Alternative comedian turned big-screen comedy star Zach Galifianakis is bringing his unique flavour to television in a new series, Baskets, about a failed clown. The show arrives at a time when, just like TV drama, small-screen comedy is hitting some pretty innovative highs. As singular as Baskets is though, the intention here wasn't necessarily to break the mould.
"Edginess to me has become boring," Galifianakis, who came to wider attention in The Hangover movies, tells TimeOut in Los Angeles. "My thing that I kept saying was that I didn't want the show to be edgy. I wanted it to be more innocent and silly. I wanted it to be a quieter show, and the network has let us do it."
The network in question is FX, which famously granted comedian Louis C.K. total creative freedom with his hit show Louie. C.K. co-created Baskets, and used that to lure Galifianakis to television.
"I've known Louie for 15, 20 years now," says Galifianakis. "He'd asked me if I had any interest in writing a show and I really didn't. But he explained to me his process, and that this network kind of left him alone. And that I didn't have to go to meetings, and that seemed to make sense. And that's a rare opportunity to have somebody promise that kind of stuff, so I just said 'Okay'."
In the show Galifianakis plays Chip Baskets, who flunks out of a Parisian clown school and retreats home to desolate Bakersfield, California, where the only work he can get is as a rodeo clown.
Among a wonderfully eclectic supporting cast, 80s stand-up comedian Louie Anderson (Coming To America) dons drag to play Chip's mother, a portrayal which Galifianakis insists won't be taken personally by his own.
"My parents have always been really supportive, I don't come from that comedian background where there's a lack of love. If anything there was too much love in my family, like my father kissing me on the lips when he would drop me off for high school. My mum has such a wicked, wicked sense of humour, but she's very demure and Southern so she doesn't really let that come out, only with her family. My mum wouldn't see this as a reflection of her."
Watching Baskets, it becomes pretty clear early on that the show represents about as pure a distillation of the established Galifianakis comedic persona as you're likely to find.
"This show is filtered through me, and I get to do jokes that maybe aren't too mainstream, but that's fine with me. I've cast a wide net in certain things before, but now I'm more interested in getting back to those roots and being weird. Because I miss it ... not that this isn't broad, it certainly is. I've just always liked odder, bizarre things. But, y'know, The Hangover comes around and I'm very very proud of that, very."
Galifianakis had a burgeoning reputation as a comedic talent before The Hangover, but the insane reception that film received took his career to another level.
"I mean, we didn't know it was gonna be that. So I think some people felt that I had turned my back on where I came from ... people would tell me that I've sold out and stuff ... you feel like you've sold out in any part of this business, if you're making a little bit of money. But going back to your roots a little bit, that has been one of the great things about doing this kind of show. I get to return to the silliness and the weirdness that I like."
It's a weirdness that was almost rendered out of reach by his own success.
"All that Hangover stuff hit me out of the blue, I wasn't prepared for it at all. I was performing in coffee houses, so it changes your life in a way that can be very scary. No one wants to hear 'boo hoo' but when you're looked at and you're not able to observe people anymore, because you're recognisable, it bummed me out. Because I have to get comedy by observing people, I have to be anonymous, and that's why I think I lost weight.
"People don't recognise me now, it's really nice."