Being "Zach Galifianakis"

Being "Zach Galifianakis"

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because finding yourself by losing yourself was never this easy.

By Eugene S. Robinson

Life hadn’t exactly dealt Thaddeus Kalinoski a raw deal, but things were less than sunny in Philadelphia when he made a decision that sharpened his focus and ultimately changed his life. He became Zach Galifianakis. 

The 36-year-old had been sitting around in Philadelphia, watching things slowly slide to shit. The sometime bartender, full-time restaurant manager had met with a series of romantic and professional disappointments, and he did what so many before him have done and what so many after him will do.

“I stopped shaving,” says Kalinoski. After a long weekend engaging in the time-honored art of feeling sorry for himself, he left the house with a full beard, and that’s when strange things started to happen.


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People stared. Snapped photos from afar. Whispered. It was weird and confusing, until someone finally stepped up and asked him if he was, in fact, Zach Galifianakis, and the confusion cleared.

Kalinoski had seen The Hangover, the film that broke big — $467,483,912 worth of big — and broke Galifianakis even bigger. But nothing prepared him for what happened in Philly in 2012.

“I walked into a bar,” Kalinoski recalls. “I don’t know why I was wearing glasses that day, but with the glasses people started buying me drinks and taking their pictures with me. They’d say, ‘Is it really you?’ and I’d say, ‘Is it really you?’ back to them. I never said I was him, but people started telling me I should go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City.”

So Kalinoski went.

“When I got to Vegas, I spotted where Spider-Man was. The Pirates of the Caribbean, Mickey Mouse,” says Kalinoski of the celebrity impersonators’ row on the Strip in Vegas. He got out of a cab from McCarran Airport and just stood there, and before you could say “Galifianakis,” he was mobbed.

There were Pictures, people shoving, screaming, real Day of the Locust-like pandemonium. The party burned hot for the entire weekend, until reality, an apartment in Philly and a return ticket beckoned. But as he sat on the plane waiting for take-off, something else happened.

“You have got to be in the movie,” she said to me. I asked, “What movie?” And she said, “You know what movie.” The movie was The Hangover III.

“I started to think that I could get used to this,” he says. Exiting the plane right before the doors closed, he headed back to the Strip, got a hotel room for a week and bought some gear — the shirt, white pants and glasses Galifianakis wore in the movie. A week turned into a month, and then two months, and Kalinoski found that he was peeling adoring fans off himself on the streets in Vegas for eight to nine hours a day.

Until the day he was approached by one particular woman. “‘You have got to be in the movie,’ she said to me. I asked, ‘What movie?’ And she said, ‘You know what movie.’” The movie was The Hangover III.

And here’s where the Gödel, Escher, Bach weirdness of the story gets even weirder, with Kalinoski working as an on-set stand-in for Galifianakis, who largely ignored him until he came face-to-face with the inescapable fact.

“You do look just like me,” said Galifianakis. A fast friendship was formed, and seeing how much action Kalinoski was getting as Galifianakis caused the real, recently married Galifianakis to say, “Make sure you tell them you’re not me.”

Kalinoski now has a driver/assistant, and he stands on the streets in Vegas, where he’s showered with cash, drinks, drugs, love and unrestrained joy — the prerogatives of privilege — all just handed to him. Even when the third movie bombed compared to the first two, he’s still being comped rooms, rides and VIP lounge after VIP lounge. When asked how much he actually makes per year, he laughs.

“I don’t like to get into the numbers,” he says, though it is rumored to be over $200,000. “But I’m not a restaurant manager anymore.” And when asked if celebrities are entitled to complain about the trappings of their lifestyle, he pauses before answering. “Well, I’m a reserved, private person, and this is difficult, and it’s not so fun if you’re trying to get around. But the money is fun.”

And then, in amazement as much as anything else, he adds, “It’s a crazy world.”

You better believe it.