This Halloween, some Watauga County voters received a voicemail from a strangely familiar voice.
“Hello, answering machine,” the message began. The caller introduced himself, then continued, “Pardon me for interrupting your day with an annoying message. But—the annoyance is worth it.”
The pre-recorded call continued with an endorsement of Democrat Billy Kennedy, who at the time was running for the N.C. 5th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.Gradually, voters may have realized that the voice was familiar because they’d heard it before: defending a man’s right to wear a satchel because “Indiana Jones wears one,” or singing about a group of best friends—the three best friends, in fact, that anyone could have.
That’s right. Zach Galifianakis recorded a robo-call for Billy Kennedy.
Galifianakis is best known for his role in The Hangover, a megahit R-rated comedy released in 2009, but savvier viewers knew his equally R-rated standup—and his videos on http://www.funnyordie.com—long before that.
So why is Galifianakis in the High Country Press—and why did he endorse Kennedy?
Because the comedian—who is a bona fide movie star, post-Hangover—grew up in the High Country. He graduated from Wilkes Central High School and came close to a degree at N.C. State before moving to New York City to pursue his career.
Galifianakis, who still has a farm in Western North Carolina, posted a Tweet in late October informally endorsing the Democratic House candidate.
“Hi NC,” it read. “Virginia Foxx is not cool. And no relation to [“Sanford and Son” comedian] Red Foxx. Vote Bill Kennedy. Here is a reminder.”
The “reminder” was a link to the http://www.youtube.com video “Rep. Virginia Foxx Dishonored Matthew Shepard’s Death on the House Floor.”
The Greensboro News & Record picked up on the Tweet, posting about it in the paper’s “Capital Beat” blog. That’s when Kennedy’s Boone headquarters caught wind of the quirky endorsement.
“After we saw the endorsement, we reached out to Zach,” campaign press contact Lainey Edmisten said.
Edmisten left a message with Galifianakis’ parents. Edmisten’s grandparents knew them “from a long time ago,” she said.
In the eleventh hour on October 31, the actor’s staff contacted the campaign.
“They said that he would do a robo-call for us if he could write the script,” Edmisten said. “And he did, and he ended up talking to Billy.”
Edmisten had never heard of the actor; other staffers had to explain who he was. Still, she was thrilled with the endorsement.
“We just thought it was really cool that he found Billy,” she said. “We didn’t seek it out, he found Billy. It was nice for someone so far away to recognize the campaign and the work we were doing.”
Although the star-studded endorsement didn’t result in a win for the candidate, Edmisten said website traffic doubled to 1300 hits the next day.
The Kennedy endorsement is not the first time Galifianakis has reached out to his home county. He’s also the reason a recent story time at the Wilkes County Public Library was picked up by the Associated Press.
Trish Collins, who works in youth services at the library, said the event was set up by a library board member who was an old friend of the Galifianakis family.
Collins said the star, who was “very specific” on the point that the reading was for children, read two children’s books to more than 500 guests last summer.
Most of the crowd was older: the event drew everyone from teenage fans to Galifianakis’ former teachers. But to the approximately 40 young children in attendance, it was business as usual.
“To the kids it was just story time,” Collins said. “I don’t think they realized who he was.”
Collins added that although the comedian didn’t plan to do a meet-and-greet, he stayed for an additional two hours doing just that.
By all accounts, the local celebrity is just a nice guy.
Randy Kelly, program advisor for ASU’s Student Programs department, met Galifianakis through a mutual friend in 2006, during a trip to Boston, Mass.
Over drinks, Galifianakis agreed to a special show—and a reduced rate—at ASU’s Legends. True to his word, the comedian did standup comedy in Boone on November 17, 2006.
Kelly said the star was “very friendly” and joined students at The Library after his show.
Collins agreed, describing Galifianakis as “down-to-earth and very gracious.”
“It’s a little surreal when you see him up on the big screen,” she added. “You’re used to just seeing him here in town.”