It Takes All Kinds

a Few Stories and Profiles by Erik Hedegaard
mainly from inside the pages of Rolling Stone
(with additional commentary and folderol provided by the author aka Charlie, sometimes)

The Guys of the Hangover

Posted on | September 24, 2009 | No Comments

Hanging with Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms, the three stars of Summer 09’s biggest hit movie.

Which of the three stars of the season’s funniest comedy would be the most fun to hit Vegas with?

WE THINK “THE HANGOVER” IS going to be the smash-hit gross- out comedy of the summer. The plot is perfect. It’s got three groomsmen taking a groom to Vegas for a bachelor party, only the next morning the three groomsmen can’t remember a single thing that happened, that’s how blotto they got. All they know is, one guy is missing a tooth, a tiger is in the bathroom, a baby is in the closet and the groom has disappeared, and pretty soon a shrieking naked Asian guy is dangling his balls in one guy’s face, and Mike Tyson is about to deliver a knockout blow, and, in general, all hell is breaking loose.

It helps that one subtext for the movie is white-male anxiety. It’s got Tyson, the scariest black man on Earth, as well as various bat-wielding gangbangers and shrewish girlfriends, and anxious white males everywhere will probably find it hard to resist taking the opportunity to laugh at themselves. Also, as directed by Todd Phillips, the genius behind Old School, it’s a ton more gratuitously violent than most recent comedies, which, of course, is extremely appealing too.

The three stars of the movie are the three groomsmen, played by Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms, and not much is known about them. We know that Cooper did a pretty great job jerking Owen Wilson around in Wedding Crashers; that in his stand-up act, Galifianakis likes to riff meditatively (“I think that sign in neighborhoods, SLOW CHILDREN PLAYING, is so mean….”); and that Helms was destined for greatness the moment he showed up on The Office. But that’s about all. And we want to know more because we’re trying to figure out who would be most fun to go to Vegas with, and get hammered with, if ever the occasion should arise. Herewith, our findings.

IN “THE HANGOVER,” BRADLEY COOPER plays Phil, the slickest of the trio, not J the swellest of guys, a teacher who swipes gambling money from his students. On a recent Thursday morning in New York, Cooper is found standing on a street corner, deep in head-to-head conversation with acclaimed actress Meg Ryan, and immediately we are impressed. “Yeah, you know, hanging out with Meg, shooting the shit with Meg,” he says a few minutes later, plumping himself genially. Cooper’s a good-looking, easygoing guy, with a rakish jaw line, mellow blue eyes, a nice whip of movie-star hair and a luxuriant amount of chin stubble. Biographically, he’s been around show business since 1999, getting his start with a small part in Sex and the City. He’s appeared in a whole bunch of movies, like Wet Hot American Summer, Yes Man and He’s Just Not That Into You. And he did such a convincing job playing a jerk in Wedding Crashers that, honestly, we think Cooper must be a jerk too.

We approach him gingerly, going for the basics. He grew up in Philadelphia, the son of a Merrill Lynch stockbroker, whom he went to kindergarten dressed like, in a suit, carrying a briefcase. In high school, he dated the best-looking girl in the class. In college, at Georgetown, he was an English major who wrote his thesis on Nabokov’s Lolita. He was once married for four months, to the actress Jennifer Esposito, about which he won’t say a damn thing. He has been linked to Cameron Diaz, about which he will only say, stonily, “I’m lucky to know her.” Also, he once promoted Coop as a nickname for himself, but it didn’t take. And, finally, he doesn’t drink.

“I haven’t had a drink in five years,” he says. “And I loved to drink. But then I had to give it up, goddamn it. I mean, unfortunately, those days are over.” He doesn’t say why, exactly, but a bit later he tells a story about how he got six scars on his head. “Now this one,” he says, pointing it out, “I was at a Christmas party, dancing to Marilyn Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People,’ and thought it’d be a cool idea to show how I’m able to bash my head against the concrete floor. I did it, came up, blood went down my face, I laughed, and did it again. Yeah, I had a couple of drinks in me, for sure.”

Given all that, if you went to Vegas with Cooper, you might think about ditching him at the slots first thing. He is, after all, a guy who blow-dries his ears — not because he wants to, but because he has to. “I had a tumor in my eardrum when I was born, so if any water gets in my ear, I get an infection,” he says, “which means, after I go to the gym, I have to blow-dry my ears.”

Conversely, we are impressed by the fact that he loves going to shrinks (“I love it. I can’t get enough of it. Party!”). But what really makes us think he would make a fine Vegas companion? He was once a big chewing-tobacco advocate and still believes that no matter what they say, chicks dig it.

“Yup, in some sick way, I actually think girls like it, like deep down they’re going, ‘What a man,'” he says. “I remember talking to Scarlett Johansson once, and I had a spit cup, and there’d be saliva running down my lip to the cup, and she was like, Are you kidding me?’ and I was like, ‘What? What?'”

The only problem is, Cooper quit the stuff. But if he starts again, he’ll be our first Vegas choice. And we’ll call him Coop.

ED HELMS GREETS US OVER A BEER in a midtown Manhattan bar. In the movie, he plays Stu, a henpecked boyfriend who wakes up that fateful Vegas morning with a missing tooth. To his friends, Stu is known as “Dr. Faggot.”

Helms is a regular-looking guy, and we take an immediate liking to him. At first it’s because we’re such fans of his work on The Office and The Daily Show. But it’s also because he is soon saying things like, “Vices? Let’s see. I like to murder. But that’s just a side thing. I don’t know. I’m blocking them out now. I’ll have the occasional cigarette. I streaked in college. I had heart surgery when I was 14, so that mitigated a lot of drug use for me, because I wouldn’t say I have higher moral standards than most. Let’s see. I had a mohawk once, for about a week. Urn, while I was on The Daily Show, my buddy Rob Corddry said to me, ‘Why aren’t you out screwing around? You’re on this smart, funny show. Chicks would go berserk for you.’ I said to Rob, ‘Yeah, but I don’t think you’d like me anymore if I was that guy.’ I do have a healthy sexual appetite, but I keep all of that in check a little bit. Hmm. I’m kind of a tool.”

We think not. We think, “Here’s a guy who knows himself and who is probably just being aw-shucks humble.” And the more he says about himself, the more we think this has to be the case.

He was raised in Atlanta, the son of an attorney dad and an educator mom; attended a Christian prep school; graduated from Oberlin College; and has worn glasses since he was in second grade. A telling story: “At the local swimming pool when I was 13, these guys carried me out to the tennis court to fight their friend. I just started crying and ran away. It was very dramatic.” That’s not the telling part. The telling part is that Helms remembers this incident as “one of the few actual fights I ever got into,” even though no fight ever took place. We like that about him. Also, we find it charming that while on his college swim team he was nicknamed ED2000, which is derived from the ED-209 robot seen in the movie RoboCop. Hey, it’s better than Coop.

But here’s why he could be a most worthy Vegas partner in crime. He plays bluegrass banjo. He plays it very, very well, and is trying to stir up interest in bluegrass banjo in Los Angeles, which has so far been resistant. No matter. He will play. And he will not be deterred. “I love it,” he says. “I want to play it every day. But banjo is an offensive instrument to most people, and sometimes I think the reason I want to play it is that I want to annoy the maximum number of people.”

How evil is that? What’s not to like? Plus, you know what he thinks is his best physical feature? “My right ball,” he says, proudly. “It’s huge. Huge!”

Enough said. Yup, we’re pretty sure he should be our Vegas man.

AND THAT LEAVES ZACH GALIFIanakis, who in The Hangover plays Alan, a zoned-out weirdo, a possible perv and the caretaker of the abandoned baby, for better or worse.

We hook up with Galifianakis at a bar, just as we did Helms. Unlike Helms, however, Galifianakis is not a one-beer kind of guy. During our time together, a first beer leads to four with alarming speed. Actually, five probably wouldn’t faze Galifianakis at all. He likes to drink, he likes to drink a lot, and the great thing is, he takes no responsibility for any of it: “Sometimes I wake up thinking, ‘Hey, where’s my intervention? Don’t my parents know it’s the day after Thanksgiving and I’m still under the table?'” He takes a swig. “I once woke up underneath a car with the engine still running. I once wandered into a house, puked on the rug, went to sleep on the couch and left in the morning — though I did go back later and clean up the place. Hey, at least I’m a responsible drunk!”

He used to be a large pothead too, though he had to cut back after it started to have career consequences. For instance, he was once supposed to be the new face of VH1, fronting a variety-type show called Late World With Zach. It lasted for one season. “I’d be a little bit too full of pot cookies, going, ‘I have a talk show, that’s weird, I wonder who the guest is tomorrow….'” he says. He didn’t much care when the show ended, either; he just shuffled on to what was coming next.

In his case, this has meant a few roles in some questionable movies (What Happens in Vegas), with the occasional foray into quality (Into the Wild). Throughout, his main gig has been stand-up comedy, during which he’s developed a reputation for being one of the top underground comedians working today.

To tell you the truth, we dig him and his whole shtick. His arms are so short and chubby they could almost be called flippers. Certain Vegas girls would probably go for that, and his sense of humor. “You know what onesies are for kids?” he asks. “My sister was having a baby, and I printed up 20 of them with my picture. But I look like a child rapist. I think that’s funny, to have a horrible-looking human being on an innocent child’s belly.”

He grew up in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in the town’s only Greek family. His dad was an oil deliveryman, and his older brother specialized in various kinds of sibling torture. For instance, he would cram his dirty underwear into Zach’s mouth and yell, “I’m giving you a gag order!” In later years, Galifianakis would suffer from depression, but does he take Zoloft and blame his family? No way. “It just drives me crazy, this overmedicated society we’re in,” he says, swigging again. “People are supposed to be fucked up! Your brother’s supposed to beat you up!”

By the same logic, it makes perfect sense that he went to North Carolina State University, sold his blood for beer money, dropped out the last semester of his senior year after failing a class by one point, and went to New York to try to make it. He worked as a busboy at a strip club and hustled gays for drinks at Dick’s Bar, in the Village, ducking out before they wised up. “Basically,” he says, “I was a straight-male prostitute.” But then the comedy thing caught on, and that was that.

A couple of thick-necked frat boys in cargo shorts stop by our table. “Hey, weren’t you in What Happens in Vegas?”


“Are you lying?”

“Why would I lie about that? It’s a shitty movie.”

The guys circle round, almost menacingly, then go back to their boozing. Galifianakis is relieved. “Whew, it was beginning to look like date rape all of a sudden,” he says. “It’s strange. Guys only know me from shitty movies, and only goth chicks with back acne know me for my stand-up.”

Up until this moment, Galifianakis had become our pick for best Vegas fun fellow. He’s odd, Vegas is odd. But now we’re having our doubts. Goth chicks with back acne? We don’t know if we want to get involved in that scene. What to do, who to choose. We’re undecided. To help us out, we call director Phillips for his take.

“Well, Zach is a thoughtful, intelligent kind of guy, and Ed is a funny guy who takes his comedy seriously, like a sniper, and though Bradley doesn’t drink, he is a maniac, so I would say Bradley,” says Phillips, who happens to be in Mexico on vacation. “Actually, I might be the worst of them all. I have serious issues. I’m a gambler. I’m sorry. I’m high. I’m a really smart guy. I want a do-over. I’m hearing my answers and thinking, ‘I might be retarded.'”

Who are we to argue?

Suddenly, all we really want to do is go do Vegas with the high, really smart retarded guy with a gambling problem. We haven’t met one of them before. And we really do want to know more.


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