Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion

So… Purple Onion! San Francisco! What up! It really never gets old to see someplace you’re familiar with on-screen. Z-Gal (henceforth his new nickname, courtesy of me) chose this legendary North Beach/FiDi comedy site for his 2005 standup special, and that just warms my heart. What a funky, cool little venue. Must check it out.

Of course, if you don’t live in San Francisco, you probably don’t care that much about the Purple Onion. You care more about Z-Gal, and so I’ll tell you about him in this special. He’s a weird guy, but he’s not as weird as you think he is. He’s just got an incredible ability to keep a straight face and play a variety of characters, and I’m not talking about those one-liner characters he inserts into all of his acts. You see, this special introduces the world to the many sides of Z-Gal; on stage, he’s esoteric, slightly angry, ADD-symptomatic. Off-stage, he’s fun-loving, patient, smiley. Off-stage, too, he plays a variety of characters, namely his own twin brother, Seth (a backwoods-y, sheltered, gay-but-doesn’t-know-it hick). And he does all of these things with such consistency that it’s hard to tell which of these “personalities” or characters is actually his real one. Obviously, we’d all like to believe that he’s just as weird and distracted in real life, but I bet he’s a lot more normal than we’re giving him credit for. In any case, the man is a comedic genius.

Part of his comedy reminds me of Mitch Hedberg, in that he rattles off unrelated one-liners just to see how the crowd will react. But he doesn’t do that the entire time he’s on stage. He interacts with the audience, the camera guys, he fiddles nervously with his hair, he even laughs at his own jokes. In short, he seems perpetually nervous, even though he’s done this whole performance thing a hundred times before. He also seems more at ease at the piano, on which he plays relatively sombre background music. And it’s that music that really drives home his comedy; the understated chords contrast bizarrely with his jokes, and that’s the whole point. Maybe the music wouldn’t be that great on its own, and maybe his jokes wouldn’t even be that funny if they were said as regular sentence by a regular person, but Z-Gal keeps people guessing, and that’s why he’s funny. He fills an hour with tangents, not necessarily joke after joke, and before you realize it, the evening is over and you’re wondering how much of that was improvised and how much of it was planned out. Oh, the mystery.

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