Zach Galifanakis's new television series Baskets, is strange and surreal. The show follows a classically French-trained clown named Chip Baskets who finds himself employed as a rodeo clown back home in Bakersfield, California. Galifanakis created it alongside Louis C.K., whose own show Louie is a good reference point: both shows channel bitterness and a certain pervasive discontent. Galifanakis, famous for playing variations on the same awkward character in films like The Hangover and Due Date, takes on a new, sadder persona and is fascinating to watch as the episodes unfold. We spoke with the comedian about how the show came about.
So, I'm not sure where to begin with this show.
[Laughs] That is a good starting point.
Do you have a history with clowns?
No, not really. I mean, I'm in the clowning business but I'm not a clown like that. I guess I wanted the character to be this mad-at-the-world kind of guy, and the juxtaposition of that coming from a clown interested me. It was really: "What would make the least amount of sense for someone to be bitter?"
Is there something cathartic about acting out that sort of bitterness?
I think so, but I'm a pretty quiet, gentle person. I also think that bitterness and angst can be funny because it's often blown out of proportion. When people get so bent out of shape with angst it can become comical to me. Usually they're egotists. I don't agree with that personality. I don't usually like that personality. But it does make me laugh.
What was the last thing you got irrationally upset about in your own life?
I just get mad at how expensive muffins are sometimes. There are other, deeper things I get mad at, but I don't want to bore your readers with that stuff. But the price of muffins can be depressing and I get into a rage.
What should a muffin cost?
Look, in my neighborhood there are $9, $11 muffins. But there are homeless people on the street. So there's no middle ground! It makes you livid.
That might be a microcosm of a bigger issue.
Yeah, I mean it is a microcosm for what's going on in our country right now. The muffins versus the people.
Back to the show—what prompted you to create and write something yourself?
I was attracted to the fact that Louis C.K. came to me. And then it also was television. The movie business has become really safe and focused on dollar amounts. It doesn't seem the same in the TV world. So it was more about trying to be able to figure out how I could do a weirder show. I wasn't sitting around thinking "Oh, I've got to have my own thing." When Louis came to me I didn't have a lot of confidence in it and he told me just to start writing scenes. I started doing that.
What did Louis say when he approached you?
He said simply, "Have you ever thought about writing your own show?" And I'm sure I did, but I didn't have anything concrete. The way he does his show was very attractive to me: he told me that the network he's with [FX] leaves you alone. And they do. They're very cool that way. So there was a comfort level with Louis and a trusting, like "If you go here your creative juices won't be diluted. It won't be watered down." That made sense to me. And so Louis and I just started thinking about the show. It took a few back and forths. We came out with a rodeo clown who had studied clown theory and that sounded about right.
Did you spend any actual time at rodeos?
I went to one rodeo. It was an idiot mistake because my son was five months old at the time. The loudness and a five-month-old doesn't really mix. So we had to leave. There wasn't a lot of research. But the rodeo is the backdrop of the show. We really wanted to make it about family.
Did you do the stunts with the bulls?
No. Look, I worked with a polar bear years ago. A live polar bear. The polar bear was between my legs. It was giant. And polar bears should not be in movies. Looking back, it was not a good idea. And the poor animal has better things to do with its life.
So you just avoid scenes with animals now?
Yeah. The stunt guy for Baskets has done stunts several times for me and he's great. I'm 46. So. I don't need prove anything. You see some actors who are really gung-ho because they have this testosterone flowing. I'm always like "What are you trying to prove?"
Is there something you've never done as a performer that you still want to do?
I focus group my career to people, every week, and it seems like what people want is a lot of nudity from me. I would like to play a really bad guy. Like really mean. I think that would be fun.
Maybe you can apply to be the next Bond villain.
Hmm. Are they hiring?
I'm sure they will be eventually.
Yeah, I can do that. That sounds nice. I could be a Bond villain. I could do something like that. Do you know the hours? Like 9 to 5, right?
Baskets airs on FX