Thaddeus Kalinoski’s life came to that cliché, the one about crossroads, except his two paths were extremely different ways of life. Imagine a small town dirt road somehow intersecting with the Autobahn.
His marriage failed. His restaurant management career stalled. His prospects dimmed. “I fell into this dark place,” he admitted between deep swigs of beer on the typically arid Sin City morning. “I did all the typical things a guy does when life goes dark – I didn’t shave or cut my hair or do much to make myself look human.”
Back to the crossroads and his two options – the rural road which eventually leads back to Main Street and normalcy or the merger onto a highway with cars barreling down at a hundred miles per hour.
He chose the safe road but it oddly just dumped him back onto the speedway. Maybe it wasn’t a crossroads. Maybe it was one of those annoying circles. Whatever the analogy, his first pit stop was a Pennsylvania Walmart, because what road doesn’t have a Walmart?
“I picked up these sunglasses, absurdly huge and dark, and put them on in the parking lot. People just stared,” he laughed, “and I figured it was because I looked like an escaped lunatic.”
“Can we take a picture with you?” a bar patron asked that night, the glasses covering his now whisky-soaked retinas.
“Why?” his gruff response alarming the attractive woman already in selfie stance.
“Because you’re him right? You’re Zach Galifianakis.”
He wasn’t Zach Galifianakis, at that moment, but he is now.
He’s Zach Galifianakis, more specifically Alan from the blockbuster franchise The Hangover, every night on the strip in Las Vegas. People beg for photos, drown him in unlimited drinks and drop wads of cash into his costume fanny pack.
Thad, sorry, Zach’s stories about life on the Vegas strip make the film look like the outtakes from Frozen. Over the course of a couple hours, Zach recounted stories that would make Alan’s entire wolf pack blush.
The journey to full time Zach began at an Atlantic City casino. Call it a trial run or a test of his newfound, albeit it odd, talent. “The night is a blur,” he admits “but I know I didn’t pay for a drink, I easily posed for a hundred photos and I took four girls back to my hotel room that night.”
Zach took his show on the road – a weekend stint in Las Vegas – that went so well he cashed in his return ticket, booked a room at the Hooters hotel, and became a temporary resident of Las Vegas.
“There’s a whole performance to the night now,” he explains, “because my roommate looks exactly like me. It’s fucking creepy. We’ll take turns playing Zach while the other guy dons a lifelike Mike Tyson mask. We even shelled out for an animatronic baby. It looks so damn real I sometimes forget it’s fake.”
Zach and his roommate work the strip religiously, every night more insane than the last, and even when they’re not working people think they’re the genuine artifacts.
“I don’t remember the last time I paid for a drink,” Zach laughs. “I sit in VIP far too often for a dude who’s not actually famous.
Zach’s Las Vegas strip stories involve drunk college girls, angry tourists, insane meth heads and a constant stream of intoxicated bros eager to pull him into their inner party circle.
The Hangover franchise consists of three films. Zach, but more so Thad’s life, is a Groundhog Day mash-up of all three.
All In A Day’s Work
BroBible: Are there some days where you just don’t want to do it?
Thad Kalinoski: It’s like any job. You program yourself. When you go to work, you’re not the same person you are at home. When I was a manager before in the hotel and restaurant industry, even if I was having a shitty day, as soon as I got to work there’s a switch. You turn into a different person.
BB: How long did it take you to find that switch?
TK: It probably took at least 6 months before I became comfortable in the character.
BB: While you’re away doing this interview, is your roommate doing that now? Is he being you right now or the character?
TK: Probably both. People joke around. People we know, the repeat clientele, who’ll come back every time. They’ll come back maybe every three months and they’ve seen us both work at the same time, they’ll say ‘where’s your stunt double?’ They call him my stand-in. People are starting to catch on that there are two of us.
In the beginning, we worked separately. He was working on one end of the strip and I was working the other end. We met through a mutual friend.
In the beginning, people would walk by and say ‘hey, wait a second, I just saw you on the other side of the strip. How did you get here so quick?’ Or ‘you didn’t have your pants on before, how did you get your pants on so quick?’ We look almost identical sometimes.
He was in a pretty serious fight before we become partners. It went viral and got like a quarter million views
BB: In character?
TK: Yeah, he must have been a meth head or something. They started a fight with him and he just destroyed the guy.
BB: Do you ever worry confrontation like that?
TK: Not anymore. In my eyes, self defense is self defense. I don’t go out there to beat somebody’s ass. I go out there to portray this character,. I’m trying to do a job. It’s kind of like the adult version of a kid’s playground.
If somebody approaches me, if somebody comes at me and they have something verbally thing, I’ll say something back or give them a warning. At that point I’ll just make a comment like “I’m done with you” or “I’m finished.”
BB: Do people often come at you to start an altercation?
TK: Not really, because of the character. Everybody likes the character. But under the influence of whatever, meth or they’re just hammered, those types of people you can’t reason with. I don’t go out there looking for trouble but if someone won’t get out of my face or they put their hands on me or my partner…it’s happened a number of times in the past year.
BB: And what happens when the cops come? Do they pretty much know it’s probably not you starting trouble considering what you do?
TK: Sometimes they don’t show.
BB: They don’t show up at all?
TK: Sometimes they don’t. It depends how long it goes on for. This one guy approached Tony, who is my partner, we were working together. He was wearing at the outfit from The Hangover part one and I’m in the outfit from the second movie. He’s wearing the baby and I’d wearing the monkey.
This one guy rolls up and he was obviously on something — probably meth because there’s a lot of meth going on in Las Vegas — and Tony needed a lighter for a smoke. This lady comes over with a light and the meth guy comes over with a light at the same time. Tony took a light from a lady and the meth guy goes “oh, my light isn’t good enough? Well, fuck you!” He tries to kick Tony in the nuts. So we took the props off and just charged him.
I kicked his leg out from underneath him and he fell on the concrete on his head and my partner put his hand around his throat and started choking him out. I just lost it. It was, I guess, temporary insanity? I just started kicking him in the head. I started kicking his ribs, bloodied the shit out of this guy, people were screaming and I’m sure people got pictures of this guy. People were screaming, “It’s not an act, it’s not an act!” They were screaming police, police, police!” and then we broke it off. The cops show and they were like “what happened?” and we told them the story. They just drove off. That was it. We walked away and left him a bloody mess on the sidewalk. That’s Vegas.
BB: Do you normally stay on the strip by nicer casinos?
TK: Definitely. I’m always in front of Caesars or the Mirage so it’s definitely a higher class clientele.
BB: Has security ever said anything to you? Do they come out and ask you to go somewhere else?
TK: No. I don’t know if I should say this but I’ve become very friendly with security in my time out there on the strip. I think they’re a little more lax with me because they know what it’s like out there for people doing what I do.
It’s not easy to be out there. People that don’t under the grind. They walk by me and maybe see me drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette, maybe I’ve got my arms around a beautiful woman or I’m smacking some girl’s ass. They immediately say “Oh yeah, this guy’s got the life, this is great.” It can be fun but they don’t see the whole picture. They don’t see what I deal with every day. I deal with homeless people, druggies, drunk frat boys, jocks, thugs, gangsters, pimps, hookers, well, the hookers I don’t deal with but it’s not that easy.
BB: How long did it take you to figure out the unwritten rules of the street.
TK: What do you mean?
BB: Like “this dude is running that game, this dude’s running this game.” I mean, you’re kind of running a game yourself. You’re using someone else’s look to make a living and to make people happy. So you’re running a more legit game than the other people are but it’s still a game.
TK: I think it’s more of a respect thing. Maybe some of them don’t like me or they hate on me — because I’m doing it legitimately — but I think pretty much all the guys out there doing what I’m doing or doing something to make money, they definitely respect my work.
BB: You’ve said you don’t want to talk about how much money you make but obviously you and your roommate make enough to earn livings. How does the money thing work? So you’re standing there, someone comes up and wants to take a picture, and then do they just give you money? How does it work? Why do they feel like they should pay you?
TK: I don’t know how people figure it out. I’ve never understood what it is. I think it’s just respect. Like “this guy is out here standing out in the heat so…” Obviously I’m doing it for a reason. I think of it like this — if I were out out there with a guitar, playing music, they would probably throw me a couple bucks because what I’m doing involves musical talent. So they’re paying money for my specific talent is what I’m saying.
BB: Have these transactions taught you anything about people?
TK: Definitely. One thing I’ve learned out there is human behavior. People are followers. If somebody comes up and want to offer me something other people will do the same. It’s a chain reaction. Nobody has any type of imagination or understanding of anything, everybody just follows everybody else in the world.
BB: What’s the most shocking thing you’ve ever been offered?
TK: I’ve been offered some crazy shit. People hand me weed or coke or whatever’s out there. It’s never a “hey, want some” it’s always secretive. They’ll shake my hand and the next thing I know I look in my hand and I’m holding drugs. They also think I know where to score a ton of drugs. I get asked that a lot.
BB: Do you think this whole experience has given you an edge? Has it changed who you are when you’re not in character?
TK: Yes. I’m a little…rougher.
BB: Let’s talk about the fun part… the partying. Do you go around in character to parties and stuff?
TK: Like an event that was set up for me to appear or just go nuts and go out? I haven’t done it recently.
BB: Do you use the character to your advantage? I’m sure you do. Who wouldn’t?
TK: Tony and I, we had these safari suits made, if you’ve seen the second movie, there is this part where they’re at the airport. We had these safari suits made, and they’re really expensive. So we used to rage in these safari suits. We’d run around and go out and rage. We’d bring some cash out and there’s this place, it’s the best kept secret in Las Vegas, it’s called Octane Lounge inside the Excalibur Casino. The reason it’s so good is because it’s right outside that all male show The Thunder From Down Under. The show packs in like 500 women and they all get super horny before and after the show. There’s a little lounge out front. We’d go to this place and the girls were lining up before the show, and they would have drinks and cocktails in the lounge, before the show starts and after the show ends. You go to this lounge and there might be one or two guys in the bar and like 500 horny women who’ve already taken pictures with naked guys, laid down on their laps, fondled them and then they come out of the show and we’re the only guys in the bar plus we look like a celebrity. You can imagine what happens.
You find a little booth, sit down, you put your hand or your arms behind your head. Sometimes they’ll think one of us is actually Zach and maybe there’s a hidden camera and it’s a show. “Oh you sure you’re not really Zach because this is something he would do. Are you really him? Where’s the camera at?”
I remember one night I must have made out with like at least five women in the same lounge.
BB: Do you think what you do only works in Vegas? Not just the act but the entire idea of being a celebrity impersonator. Does it work because of the type of people the city attracts?
TK: Probably. No one in Vegas is cranky. In a place like New York, people are living their lives. Everyone in Vegas on vacation and drinking in the street 24/7. You can do anything you want. Everything is there, if you want it, you can get everything you want, you can do everything you want. You can even pay to get laid.
BB: Getting back to the Zach thing — Zach himself — do you think it helps with your persona and your business that Zach is the type of person that would possibly go out dressed as Alan from the movie?
TK: Definitely. And the character just ties together so well to the city. It’s the top-selling comedy franchise of all time. Even today, if you go into any gift shop on the strip, you can buy the t-shirts with the baby on them or a shirt that says Wolf Pack. The Caesars’s gift shop is probably 90% Hangover merchandise.
BB: Did you watch the movies and study? How did you get into the character?
TK: In the beginning I didn’t care. Then I realized the better my act, the better I did with people. After a few months, I would go home and just have the movie running all day. Even if I wasn’t watching it, I would just listen to the lines, the quotes. I studied it, I’d rewind it, rewind it, listen to the quotes, listen to how he said it. And it works, people think I sound like him.
If you ever see a picture of me on Instagram it’s always got a comment like “he sounded just like him” and “I think it was really him.” One photo caption said “he smelled like the guy too, he really stunk like beer and he sounded like him.” People are blown away and it makes people’s vacations.
BB: How many pictures do you think you’ve taken.
TK: No clue. I couldn’t count. People who have taken pictures before, maybe they’re poker players or they just love Vegas or they just have some connection to Vegas, they’ll come back repeatedly and just people come up and say I took a picture with you three months ago and they show me their phone and I’m on their wallpaper. Or they’ll have to go through their photo album and be like “hey, there you are.”
I think it was when I first started I went to New York, I think after the first six months, I was sitting in a bar and this lady comes up and she goes “is this you in my phone?” and that was the first time I got a taste of the sort-of celebrity of the act.
I’ll get people message me from time to time on Facebook or e-mail me and say “my aunt or whoever took a picture with you and I just saw it.” My mom told me a story that her hairstylist was like “is this your son?” and my picture was on her phone. That’s hilarious when I hear things like that it’s pretty funny.
I couldn’t really say how many pictures have been taken of me. I mean people snipe, the term is snipe, when people won’t actually introduce themselves they just take a photo from the distance. If I had to say in a day how many photos are taken between the people who actually come up and those who snipe… I’d say over 1,000 photos a day. Easily over a thousand.
BB: Do you sometimes forget who you are but you sometimes find yourself going like is this something I would do or only something I’m doing because I think I’m a character. Like method acting. People get so deep into method acting, Denzel Washington is doing a role and asks people to call him that name for the month he’s doing that role. Do you ever find yourself going like I don’t know if this is me or if this is me doing what I think I should do?
TK: Sometimes I’m not sure who I am anymore. Because we live in Vegas now and all day, it’s kind of like I’m living the life of the real character. Think about Alan in the hangover. What does he want to do? He wants to go to Vegas, he wants to party, he wants to drink, he wants to get obliterated, and that’s what I do. And sadly it’s a struggle I have because sadly, what I do, to be successful, I have to make it a shit show. I can’t go out there, I’ve done it, I’ve gone out there sober, and it’s not good for my health, it’s not good for my wellbeing to be like that, but I can tell you to be successful at what I’m doing, you can’t go out there sober and be all stiff, you need to go out there and make it a shit show. It has to be total chaos. And Alan from The Hangover, he wouldn’t slap any girl’s ass, he wouldn’t fight somebody or beat somebody’s ass, but that’s the reality of it. Women will come over, they’ll put their hands in your pants, they’ll throw something in your pocket, they’ll grab your nuts, they’ll grab your dick. Girls will just lift their shirts up and show their tits. One day a girl comes up and takes a picture with her family I guess it was some of her sisters or cousins and my partner said something about her tits and she’s like oh yeah, oh yeah, she’s breastfeeding. She just starts spraying us with with breastmilk. I swear to god, that was a good one.
BB: How do you recover after that one? How do you finish the day?
TK: Just keep drinking, keep partying. You laugh, how can you not laugh at it.
BB: You laugh at it but I’d be like I’m done for the day. Do you feel the pressure to kind of keep doing that part of it, the partying and the drinking?
TK: Like I said to make it work, you can’t be uptight.
The Origin And The Future
BB: How did your family take it? I’m sure they were fine with you giving it a try but when it became I’m gonna stay out here and make a career out of it?
TK: I should probably tell you how it all started before, I guess I kind of skipped over that. It started out I was a restaurant manager, a food & beverage manager, in the hotel industry for high end places like the Sheraton Regency. I managed a nightclub in Baltimore in the inner harbor. I’ve managed a Hooters. I’ve had a pretty fun time even back then when I was doing a legit work.
So thing weren’t great. I had a failed marriage. I married a girl that was way younger than me. I had a failed marriage and was just going through hard times. I guess where the whole thing originated, where life went a different way, started when I was out drinking one night in Pennsylvania and I ended up hanging out with Ryan Dunn. He comes into the bar, and I had actually hung out with him before that night and had some pretty good conversations with him, and he comes into the bar and actually recognized me. I obviously recognized him, we kind of caught up, and just started drinking and partying.
BB: He recognized you from talking to him before?
TK: Yeah we’d had conversations before that night. I’m not saying I was his boy or anything but we recognized each other. He was a really good guy. Incredibly down to earth. He’s the kind of guy, celebrity, that you can just talk to him like a regular guy. And that’s what we did for most of that night.
It just happened to be the night that he died. He left before me, got into his car, and he died. After that I was just like… I can’t explain it. Just to hang out with anybody, a friend or anybody, and wake up the next day to find out they died. I shook me up a little bit. I went through some things and I was going through hard times already and it was just kind of weird. I started kind of growing a beard, just out of laziness and not caring, and I went into a Walmart and bought a pair of sunglasses.
I didn’t even think anything of it but then people started telling me “you look like Zach Galifianakis, can I get a picture with you?” and girls were coming up to me and then it was like wildfire and people would be like I want one too. And I was just having a good time with the drinking and laughing and people started telling me there’s people that make money doing this, there’s people that make a living and you should go to Vegas. And I had never been to Vegas so I was like “ok, let me get some of the stuff from the movie, some of the clothes, I’ll try Atlantic city because that’s closer.”
So I went out with my friend, he went to Harrahs, they have the night club by the pool. I walk into Harrahs and I immediately am in a casino and I had girls, women coming up to me, grabbing me, kissing me, making out with me, and I was like “fuck, this is insane.” We brought all these girls back to the room. It was crazy.
So the next day I planned a trip to Vegas, just kind of a vacation to get away, but I brought all the stuff. As soon as I walked out of the hotel BAM! BAM! BAM! just people chasing me down for pictures and crowds and people were lining up. Insanity.
It was time for me to go home after the long weekend. I’m sitting in the airport and the plane was overbooked. They made an announcement that if anybody wanted to forfeit their seat, they’d get money back or a seat on a later flight.
Things happen for a reason, I guess.
BB: Now you’ve actually met Zach. How does he feel about all this?
TK: When we first met, on the set of the last Hangover movie, he seemed kind of cold in the beginning. He’s actually done interviews where he’s discussed me and said he’s kind of weirded out by the whole idea.
He’s very low key and he’s not like the typical Hollywood star with their face in the camera all the time, he’s really reserved he’s always doing things where he’s not. The only time he really does interviews and appearances is when he’s promoting a film and he’s required to do press. And even then you can tell he’s kind of uncomfortable.
When I met him, he was just speechless. He was just looking at me shaking his head. On the set he was cold but also these guys, there’s a lot on the line, they have to focus, he didn’t want to throw himself off. After filming he came up to me and we were talking and I kind of told him the whole story and he just laughed about it. He made me promise that whenever I do anything crazy, especially with these random women, that they understand I’m not the real Zach Galifianakis.
BB: So what’s the future? What’s next?
TK: Keep doing it but I’m going all out man. Maybe get a GoPro. That’s fine. But I’ve been there. When I first started I used to party too much, I’d throw up on the sidewalk in front of people as Alan. They loved that, man. I used to go out and get on the ground, puking on the ground down on my hands and knees. People are just laughing. My partner used to pull his wiener out if he had to piss. I’ll do it too if I get really wrecked and nobody cares. The tourists love it. Supposedly there’s a picture of my partner where he used to pull his wiener out. Supposedly there’s a picture of my partner hanging up in the Caesars’s break room of the whole incident. Someone told me “You know your partner? There’s a photo of him in Ceasars’s and he’s got his dick out.”