Zach Galifianakis is short, crawling with hair, and frequently in possession of a spit-cup. Foul, right? I have a huge crush on him.
I’m not alone. Or, at least, I wasn’t last Tuesday night at the fully packed Hiro Ballroom, when the comedian (yeah, I know he has a girlfriend) hosted a “Bad Art Auction” to raise money for the charity New York Cares—or, as he repeatedly called it, “New York—Who Cares?” If not all the girls present shared my adulation, certainly all the boys did—I was standing next to a foursome clamoring to get onstage.
The auction was the third in a series of six monthly events called “New York by New York,” an effort to raise subscription numbers for the mag that’s also included “Indie-Rock Karaoke” with Of Montreal and a dinner party with Post Punk Kitchen‘s Isa Chandra Moskowitz. (It’s co-sponsored by Pom Tea; each $30 ticket included a free Pom cocktail.) On this night, Galifianakis takes the stage in a typically self-loathing manner, remarking that he’s as photogenic as Terry Schiavo and likening himself to a third-grader who’d swallowed a panda. “My real name is Chad Farthouse—it’s a Dutch name,” he says, laughing a little before he even gets to the punch line. “We make ovens.”
His warm-up lasts a bit longer, with a well-played Seinfeld dig (“What’s up with stuff? Airplane food is weird!”), and then he gets started in on the “artwork,” a collection of paintings and posters amassed by Galifianakis and marketing gurus Drillteam Media. The works’ origins are debatable: The program features images of seven of the 20 pieces with their titles, dates, and creators, but it’s clearly bullshit. “Unfortunately, these very, very talented artists’ names are not available,” Drillteam’s Nicole Szuba later explains in an e-mail. No matter—that’s not why anyone’s here anyway.
Goosneck is first off the block. (Had I stopped at the one Pom cocktail, I might be able to remember what it looked like.) “I could’ve cum on a ceiling fan and made better art than this,” quips our dreamy auctioneer—yet it goes for $90, carried on and off the stage by the night’s token eye candy, Marcus.
Next up is a Mondrian-inspired canvas with expertly rendered blocks of reds, blues, and greens. Just kidding. It’s heinous, with sloppy boxes, pencil marks, and unidentified stains (uncomfortably bringing to mind Galifianakis’s aforementioned ceiling-fan threat). When our esteemed host points at me and shouts, “Sold to the beautiful blonde to my left!”, I realize in my giggly whiskey haze that I now own it.
The auction continues, with Galifianakis arbitrarily berating audience members for not bidding enough—”Thirty dollars? Fuck you, cunt!”—when it’s ridiculous that anyone’s willing to pay money at all. When he brings out Walt Disney Porker, a piece of painted foam donated by Moby, the spotlight moves to a table where Moby is actually sitting, and he graciously starts the bidding at $200. My friend bids $250 (I’m telling you, those drinks were good). It eventually goes for $300.
The highlight of the auction is a truly godawful framed poster of Richard Petty—”One of a kind, folks!”—for which someone offers the mindbending price of $500. Galifianakis marks it sold, stares incredulously at the bidder, then brings out an exact duplicate and just gives it away. By the end, he’s raised more than $2,500 for the charity.
Band of Horses is slated for a second-half performance, which is arguably why much of the audience is here. In the interim, I make my way to the holding room, where I’m expected to fork over 40 bucks for my new treasure. I run smack into Galifianakis. Someone introduces us, announces that I’m the lucky owner of Squares, and disappears.
“I, uh . . . I bought something,” I finally say.
“Yeah, I remember,” he responds, pointing to my spot near the stage. “You were standing right there.”
“Yeah, I was!” I confirm.
And that was the end of that. My face gradually reddens and awkwardness blossoms—I can’t think of a single fucking thing to say. Finally, one of the Drillteamers interrupts to ask him a question and I speed off, mortified by my malfunction.
I return just in time for Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell (crawling with hair himself) and company to begin their short set of Pacific-tinged indie-rock that’s just what you’d expect, except better. They play all the best tracks (“Great Salt Lake,” “Monsters”) from Everything All the Time (my very favorite record of last year), as well as some new stuff from their upcoming album, due in October—but they seem to have replaced the sense of resigned longing so fixed to their debut with, like, loudness. Is yearning so 2006? Is it going to be all beats all the time from here on out? Is this the dance revolution?
Not if New York can help it. NYU law professor Paul Chevigny sadly reports that his appeal in the infamous cabaret-law case has been denied. Along with Norman Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, he’d filed a 2005 suit in the State Supreme Court attempting to overturn laws that require bars and restaurants to get licenses to allow dancing, arguing that social dance should be an expression protected under the state constitution. They lost, but fired back with an appeal, undeterred. Nearly two years later, on July 2, the court ruled against them again—”in less than two sentences,” Chevigny says.
“You have to understand, we didn’t just file a complaint. We made a case,” he explains. “There was a hell of a lot of evidence supporting how important social dance is as an expression, from dance historians, choreographers . . . from Peter Martins [ballet master in chief of the New York City Ballet], explaining how important social dance was to his development.” He pauses. “I don’t think we made any mistakes. But we still lost.”
So what now? “Well, the answer is political, not constitutional. People have to focus, realize it’s irrational, do something. They can start by electing Normal Siegel as Public Advocate. Ultimately, there’s just a moralistic strain in America that’s fearful of having a really good time—afraid of the Dionysian ball. And it’s never died.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 10, 2007