With his big beard and off putting comic persona, Zach Galifianakis is an unlikely movie star. He often trades the big screen for smaller projects, like The Funny or Die mock talk show Between Two Ferns. In the satirical skits he is unprepared, hostile and obnoxious as he interviews celebrities and luminaries like Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, punctuated by rude questions, clumsy product endorsements, and awkward silences.
He plays a similarly unlikeable character on Baskets the FX show he co-created, stars, writes, and executive produces. In the offbeat dark comedy-drama he plays Chip Baskets, who lives with his mother (played by Louie Anderson) and works as a rodeo clown after failing out of Paris clown school for not knowing how to speak French. In the absurd mix of realism and the surreal the show explores the humanity of its characters as they navigate life and the odd situations they find themselves in.
Chip’s only friend is Martha, an insurance adjustor, played by Martha Kelly. A deadpan stand-up comedian Kelly met Galifianakis in the late 1990s. After early success with late night talk show appearances and winning comedy competitions her career stalled. In the ensuing years Kelly faced many setbacks including alcoholism, depression, an eating disorder, and bouts of financial instability. When she got the call out of nowhere to be on a television show Kelly was in a bad place. She explained to Indie Wire, “I just wasn’t really doing anything when Zach called. I had recently moved back in with my parents. So I was bingeing and really depressed. Sorry, that’s too much information, but my life was just borderline in the toilet.”
Despite the life changing lifeline, at first Kelly was reluctant. She told the New York Times, “At first I didn’t want to do it, because I’m not an actor. I was really scared that I would ruin it. I don’t know yet whether I did ruin it. I hope not. I don’t know why they didn’t fire me, to be honest. But I’m glad they didn’t.”
Kelly didn’t ruin it, she killed it. The show now in its second season rejuvenated Kelly’s career. She filmed a Comedy Central special, received invitations to perform in comedy festivals, and booked a part in the new Spider-Man movie.
In the recent documentary Queen Mimi audiences met another one of Galifianakis’s friends. Marie Haist, then in her 80s, was homeless and for almost twenty years had been sleeping at the Fox Coin Laundry in Santa Monica, California. Galifianakis befriended the woman, before he was famous, while washing his clothes. He continued the friendship and has brought her as his date to red carpet Hollywood movie premieres. In the course of the documentary we learn that Galifinakis made the decision to help Haist, and paid for an apartment for her to live in, across the street from the laundromat.
In 2010 at the peak of his Hangover success he told GQ his thoughts about fame. “There’s more to life than being an actor in a Hollywood movie. I’m not going to adapt my life after that existence, where a lot of people do. And they get the publicist, and they get all that stuff, and it becomes them. I think it’s a stupid way to live your life. A really dumb way to live your life.”
With his generosity to others and his quirky projects, Galifianaksi is staying true to himself and his comedic vision.
In our own lives we can look for opportunities to help our friends, our family, our co-workers, and our communities, anyway we can, in big or small ways. Our kind gestures might be able to provide someone else with a lifeline.
Author: Tara Collum
Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the co-creator of a forthcoming web serial about twins in a small town. She believes it is never too late to be the person you are meant to be. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun