A brief, personal flashback to 1988: My first day of work at my first job. Today I might have been called a shoe consultant, but what I was really doing was taking the latest branded sweatshop fodder and fitting it onto people’s stinky feet.
That first day, I was scared. Luckily, there was an older, high-school guy who worked at this sporting goods store, and he was happy to show me the ropes and laces. After I’d strung the first few Adidas, he grabbed me, saying “Come, we have an important job to do”. We carried about 15 burned-out fluorescent bulbs to the dumpsters, and then the fun began. He guided me through 15 ways (including javelin, sword wars, and spiking) to noisily, joyfully shatter those imploding bulbs. Turning to me with a sternly serious face, he said: “First lesson, Mark: not all work has to be work”.
I was lucky to have Zach Galifianakis with me on my first day at the job, and now the mass market is lucky to have several hours of Zach’s hilarity on DVD. Live at the Purple Onion was filmed at the famous San Francisco nightclub in 2005, and also features interspersed footage from Zach’s personal life and an interview by Brian Unger (of National Public Radio and The Daily Show) with Zach’s “twin brother”, Seth.
Zach’s stand-up routine doesn’t actually involve much standing up—he often sits at his piano punctuating jokes with little melodies, and frequently immerses himself in the audience. Zach knows how to work the camera and crowd in a natural, unforced way. Running his hands through his unkempt hair and tugging on his mammoth beard, Zach seems to be entertaining himself as much as the audience—which might be the most endearing and engaging aspect of his routine. And yet “routine” isn’t an appropriate word, because there’s a lot of hilarious improvisation, coupled with an equal helping of spontaneous self-deprecating outbursts. The filming of the DVD becomes a running joke in itself: “you know you suck when the camera guys don’t laugh at all…”
Even when Zach tries to play it straight, you can see a smile tempting the corners of his mouth. The interview segments between Unger and Seth are almost anxiety-filled, as the viewer waits and expects one of them to burst into laughter. Zach’s beardless “twin” Seth has the accent and mannerisms of an oddball country hick who has had little contact with fashion or popular culture—ever. We learn that the brothers’ relationship is tenuous, but that Seth has fond recollections of brief bonding moments with Zach that involve (suppress smirk here) both Funyuns and The Fugees.
Zach’s comedy is bizarrely literate. While referencing popular culture, politics, and stardom, he uncovers the inherent absurdity in all three. We’re also treated to various character sketches, including the pretentious illiterate, the forgetful vegan, the timid pimp, and the effeminate gay-basher. The viewer gets a peek into the comedian’s personal life as the camera follows Zach and friend Joe through elevators, bars, and road trips (in both a VW van and a go-cart). Zach closes his show with a hilarious “performance piece”—made all the more amazing by the fact that he is silent—with a guest pianist assuming his role while Zach leads a boy’s choir.
Undoubtedly, Zach is unique in my hometown, and for more reasons than his self-described “freaky long last name” amongst a town full of people named Hall, Day, and Adams. He’s also its most famous and funny member. No one else I know from Wilkesboro has been in a jacuzzi with Victoria Silvstedt (Out Cold), in a bed with Fiona Apple (her video for “Not About Love”), or the star of his own late-night comedy show (the hilarious, but short-lived, Late World with Zach).
If you love Zach’s bushy beard and distinctive style, Live at the Purple Onion is the best chance outside of a live show to see Zach in the spotlight, on his own, doing what he does best: making people laugh. Even on their first day of work.