Zach Galifianakis: Live At The Purple Onion

I’m a big Galifianageek. So much so that I just invented that label to describe myself. So much so that I’ve ummed and ahhed for several years over spending an unseemly amount on an American import version of Live At The Purple Onion that might not even work on my DVD player. Luckily the newly found superstardom Zach Galifianakis has been afforded through The Hangover has eradicated the need for such trivial concerns. Nearly five years after it was recorded Live… has finally made its way to the UK.

But was it worth the wait? Well, it’s not the smoothest of starts – for the viewer or for Galifianakis. To begin with he has to run to the venue from a nearby bar having apparently been introduced earlier than expected. Out of breath, admittedly hungover and with an opening salvo of quick non-sequiters which, funny as they are, too often base themselves in topical American pop culture references already making much of his material a barrier to British audiences.

His style is reminiscent of Steven Wright or Demetri Martin, there’s no premise, just a bombardment of absurd characters, some knowingly awful gags and the occasional explosive rant. The live performance itself is interspersed with two vignettes. One focuses on Zach and his friend Joe making their way to the venue, while the other is a fake interview with Zach’s ‘twin brother’ Seth. This takes little away from the performance and as the show progresses it’s these unfolding stories (particularly the tales of Seth) that add a great deal of weight, structure and humour to the performance. It’s a well-worked idea, though does leave you with the nagging doubt that the live show was perhaps lacking substance.

But then if there is a theme to the show this appears to be it – rough, unready awkwardness. In the one vignette Zach and Joe are plagued with difficulties as their van gets stuck in sand before eventually breaking down en-route to the Purple Onion. Galifiankais corpses relentlessly throughout and aims several unprompted tirades at his own camera crew. It may all seem a little slipshod but then this is a real live show and that’s just how some of the best comedy nights are – they’re not all seamless evenings filmed at a sold-out stadium to faceless, £20-a-ticket paying audiences.

As a comic he’s actually hard to fault, his material is achingly funny and he builds an almost bi-polar relationship with his audience – kindness one moment and craziness the next. His pace, volume and movement shoot all over the place, your eyes magnetised to him the entire time. The show’s climax is as bizarre as it is brilliant – drawing on his skills as a physical comic and his love of the off-kilter. Smooth it may not be but ultimately it’s the triumphant story of his rise from scrappy underdog to king of anti-comedy.

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