Friday, 25 May 2012

12 or 20 questions: with poet, Zach Galifianakis!

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Zach Galifianakis graduated from Lakehead University there in 1976. Immediately after graduation she headed to the Banff Centre where she took a six-week stand-up writing program with Reggie Watts and Alice Munro. She published her first film, Double Sexposures, with Coach House Pictures in 1984. She gave birth to her son, Alexander, in Canmore in 1985. In 1989, her short film, “Red Laid Shirt,” appeared in Saturday Night Live. Zach’s first feature length film, The Language of Laugh, was produced in 1994 by HarperCollins Canada. She still lives in Kingston, with her son Alex, her three cats, Max, Sammy, and Buster, and her lovely little dog, Nelly.

1. How did your first book change your life?

Not really. I wasn't sitting around going, "Oh man, this is it. This is the big break." It was exciting, but it was like, "Here's another job, let me see how I can screw this up." I never really realized that I was a producer of it until later, but by then, it was too late. Also, I was eating a lot of pot cookies at the time; I could've been a little bit more professional.

2. How long have you lived in Kingston, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?
Yeah, it's a chicken town. They make a lot of chicken. Well, the chickens make themselves. I think it used to be the biggest chicken producing plant in America, which is a lot to be proud of. Noam Chomsky is from there. And the cast from “Sanford and Son” were all from there. All of them, surprisingly, are all from the same town. And Noam Chomsky actually got his television debut on “Sanford and Son.” A lot of people don't know that, because I just made it up. 
No, I didn't work very long, maybe just a couple weeks. And then I cleaned houses, I was a nanny, a private investigator, and then a bus boy. They were all pretty bad. But if I had a comfortable job I don't know if I would have turned to something like stand-up. I started doing stand-up because I don't have any skills; I don't know what else to do. They were all bad. I was a waiter at a drag queen restaurant in New York that was owned by Kurdish rebels. I remember that—his name was Talib— and he tried to get me to dress as a woman. He'd call me on the phone and he'd be like, “Ok Zach, this is Talib, your schedule is you work Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and don't forget to dress as woman.” And I'm like, “Talib, I'm not going to dress as a woman. That's not my thing.” And he'd say, “You'd make more money.” And I was like, “Why is there a guy from small town North Carolina talking to a Kurdish rebel about dressing like a woman?” It was so bizarre, but that was the state of my work experience. I would work there from 7 at night ‘til 7 in the morning. And then at 8 in the morning I would go baby-sit and just fall asleep. I would just fall asleep and hope that the kid wouldn't escape his duct tape handcuffs.

3. Where does a piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

Yeah, I get letters from 13-year-olds. And I got a great—I didn't bring my computer with me—but I got a great piece of fan mail via email from a guy in Venezuela. Well, he emailed me and I emailed him back, insinuating that I was gay—I'm not—but I was so over the top about it that I thought he would think it was a joke, but in return I got back about 9 pornographic shots of himself.

4. Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Oh yeah. That was embarrassing and terrible and awkward. I was in this movie called “Out Cold,” and I'm in a jacuzzi with this Playboy Playmate. And I was telling her, “Listen, I'm uncomfortable about this.” I assumed that she was too. She seemed to feel that way. And I said to her, “Is there anything I can do to make you feel more comfortable?” And she looked right at me and said, “Yeah, you can go under the water and eat my pussy.” That was completely what she said. I swear to God. And when she said that I was like, “She has such a great sense of humor.” She and I started doing comedy bits after this. Actually she called me twice after this and I proposed to her, “Let's do one of those Playboy video things and talk about how much you love diarrhea and we'll have you in bed with a bunch of Snickers bars on your sheets.” And she was so into it. She was pretty cool.

5. Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don't know. I didn't really have any aspirations except to be really good looking. And that was accomplished years ago, and it's still the mainstay.

6. Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

God, I don't know. There are some really embarrassing things about it. I saw it once a year ago and was like, “What was I doing?” But I don't think so. I don't think there will be any requests for it. I hope not.

7. After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

I used to work for the Sedaris family in North Carolina, in Raleigh, but they were his cousins or something. I know, it's really weird. He comes from North Carolina, Greek, his father married a non-Greek. I wish I could write like that, I don't think I'd ever be able to. I would love to meet that guy. It's weird that there's two Greek North Carolinian guys trying to make people laugh. But God, I'd rather be him than me. Because he lives in Paris with his boyfriend—wait, way outside of Paris in France with his boyfriend.

8. When was the last time you ate a pear?
It's funny; I was just talking about that today. I was conceived in a jacuzzi. The sperm that I was had a beard.

9. What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? 
I lived in a crack house. They stopped being crack dealers about a year after I was there. All the artists started moving in. Fucking art. The last thing we need is art.

10. How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short story to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?

I just wanted to show the rawness of stand-up. A lot of times, people put out these DVDs that are just really polished, but I wanted to show some awkwardness. But I think it's good. I think people should try to sit through it.

11. What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
There was one time where I actually started crying. We were in a church, and this guy was so sweet. He said something really sad, and I just couldn't take it. If you're onstage and you're screwing with someone, they know that there's a comedy show going on. These people had no idea. And a lot of times, we weren't taking the piss out of people with power, we were just taking the piss out of regular folks. And we have all these fancy lawyers behind us. Sometimes it felt a little dirty. But some of the hardest I've ever laughed was on that show, because you weren't supposed to laugh, which made it kind of like laughing at a funeral.

13. How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

No, no, no, no. Well, it could be. Yes. It could be something in my mind. I'm not sure if I want it to be released. There were some embarrassing things on the show that, even while I was doing them, I was like, "Oh my God, what am I doing?" So the possum is somewhat of a metaphor

14. David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I don't like it at all. I don't know why. Sometimes it can go so badly, and I will sabotage myself onstage. And I just don't want that awkwardness after the show where a family member says, "No, it was good!" I feel bad for them, not for me.

15. What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I have a 60-acre farm in North Carolina, and I have a tractor and a farmhouse. As soon as I groom the land, I want to put cabins around and have a place where people can write and hang out. It'll be either that or an all-black nudist colony.

16. What would you like to do that you haven’t yet done?

I don't like it at all. I don't know why. Sometimes it can go so badly, and I will sabotage myself onstage. And I just don't want that awkwardness after the show where a family member says, "No, it was good!" I feel bad for them, not for me.

17. If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

 A lot of people have done blackface, I would be in black-penis. That's so stupid. [Groans.] I have a lot of goals for the farm. I planted a few trees—I want it to be a sustainable farm. I put a pond in and I'm trying to figure out where to put my pot plants.

18. What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

It's funny that you bring that up, because I was talking to my mom the other day, and she called me a weirdo. It was the first time I'd ever heard her say that, and I told her that I thought she was weird. So we got that out of the way. I think that I could be in porno, but as long as I was flying my parents around, they wouldn't really care.

19. What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Sean Penn called my cell phone out of the blue. He was like, "This is Sean Penn," and I'm like, "Uh-huh." And then I kept listening to him and thought, "That does sound like Sean Penn." He asked me what I was doing the following week, and I told him that I had plans to go to Arby's, and he laughed at that. And then the next week, I flew to South Dakota and he and I and Vince Vaughn were in a hunting lodge together for two weeks. When I first got there, I asked Sean Penn, "How did you know who I am?" and he said, "I've seen the movie Out Cold about 20 times." It's this horrible snowboarding movie that I'm in. His son had watched it over and over. You never know what a shitty Lee Majors movie could turn into.

20. What are you currently working on?
Oh, God no. Jeez. No way, no thank you. I'm fine with ginger ale.

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