comedy history

A Look at Zach Galifianakis’s Short-Lived VH1 Talk Show Late World With Zach

Before Two Ferns. Photo: VH1

For me, Zach Galifianakis getting big is akin to when you like an indie band before they become huge. It’s also a little weird seeing a bizarre comic like Galifianakis starring in The Hangover because I knew him from three things: the time a friend of mine met him and got him to tell me on my voice mail that my parents didn’t love me, his piano-based standup I’d seen a decade prior on Conan O’Brien’s old show, and his first major mainstream exposure (except for Bubble Boy and Out Cold) the genre-mocking/convention-shattering/short-lived (of course) 2002 VH1 talk show Late World with Zach.

VH1 has changed its format many times, from music channel for yuppies in its early days to the trashy “celebreality” database of today, but at this particular junction in its history, VH1 was into irony and pop culture snark, with I Love the ‘80s and such. Attempting a late night talk show for the first time, someone at the network knew that Zach Galifianakis fit in with the tone, and was a possible future star, and tried to wrestle him into a talk show format. Late World was cancelled after nine weeks of Zach Galifianakis acting aloof and fucking around on television with this hybrid between a real talk show and a fake talk show, a format he’d recreate with success on his web series Between Two Ferns.

The show’s theme song was “Los Angeles” by Frank Black, pointing out that life in L.A., and the entertainment industry, and perhaps the grind of a talk show, is a hellish affair everyone wants to get away from, even the host. This is a subtle clue into the tone of this very bewildering show.

Interviewing celebrities on the red carpet and making fun of them is an old talk show bit, but Zach Galifianakis amusingly skewered it with his version of the format: he would ask arbitrary, random questions while filmed standing in front of a dumpster in an alley, and then edited it in crudely with stock red carpet footage. Here he “is” at the premiere of Panic Room, where he interviews Kristen Stewart.

The opening monologue, however, was clearly not Zach’s idea, or at least the jokes weren’t. Hokey and predictable, they’re clearly written by a team of hacks a la Leno. Even Galifiankis himself seems vaguely hateful and embarrassed. Topical celebrity jokes are not his thing, but at least he gets to use the piano.

Here he is, more in his element, out of his element, doing his monologue at a preschool.

You often hear talk show hosts comment, without naming names, about how hard it is to conduct an interview with a dumb actor, or talk up a movie they hated or didn’t see. Galifiankis pulls back the curtain and over a lackluster, by-the-numbers interview (which may be scripted to be that way) we hear his interior monologue about how bored he is, as well as the thoughts of his guest, his future Hangover co-star Bradley Cooper. Truly inspired.

Fred Armisen was a recurring character player, just prior to SNL, where he showed off his equally Kaufmanesque comedy skills and bongo-work as the Interpretive Bongos Wizard, as well as his later-to-be-seen-on-SNL character, the Latin musician Ferecito. Ay dios mio!

When the show got cancelled, Galifiankis acknowledged it and mock-lameneted it on the air with an elaborate, intricately choreographed dream ballet set to ELO’s “Telephone Line.” (And one of the dancers is future rap superstar Kevin Federline, seen to the left in the bottom right. Sadly, this was taken down from YouTube. Damn you, SOPA!)

Galifiankis seemed pleased that he gets to move on, even though he got to make, for the most part, the exact kind of show he wanted to make, albeit an ultimately unsuccessful attempt at marketing his unique sensibility to a mainstream audience.

Brian Boone tweets, authors, and looks better with his signature beard.

Zach Galifianakis Had a Short-Lived VH1 Talk Show in 2002