An edgy, unpredictable comedian with a flair for deranged characters and weird observational humor, Zach Galifianakis poked and prodded audiences with his unique combination of cuddle and menace in films, television and on stage. A college dropout who abandoned academia to focus on comedy, Galifianakis built a reputation as a sharp improvisational comic capable of squeezing painful laughter out of the most awkward situations. Though his knack for off-kilter characters landed him roles in a myriad of forgettable television series, he became known for small, but memorable roles in quirky indie films like "Being John Malkovich" (1999) and "What Happens in Vegas" (2008). His bizarre cameos in cult hits like "Reno 911" (Comedy Central, 2003-09) and "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job" (2007-2010), as well as his mock talk show, "Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis" on the Funny or Die website, earned him a loyal fanbase among college-age hipsters and stoners. But with his starring turn in the unexpected summer smash, "The Hangover" (2009), the wild and wooly comedian finally entered the mainstream. He went on to appear in other high-profile comedies like "Due Date" (2010), "Dinner for Schmucks" (2010) and the hugely successful sequel "The Hangover Part II" (2011), all of which quickly made him one of Hollywood's resident go-to comedy stars. Branching out, Galifianakis also appeared in more somber fare like the Best Picture winner "Birdman" (2014) and Tom Stoppard-penned historical drama "Tulip Fever" (2016).
Born on Oct. 1, 1969 in the folk music mecca of Wilkesboro, NC, Galifianakis was raised in a Greek Orthodox home by his father, Harry, an oil heating vendor, and his mother, Mary. His flair for bizarre comedy developed in high school, where he spontaneously launched into a lisping, effeminate redneck with an exaggerated fear of strangers - his first character creation. Though it was a hit with classmates, Galifianakis failed to consider a comedy career until years later. He attended North Carolina State University, where he majored in communications and film. But with only one course to finish for graduation, Galifianakis suddenly dropped out, citing a "nervous breakdown" as the cause. With no concrete plans, the 23-year-old Galifianakis moved to New York City, where he took acting lessons and worked a series of dead-end day jobs, including a stint as a busboy in a strip club. In 1995, he met Texan stand-up comedian, Lisa deLarios, who inspired him to try his hand at the mic. After his first show at the Times Square burger joint, Hamburger Harry's, Galifianakis' comedy career was underway.
Galifianakis spent the next year developing his act around the city, but found that his brand of conceptual humor - a punk rock mélange of off-key piano playing, metaphysical zingers and random outbursts of rage - ran afoul of the conventional New York standup world. In 1997, he moved to Los Angeles, where he began a lengthy, but uneven career in television, beginning with the short-lived Anthony Clark sitcom "Boston Common" (NBC, 1996-97), where he portrayed an over-aged stoner. Similar roles followed, including the slacker comedy "Apt. 2F" (MTV, 1997) and "Tru Calling" (Fox, 2003-05), an Eliza Dushku-led metaphysical drama about a woman forced to live the same day over and over. Galifianakis portrayed an eccentric coroner on the series, which he openly derided as "Truly Appalling." He also popped up in minor roles in lesser comedies like "Bubble Boy" (2001) and "Heartbreakers" (2001), while briefly hosting "Late World With Zach" (VH-1, 2002), a disastrous, marijuana-fueled talk show that threatened to end his career.
The situation looked up for Galifianakis in 2005 when he toured with like-minded, unconventional stand-up comedians Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford and Brian Posehn in small clubs across the country. The resulting documentary, "The Comedians of Comedy" (2005), became a lightning rod for the burgeoning indie comedy scene and cemented his status as one of the movement's most inventive and volatile exponents. The success of the tour and documentary opened new doors for the now heavily-bearded comedian, allowing him to enter a new phase of his career. Free from his ill-fitting flirtations with mainstream film and television, Galifianakis began concentrating on quirkier projects. He became a semi-regular on Comedy Central's "Reno 911!" (2003-09), a wholly improvised take-off on "COPS" (Fox, 1989- ), starring various members of long-running comedy troupe The State, and co-hosted a short-lived, but highly inventive mock-news program, "Dog Bites Man" (Comedy Central, 2006).
Strangely, given his aversion to commercial accessibility, one of Galifianakis' most popular projects was a series of short internet movies for Absolut Vodka. In 2008, along with frequent collaborators Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, Galifianakis shot several low-budget, anarchic promos for the product. In the spots, Galifianakis wore a strange beehive wig, guzzled booze and picked fights with his costars. Not surprisingly, the ads were a huge hit among college-age viewers. That same year, "Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis" premiered on Will Ferrell's online comedy site, Funny or Die. "Between Two Ferns" was a purposely awkward five-minute talk show, where a sputtering Galifianakis attempts to interview bewildered celebrities like Natalie Portman and Michael Cera. Like the Absolut ads, "Between Two Ferns" went viral, with each episode garnering nearly a million views.
In 2009, Galifianakis co-starred along with Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper in "The Hangover," a smash hit comedy from director Todd Phillips. The story of three groomsmen who wake up from a drunken bachelor party in Las Vegas to find that they have lost the groom, "The Hangover" managed to bring a fresh spin on the old screwball formula, while Galiafanakis's unique brand of oddball humor was perfect for playing the whacked out brother-in-law to be. Though it took nearly two decades, Galifianakis finally landed a mainstream role that kept his unhinged comic persona intact. Thanks to the $220 million take at the box office, Galifianakis was asked to reprise his role in a quickly developed sequel. Following a role in the live action-animated combo, "G-Force" (2009), the actor returned to television as one of the stars of "Bored to Death" (HBO 2009-2011), playing the comic book artist best friend of a neurotic writer-turned-amateur sleuth who helps him solve cases to varying degrees of success.
After supporting Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in the screwball comedy "Dinner for Schmucks" (2010), Galifianakis was a grating actor who forces himself on a cross-country trip with an uptight yuppie (Robert Downey, Jr.) in Todd Phillips' panned comedy "Due Date" (2010). Meanwhile, the comedian caused quite a stir while making an appearance on "Real Time with Bill Maher" (HBO, 2003- ), where he displayed his support for legalizing marijuana by appearing to light up a joint on set. Though host and audience appreciated the gesture, some pundits went into a frenzy until Maher told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that said marijuana cigarette was in fact not real. Back on the big screen, Galifianakis and company reprised their roles for "The Hangover Part II" (2011), a nearly identical sequel that nonetheless bested its predecessor to become a huge international box office hit. While basking in the glow of part two's mega-success, Galifianakis was the recipient of an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his hilariously odd hosting stint on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ). Turning to animation, he voiced Humpty Dumpty in the successful animated "Shrek" spin-off, "Puss in Boots" (2011). Alongside appearances in both "The Muppets" (2011) and "Muppets Most Wanted" (2014), Galifianakis produced and co-starred in the political comedy "The Campaign" (2012) and wrapped up the trilogy with "The Hangover Part III" (2013). The following year, he appeared in the Oscar-winning "Birdman" (2014) in a key supporting role. Returning to television, Galifianakis co-created and starred in the dark comedy "Baskets" (FX 2016- ), a collaboration with Louis C.K. and "Portlandia" (FX 2011- ) director Jonathan Kriesel, about a rodeo clown in Bakersfield, California.
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Made TV debut in the recurring role of a stoner named Bobby for the NBC sitcom, "Boston Common"
Appeared in the MTV sketch comedy, "Apt. 2F"
Made film debut in "The King and Me" as a pizza boy
Performed in an episode of "Comedy Central Presents"
Cast as Davis in the FOX drama, "Tru Calling"
Appeared several times on "Reno 911!" (Comedy Central) as Frisbee
Played Alan Finger on the Comedy Central show, "Dog Bites Man"
Released the single, "Come Over and Get It (Up in 'Dem Guts)," a comedic rap song that features Fiona Apple's vocals
Played Fred the Homeless Guy on an episode of the Comedy Central show, "The Sarah Silverman Program"
Appeared in the live-action Adult Swim show, "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!" as Tairy Greene
Released a DVD of his stand-up, "Live at the Purple Onion"
Had a small role, opposite Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher, in the comedy "What Happens in Vegas"
Appeared in the live-action Disney movie "G-Force"
Co-starred with Michael Cera and Jean Smart in the film adaptation of C.D. Payne's "Youth in Revolt"
Co-starred with Paul Rudd and Steve Carell in the comedy "Dinner for Schmucks"
Once again directed by Todd Phillips in the comedy "Due Date"
Voiced the animated character Humpty Dumpty in the "Shrek" spin-off "Puss in Boots"
Concluded role as Alan in "The Hangover Part III"
Starred in and co-created the FX clown comedy "Baskets"