06/11/2009 at 08:10 AM EDT
He already has a devoted cult of online followers who pass along his hilarious but squirm-in-your-seat skits on FunnyorDie
and YouTube. Now moviegoers are getting a taste of Zach Galifianakis
's irreverent humor in the summer box-office hit The Hangover
But this hirsute comic is no newbie to show business. The 39-year-old native of North Carolina has been pushing the boundaries of comedy for over a decade, from the comedy club circuit to bowling alleys to wherever there's a captive audience.
And out of his initial failure to launch a Hollywood career – he has at least two ill-fated TV series and a canceled comedy show on his resume – came a second act.
Here's what you need to know about the man, his brand of comedy, and that beard.He's appeared in a Kanye West video
After seeing Galifianakis perform at a Hollywood club in 2007, the singer asked the comic to do a video for his hit single "Can't Tell Me Nothing." The resulting video – in which Galifianakis drives around a cornfield in a tractor lip-synching the song
– has been viewed nearly half a million times.
He's a fan (we think) of The Golden Girls
In 2008, Absolut vodka called upon Galifianakis to update their image (from the '80s) by doing three ads. "That’s what gave us the idea to make the skits a kind of homage to The Golden Girls,
" Galifianakis told the New York Times
. In the sketches, Galifianakis plays a wig-wearing character named Zach who drinks an absurd amount of vodka with two friends (also bewigged) then loses it.
He's that guy on TV
He was Bobby in the failed 1997 comedy Boston Commons
. In 2003, he played a doctor in the canceled FOX drama Tru Calling
. And in between, he hosted his own VH1 comedy show called Late World with Zach
, which got canceled after nine weeks.
His connection with John Tesh
Though he thought about pursuing acting after high school, Galifianakis, who comes from a big Greek family, deferred to his parents' wishes and went to North Carolina State University, John Tesh's alma mater. And he even shared the same major as the TV/radio personality/Christian music composer: communications.
Galifianakis's response to the cancellation of his comedy show was not to get depressed or disappear from the industry. "I reacted by growing my beard" he told the New York Times
. The beard is now an indispensable part of the comic's stand-up routine.