Though “Baskets” is populated with funny people, the FX show defies the usual categorization of a TV comedy.
The series was co-created by Louie C.K., Jonathan Krisel and Zach Galifianakis, who also stars. But it certainly doesn’t fall into the mold of those big movie comedies that made Galifianakis a household name. Nor is it akin to his Funny or Die satire, "Between Two Ferns."
In "Baskets" the audience is just as apt to get choked up as to laugh out loud.
Galifianakis plays identical twins, Chip and Dale Baskets. The lead character is Chip who, at 47 years old, went off to France to study clowning. When that didn’t work out, he married a French woman who just wanted a green card, and then returned to Bakersfield, California to move in with his mother, played by Louie Anderson. Chip ends up getting a job as a rodeo clown, but he's forever unhappy. He’s disconnected from his loud mouth twin brother, and his relationship with his mother is strained. All of this is folded into the comedy that the creators call "a slapstick drama."
When Galifianakis spoke with The Frame's John Horn, they discussed the making of "Baskets," fatherhood, how Janeane Garafolo was one of the first comics to believe in him, and what he's going for as a performer.
Below are some highlights. To hear the conversation click the play button at the top of this page.
Creating the unusual tone of "Baskets":
I wanted it to be an innocent show where it wasn't too vulgar. I wanted the lead character to not talk so much and I wanted there to be old-fashioned physical comedy. I wanted to set it in the world of rodeo clowns — right out of the gate, a terrible idea. But we just tonally wanted to make it different enough. I think comedies have gotten very one note. I wouldn't even really call ["Baskets"] too much of a straight comedy. We call it a slapstick drama. So we just wanted to do a different show and see if we could get away with it — different tonally, different in the casting, the music and the way that the jokes were delivered.
On casting for authenticity:
You look at TV sometimes and it's very glossy and very fast-paced and I just think, I don't know any of those kinds of people. I know more people that are on "Baskets" than I do on these slicker shows. So that was the point. We wanted to represent the population you actually see when you leave your house.
How Chip Baskets' longing to be an artist is really a longing for community:
Chip is not a very good artist. He really loves that world and wants to be accepted in that world, but what he's really looking for is community. When you move to another city and you're trying to pursue things that are away from your family — whether it's stand-up or trying to be an actor — you move to a town full of strangers and you start finding your community.
I think Chip's character, when he was in France, was accepted by outsiders because he himself was an outsider, even though he's not a great clown. But he was weird enough for the artists to take him in and he finally found his community ... then that's pulled away from him because he's rejected by his French wife and that whole world. So he's looking for a new community. It may be that he's forced to make that community his family.
Advice for aspiring comedians:
Comedy is like music. If you happen to not like bluegrass, I understand that. If you happen to not like slapstick, I completely understand. I'm not offended by people not getting it. A good comic will lead an audience, they don't kowtow to an audience. It's lonely when you're trying to do your little brand of whatever you think is funny. But, eventually, if you keep trying and you work, there's enough weirdos out there to find you.
People don't really ask me for advice, but ... I hear all these young comics are tweeting and branding. My thing is, Just go perform. You don't have to schmooze. If you've got any kind of thing, people will find you.
The comedy of "forced relationships":
I love forced relationships — and that's what family is — and dealing with those forced relationships. We learn from our parents that we should not learn from our parents. Or, there's good things to learn about your parents that you should take and there are things about your parents that you shouldn't. So how much do we inherit from our parents and how do we stop the bad inheritance?
On being a dad:
I want to make sure that my kids want to be around me when I'm older. I don't want to force the relationship with my kids. I want them to be able to come and go as they please when they're older. But life happens. It's funny, I was just driving around with my son yesterday and I was thinking, God, how do I get him to live with me for the rest of his life? I don't think I'll ever be able to say goodbye to him when he gets to be older.
My dad, who was the most loving human being in the world — I used to make fun of him because he was so loving. He would cry emotionally because he would cry out of beauty. I'd be like, Dad, you can't cry at a high school assembly. That's how he was. And, let me just say, karma is really tough. I can't wait for my son to start making fun of me.
On the state of big studio comedies and how the "money people" should follow the "art people":
It seems like the studio comedy business has been overtaken by hedge fund managers. It's more about the business end than the creative end. I did a movie where I showed up one day and there was product placement in the script — just a full-on commercial in the middle of the scene. We do that with "Baskets" like with Costco and with Arby's, but there's no money exchange. We wrote in Arby's because we wanted it to be authentic. We wrote storylines around Costco because I know more people that go to Costco than I do people that go to Europe.
Here's my whole thing: The money people follow the art people. The art people don't follow around the money people. Commerce follows art. And I'm not saying I'm an artist, but it has to come from a creative point of view first. If you try to throw a commercial in front of people, it's offensive.
Zach Galifianakis wants to make you feel something:
I just like to get a rise out of people emotionally. If it's emotional in a funny way, if it's emotional to make them think, if it's pulling at the heartstrings, I just really want to tell an interesting left-of-center story that is not in the usual storytelling format for comedies. It sounds so cheesy, but I really like the sound of laughs, or sighs or cries – cries in a good way, not in torture. I just like that feeling of making people feel.