PLAYBOY: You’re in a new movie called Due Date, about a pair of strangers on a road trip to Los Angeles. Have you taken any memorable road trips?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I’ve traveled back and forth from New York to California a few times. When I first moved out to California, I packed up a van with all three of my possessions – a globe, a mattress and a poster of Gorbachev for some reason – and then along with my friends Lisa and Bobby, we drove the two thousand-plus mile trip through the land of plenty, heading toward the land of milk and honey. I also used to hitchhike in college with a sign that read “I don’t have a gun.” People really seemed to like the sign and I got picked up often.
PLAYBOY: Your co-star, Robert Downey Jr., has a rather notorious and checkered past. Tell us something about him that would surprise us.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: He is actually a small Hindu child.
PLAYBOY: Your character in Due Date is a deluded and self-involved actor. Is that pretty much how you feel about actors in general?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Not really. I mean, it’s a business in which you are the product. So self-involvement comes with the territory. What’s fun about my character is that he kind of embodies that stereotype. He wants to be an actor but he has no idea how to go about doing it. There are so many deluded people in the acting world. It’s like they’re hoping a limo pulls up on a corner next to them, rolls down it’s window and some silhouette of a voice says, “Hop in, kid. You’re perfect.” That’s the mentality of everybody, even all those piece of shit reality show contestants.
PLAYBOY: You originally wanted to be an actor before deciding on a career in stand-up comedy instead. What changed your mind?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I really just wanted to figure out how to combine labor and love. I knew that I enjoyed watching people laugh and I needed to find a way to make some dough doing so. My father always stressed to me about trying to find that secret in life, where you get to combine the two. I never found an acting class in New York City that satisfied me. I was always rolling my eyes in class because of the gravity of most of the students. I met a person in a bar called Max Fish that told me I should try stand-up. My first show was in the back of a hamburger joint. As soon as I stepped off stage, I knew that would be my path.
PLAYBOY: In comedy sketches, you sometimes play an acting teacher named Tairy Greene, who gives surreal and useless advice to his students. What’s your best and worst career advice for aspiring comics?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I’m really awful at giving advice. I just told someone the other day they should invest in the Von Dutch Trucker hat company. Having said that, my best advice is just to get on stage as much as possible. And my worst advice is that you should listen to me.
PLAYBOY: Due Date features a soon-to-be-infamous scene where you and a pet dog named Sonny are both masturbating together. Does this count as your first official cinematic sex scene?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I would think so. To be honest I am too much of a snob to think I would like to see that in a movie. I dislike any sex scene in movies. But this is a first for me, so I’m eager to see how people will react. Is it high cinema? No. Would Lassie have done it? No. But Todd Phillips is in want of pushing an envelope.
PLAYBOY: This isn’t the first time you’ve worked with animals in a movie. Isn’t there an old acting rule about never working with kids or animals because they’ll always upstage you?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I had many discussions with Sonny about this very subject. He’s a French Bulldog so his English is not so great, but we managed to strike an equal balance about the tone we wanted to pull off together.
PLAYBOY: The jockstrap you wore during one of the opening scenes in The Hangover has become legendary. Any chance it’ll end up on eBay someday?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: EBay? You mean The Smithsonian? You do not put works of historical magnitude such as that up for auction on eBay. No, I don’t have the jock strap anymore. I think I gave it to my great aunt for Christmas.
PLAYBOY: You wore a Baby Björn for much of The Hangover, and ever since there’s been a spike in sales for the baby carrier. If you could inspire another cultural or consumer trend, what would it be?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Ceiling fans for your car.
PLAYBOY: When you hosted Saturday Night Live, you mentioned in the monologue how much you hate Brooklyn hipsters. But you’re kind of known as a hipster comic. How do you avoid becoming, as you put it, “too cool for school?”
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I’m not sure what a hipster is. But if I am one, then I know I don’t like them. I always thought hipsters were the guys with tiny jeans and trust funds and thin bodies who make references about art galleries I’ve never heard of. I see them in my neighborhood and they are too cool. Try saying “good morning” to them. When someone says “good morning” to me on the street, I love it.
PLAYBOY: You once claimed that you’ve gotten more famous as you’ve gained weight. Do you really think there’s a connection?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: No, I was just trying to be clever. I really miss being lighter. I want to get back to that. I can hardly text because of my fat fingers.
PLAYBOY: How many pounds do you have to pack on before you win an Oscar?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Me personally? Two.
PLAYBOY: Your beard has become part of your comic persona. What inspired you to grow it in the first place?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I have a birthmark in the shape of a question mark. No, I’m just not that much of a groomer. I bathe often, but as far as mirror time… I just don’t like the mirror. I try to cut the old lady off about once a year. People make such a big deal about my beard and I find it so odd.
PLAYBOY: Your stand-up persona has a very, very short temper. You’ve been known to berate your audience, attacking them for mild heckling or just not paying attention. Is that staged, or do you really have a short fuse?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I have a healthy disdain for people that are rude. I was brought up with manners and if you are not respectful to those around you, then you deserve to be embarrassed in front of a thousand onlookers. I don’t really have a short fuse, but I think it’s funny to get upset very quickly, and I have the freedom to do that at my shows. But it has to be organic.
PLAYBOY: Your last name is a mouthful. Growing up, was there a mnemonic device you used to learn how to spell it?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Yes. On Sesame Street there was cartoon called “The Ladybug’s Picnic” where they counted to twelve. My last name has twelve letters, so my mom substituted the numbers for letters. And that is how we learned as kids.
PLAYBOY: You grew up in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, which has a population of just a few thousand. Was it like growing up in Mayberry?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Well, the gentleman that whistled the theme to The Andy Griffith Show came to my grade school. He whistled for an hour. Just whistled away. He went to work with no tools, no briefcase, no uniform at all. He just needed his mouth. That’s how he made a living, by whistling. I remember being in awe of him. He really did affect me.
PLAYBOY: You’ve had several unique and bizarre day jobs, from working as a busboy in a strip joint to being a nanny. If you ever retire from comedy, which of your former day jobs would you consider revisiting?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I really wasn’t good at any of them. I despise strip clubs, and being a nanny is frustrating when the children can beat you up. I would like to be a train robber if this all goes away. Which it will.
PLAYBOY: You were also a waiter at a drag queen restaurant. Did the job description require dressing in women’s clothing?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I was the only guy not required to dress as a woman. The drag queens did not like me though. I always thought the way they dressed was so hacky. I feel that drag queens are often mocking women. I never thought I would say that last sentence in my life, but I finally did.
PLAYBOY: In last summer’s Dinner for Schmucks, your character claims to have mind control powers. Have you ever, or could you ever, control anyone or anything with your mind?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Yes, I once manipulated a school of fish with my mind. I was scuba diving and there were around two hundred and fifteen of them swimming and I transfixed them. They were in a regular shape of a school of fish and then with my mind I controlled them all and made the school into the shape of a Nike swoosh.
PLAYBOY: During your stand-up sets, you sometimes accompany yourself on piano. Is that your security blanket?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I think it became a security blanket for me, and then it became too limiting. I don’t do it as much as I used to. I really don’t know how to play the piano. I’m making it up as I go along.
PLAYBOY: You had a short-lived and unappreciated show on VH1 called Late World with Zach. Do you look back on that experience warmly, or as something you wish you could erase from history?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I do not regret any of it. I was very unprofessional and terrible at it but the show was so fun to do. It would be nice though if VH1 was erased from history.
PLAYBOY: Towards the end of the series, you started to make fun of your inevitable cancellation. Was it a weird thrill being the captain of a sinking ship?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Yes, but it was also so much fun. I knew from the beginning that there was no chance it would be on the air for that long. All the old episodes are in my attic. I was up there the other day, looking for my sister’s wedding video, and there they were in the corner, all the episodes tucked away in a box. They will stay there.
PLAYBOY: Until very recently, you made frequent jokes about how unrecognizable you are. Now that you’ve famous, do you enjoy being recognized?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I don’t like it at all. I’m not good with it. The other day, I was at this fancy Indian restaurant in Manhattan, and these kids were secretly taking my photo with their phone camera. So I flipped them off. And then they got really gun-shy and scared. I felt bad about that. I was just trying to be funny but I ended up hurting their feelings. I went up to them and apologized.
PLAYBOY: You purportedly hate technology, especially phones, because you don’t like being too easy to get in touch with. Are you trying to become the J.D. Salinger of comedy?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I’m on the phone all the time it seems. But in North Carolina, where I’m from occasionally, there’s no cell coverage and we don’t have long distance at the house. It frees you. I will never have the courage to do it, but I really would like to get rid of my computer.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the November 2010 issue of Playboy magazine.)