, no. That's okay.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Bobby) I'll be Noelle. I'll be Noelle.

Mr. GILCHRIST: (as Craig) No.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Bobby) I'm Noelle. Uh, hey, Craig, how is it going?

Mr. GILCHRIST: (as Craig) Hey, Noelle. I'm well. How are you?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Bobby) Oh, good. I get out of here soon. This is pretty cool. Do you like music?

Mr. GILCHRIST: (as Craig) Yeah, sure.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Bobby) I like live music. Uh, you're just gonna sit there the whole time you're asking her out? Stand up. I'm a lady.

GREENE: Galifianakis' part in this film is an exercise in understatement compared to the role that catapulted him to stardom - as Alan, in last year's surprise hit "The Hangover."

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hangover")

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Alan Garner) Phil, there is a tiger in the bathroom.

Mr. ED HELMS (Actor): (as Stu Price) What's going on?

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

Mr. BRADLEY COOPER (Actor): (as Phil Wenneck) Okay, okay. Al, Al.

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

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

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

(Soundbite of tiger growling)

Mr. COOPER: (as Phil Wenneck) Oh, he's not kidding. There's a tiger in there.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Alan Garner) Yeah.

GREENE: And the man with no pants, actor Zach Galifianakis, joins us from New York. And Zach, welcome to the program.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Thank you for endangering my marriage, man. I really appreciate it. I saw "The Hangover" nine times and...


GREENE: wife really got a kick out of that when I missed the dinners and so forth. So that's great. Thanks.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Nine times, really?

GREENE: Is that a record?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I've seen it 710, I think.


Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: No, I've only seen it only once, I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: It's too embarrassing. I don't want to watch it again. It's also ruined my life.

GREENE: Why do you say that?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Well, everywhere I go, it's like, you know, I'm trying to have a nice, peaceful walk. Hey, aren't you the fat guy from "The Hangover"? It's never, aren't you the guy from "The Hangover"? It's always an insult - but no, it's a very funny movie. I'm very happy to be a part of it.

GREENE: So your new film, "It's Kind of a Funny Story," is actually not as funny?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: No. I mean, it's not supposed to be. It's a coming-of-age story, as they say, about a 17-year-old - a 16-year-old - 16-, 17-year-old who is in a mental hospital with adults. So I play his mentor, who's there for six suicide attempts.

GREENE: And you actually visited a real psychiatric ward to do some research before playing a suicidal man in his 30s.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I visited two before even hearing about the movie. No, I did. I was in New Mexico, and I went to a couple of facilities there and just kind of asked questions and listened. And in some cases, it's hard to tell from the people that are working there, that are - people that are patients, which I thought was interesting. There was this one woman, a young woman, I was convinced was a patient. She said, oh, you know - after talking to her, she's like, you want to step in my office and talk about some more things? It's like, oh, my gosh, she's an administrator. But lovely, lovely people. And it is a little bit of a serious - obviously - topic where people are struggling and have some chemical problems going on. And I've never been into a mental facility, so it was interesting to watch.

GREENE: You've done the - sort of the movie festival scene for this new film, "It's Kind of a Funny Story." Are people accepting you as a serious actor? Are you still getting "The Hangover" jokes when you wander the halls?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: People aren't accepting me, period, about anything. I mean, I had a hard enough time getting into the parties.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I don't know - yes, I haven't felt any - no, fat boy, you're not allowed into this serious realm. So no, everybody is - I think people like to see when comics kind of can take a different role. It's funny: Dramatic actors get to play funny guys sometimes but then when, like, a comedic actor tries to be serious, people are like, hey, what is this guy doing? And I've never understood that, you know?

GREENE: Right.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I don't think the comedian-serious role has the respect that it deserves sometimes. I don't know.

GREENE: You grew up in North Carolina.


GREENE: You own a 60-acre farm there now.


GREENE: Do you need all that space? What do you do there?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I have a Shakespeare festival for one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: No, but - I mean, does North Carolina still draw you? Is that an important space for you to kind of return to?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah, I really appreciate being there. I drive around in my tractor. I do my chores. I chop my wood. And I think. It's a good place to think. And there's some moonshine involved. And there really is nothing to do. I mean, I don't have a television. I just play in my basement. There's not much to do, but it is a place to get away from the very self-involved business of being an actor.

GREENE: And growing up, you - as I've read - were kind of the family goofball. I mean, were you testing out your stand-up for your parents, your siblings?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Well, I don't know if I was the family goofball. My brother and, in fact, my sister are funnier than I am. So I was the one trying to orchestrate - we used to do sketches for my parents where we would, you know, the theme would be the Iran-Contra affair...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: ...which is, you know, a very great place to mine for comedy, especially when you're...


Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: ...9 years old. But...

GREENE: How did that sketch play out?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I think - if I remember, my sister was dressed as the shah of Iran. I don't remember who my brother was, but I was a news reporter. And I remember my parents were dressed up. They were going out for the evening, and they were just laughing. They were sitting on the couch in their nice clothes, laughing. And that was it. And then they would leave us alone, no babysitter. And then my brother would beat the crap out of me.

GREENE: As part of the sketch, or just for the heck of it?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Hey, I think that was his own sequel that he...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: ...had in his mind. Oh, yeah, you forgot to write this part, Zach.

GREENE: Right. Let me beat you up now.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah, yeah.

GREENE: Well, Zach, I - you've - I mean, you've been doing comedy, and your work is well-respected for a long time, but "Hangover" certainly gave you this huge jump. I mean, what's it like to sort of get that jump into stardom at sort of a later stage in your career - you know, 40 - not, you know, 20?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I've thought about it. And I'm probably pretty lucky that it happened later because, you know, if I were 25, I may have ended up buying, you know, seven Dodge Vipers...

GREENE: And who wants to own seven Dodge Vipers?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I know, when you can buy nine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Life hasn't changed. I mean, it has changed, but I'm too old to buy into the hype. Somebody said to me once: I want to be so famous, I've never told the truth again. And...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: know, I think that's a very poisonous way to live. Now, having said that, I mean, there are inconveniences. I mean, my niece, who's 3 years old, just asked for $10,000. So...

GREENE: And you said?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: I'm not going to support that habit. And I can't tell you what that habit is.

GREENE: I won't ask.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: She's addicted to pacifiers with honey.


Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Dipped in honey.

GREENE: Yeah, you don't want to back that habit.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: It's terrible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Keep the $10,000 for the Dodge Vipers.


GREENE: Actor Zach Galifianakis, thanks so much for joining us on NPR. I hope it's been fun for you.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Thanks for having me. Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of song, "Right Round")

FLO RIDA (Singer): (Singing) You spin my head right round, right round...

GREENE: Zach Galifianakis' new movie is called "It's Kind of a Funny Story."

(Soundbite of song, "Right Round")

KESHA (Singer): (Singing) You spin my head right round, right round when you go down, when you go down, down...

GREENE: Hello? Hello? Zach?


GREENE: This is David Greene.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Hi, David. It's Zach Galifianakis.

GREENE: This is very exciting.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: For who? For - I mean, yes. Yes, it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: I'm assuming for me.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: It - no, no, no. For me. You don't understand - like, this is - I can't believe that NPR wants to chat. But I'm very excited.

GREENE: Why can't you believe that?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: Because don't you guys have dignitaries on and people that are talking about evolution and the environment, and you want somebody that comes on and tells somewhat funny jokes?

(Soundbite of song, "Right Round")

FLO RIDA: (Singing) You spin my head right round, right round when...


Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.