Judge Bill Gibron found this stand-up DVD to be a very funny experience as he watched one of the funnier comedians working within the new post-millennial malaise.
It is to laugh…literally!
Comedian Zach Galifianakis is best considered a stand-up primer. Or perhaps, he's better described as a hilarity deconstructionist. Unlike your standard observational humorist, he will stand away from the external stance to render his remarks on the subjects he's examining. His work within conceptual confines defies description, his reliance on characters as creatively unhinged as his ersatz psychological confessions. He's versed in your typical Vegas act one-liners, but then spins them to sound more mean-spirited than merry. If and when he works blue, it sits within a basis of his own idiosyncratic irony and his insult antics are always laced with self-deprecating cuts. Indeed, Galifianakis is an all-you-can-eat buffet of buffoonery, a man making quantum leaps between material, meaning, and madness, all while sitting at a piano, tinkling away at the keys. For a perfect example of his talents, the new comedy DVD Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion is a great place to start.
Combining onstage material, footage of the comedian and his pal driving around in a VW Bus, and an interview with Galifianakis's conservative "brother" Seth, Live at the Purple Onion plays with one's preconceived ideas about the man and his methodology. It wants to be more than your standard performance piece, appearing to deliver something a little less than same, but ending up an insightful enterprise overall. Looking like the demon that Brian Wilson took 20 years trying to escape from, Galifianakis is a gonzo Grizzly Adams during his routine. Bearded, with a face he admits gives off an aura of sex-offender scruffiness, he stalks the stage as if looking for inspiration in the very entertainment ether. He'll zero in on an audience member who he believes can't possibly get his humor or will take down an obvious fan for being undeniably boring. During these interactive moments, Galifianakis is more commentator than comedian. Certainly his statements are hilarious, but he's also undermining the post-millennial fame whore attitude. By confronting those who believe they have a place alongside the talent in any public proscenium, he simultaneously supports them while putting them in their place.
The pre-taped material is a little less successful. There is a real Andy Kaufman cockiness here, a forced "can you see the man behind the mannerism" design to the Seth segments. Minus the facial fur, and putting on a pure cornpone countrified accent (this sibling is supposedly a youth minister from North Carolina), Galifianakis stretches the boundaries of believability. With ex-Daily Show dude Brian Unger in the Geraldo role, Seth explains about Zach's homemade ecstasy scandal, his lack of family loyalty, and most successfully, the day they bonded over The Fugees. On the other hand, it's impossible to envision what the comedian was trying to achieve with his "on the road" routine. His buddy is a large, lumbering oaf, a comic counterpart to Galifianakis's Jackass-like shenanigans (they try on dresses in a thrift store). Thankfully, this material is featured infrequently, giving us more time to watch the comedian cut up on stage. His performances can be surreal at times (there is a lot of self-referential ridicule and tone tripping asides), but it never really distracts from the overall weight of his considered genius.
You truly have to be talented to hold an audience for over an hour with nothing more than riffs, rants, and frequent rage. Zach Galifianakis has a wit that works better over time than in quick, quirky call-outs. He's not really about the social, but the self. He's inviting the audience to watch him wander near the edge of a complete mental collapse each and every time he takes the stage—and the crowd typically loves every minute of it. It is easy to see where his growing cult comes from. He's the kind of comedian that could easily warp into personal hero after a few shots of tequila and a childhood overloaded with angst and feelings of inner worthlessness. If you enjoy an approach that runs the gamut from goofy to grating, joyful to jaundiced, you'll adore Zach Galifianakis. He's not Patton Oswald, but then again, who is nowadays?
Showing that there's more to their catalog than old TV shows and rock concerts, Shout! Factory has released Live at the Purple Onion in a very pleasing DVD package. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is excellent, presenting the comedian in crystal clarity—whether on stage or giving that alter ego Seth a weird workout. There are very few defects (a little grain during the on the road material) and lots of compositional acuity. Live at the Purple Onion was directed by Michael Blieden, who also handled said chores on Galifianakis's reality show spoof The Comedians of Comedy. He does a great job here of handling both the live and staged material. On the sound side, we are treated to an immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix, as well as a standard Stereo 2.0 offering. Go for the multi-channel option. It retains the comedy club feel without screwing up Galifianakis's frequent under-his-breath beratings.
As for bonus features, Shout! Factory tosses in a few outtakes, a look at the comic shaving off his trademark chin muff, and various odds and ends from the filming. One of the best segments—called "The Awkward Slapping Bit," for obvious reasons—sees Galifianakis working with a less than helpful audience member, while the comedian's traveling companion curses out a customer for being too friendly with performers he doesn't know. None of this material is mandatory to enjoying Live at the Purple Onion, but it's nice to see that the company thought enough of the fan base to flesh out this DVD.
Even if you aren't a full-fledged Galifianak-iac or have caught the man only on the rare occasions he turns up on the boob tube, this performance piece will help to quell your raging raving for all things Zach. Equally funny and flummoxing, Live at the Purple Onion is an excellent comedy compendium for one of the medium's most gifted geeks.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• The Awkward Slapping Bit (outtake)
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