When actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis was interviewed by David Letterman for the episode of Letterman’s Netflix series “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” released last week, a good bit of the conversation involved Galifianakis’ home state, his family and his time at N.C. State University — “Home of the Fighting Wolfpack,” Galifianakis joked.
In particular, Galifianakis, a native of Wilkesboro, spoke at length in the interview about how he was one credit shy of graduating from N.C. State (“I was a film minor at an agriculture school”) because he failed his final calculus exam by one point.
“I failed my last course by one point and kinda had a nervous breakdown, and then got my stuff together and moved to New York,” he said. “It haunts me.”
The usually jokey comedian turned semi-serious talking about how much it bothers him to have missed getting his degree by so slim a margin, and he explained that he went to the home of the calculus professor and begged him to give Galifianakis the one point.
Here’s where the sad story gets the classic Galifianakis twist.
“The next day I went to the professor’s house and I begged him, ‘can you please give me one point?’“ Galifianakis said. “I mean, I was taking a calculus class and I didn’t have a calculator. That’s the truth. … He said, ‘you know I’m not gonna give you a point, I’m not. You don’t deserve it, you didn’t earn it. Plus you were at the church softball game heckling the Baptist church’ — which is true.
“I didn’t know this, but he was on the Southern Baptist Church (team) and my brother was playing for the Greek Orthodox Church and I got drunk and heckled him the day before the test.”
We asked N.C. State whether they could confirm that Galifianakis was one point shy of graduating. They could not (citing privacy laws). So we didn’t bother asking if they could confirm the story about the softball-playing professor.
‘You bring honor to the state’
The church softball league scandal aside, Letterman was perplexed that N.C. State had not given Galifianakis, a communications major, the degree anyway.
“This is a number of years ago,” Letterman said. “I’m talking about now. Because with your performance, you bring honor to the state and to the institution you almost graduated from.”
So is that something N.C. State would ever do? We asked. Here’s the official statement:
“We appreciate Zach’s Wolfpack pride and we’re thrilled at all he has accomplished since his time at NC State. If he decides to complete his studies, we would be proud to welcome Zach home to receive his degree.”
But Galifianakis isn’t asking for handouts, or for the forgiveness of a certain unnamed Southern Baptist calculus teacher.
He wants to earn his college degree on his own — and he wants to earn it from N.C. State. He no longer wants to be “a one-man Wolfpack.”
“What I’d like to do is secretly do it,” he said. “Just get my course and try to ask the university if I can transfer it over and get my degree. I would like to have my degree.”
We asked N.C. State for him. Could he do that?
A spokesperson for the Fighting Wolfpack noted that every situation is different and they could not comment specifically on Galifianakis’ case. But there is a process for these situations, which are common.
‘Connect with an academic adviser’
If the student wants to complete their coursework at N.C. State, they have to apply for readmission. If the person is one course away from graduating, they can complete it on-campus or via distance education (an online course). They might also be able to transfer that course in from a different institution. But the school highly recommends that “the student connect with an academic adviser within their college to see how they can complete the course or get the credits necessary to graduate.”
There was other North Carolina talk during the interview — we’ll leave some of it for you to see on your own — but Letterman repeatedly heaped praise on the actor, who is probably best known for his work in the “Hangover” movie franchise (this is the movie where Galifianakis makes his famous “Wolfpack speech,” which N.C. State grads like to think is a wink to them). He was also fantastic in the movie “The Campaign” (with Will Ferrell) and is the star of the FX series “Baskets,” which just started its third season.
Letterman is a “Between Two Ferns” superfan, though. “Between Two Ferns” started as a Funny or Die series in 2008, a comedic talk show in which Galifianakis interviews celebrities on a cheap, cable-access-type set. The interviews are awkward and often hostile, with Galifianakis insulting the guests and asking inappropriate questions. He’s had huge stars on the show, from Brad Pitt and Jerry Seinfeld to Barack Obama and Cardi B.
To say Letterman loves it is an understatement.
“ I started watching ‘Between Two Ferns’ and couldn’t stop watching,” he said. “(The interviews are) so admirable and so simple and so lovely in their execution and their consistency. When you see something like that, it elevates your spirit ... you think, ‘this is a good thing to have in our lives.’”
You can watch episodes of “Between Two Ferns” on YouTube, and a movie version is currently in the works at Netflix.