Bar talk: Happily-divorced relationship cartoonist tells all

In the middle of a phone interview, Nick Galifianakis suddenly tells a reporter to hold on, and he starts speaking in Greek— to his mom, who's visiting from Greece.

Family is ever-present with this guy. In North Carolina, the name Nick Galifianakis is well known as a former U.S. congressman. That would be our subject's namesake uncle. And throughout cinema-going America, the comedic talents of Zach Galifianakis also are well known. That would be Nick's cousin.

But for readers of the Washington Post, the go-to Galifianakis is Nick, the cartoonist for Carolyn Hax's relationship advice column, a collaboration that has gone beyond professional, as the two were married for eight years.

"She's frighteningly bright," says Galifianakis, still speaking highly of his ex-wife and current colleague. "I edit the column, not for spelling or grammar— heaven forbid— but for soundness of advice, male point of view, and to guard her unique voice. I know it very well."

When Hax's boss at the Post pitched the idea of her doing an advice column, Galifianakis, who'd previously worked at USA Today, was invited to pen something for the proposed column.

"Instead of drawing an icon, as was suggested," he says, "I created a fully realized cartoon that was connected to the column but also stood alone. We became a team."

Sixteen years later, he and Hax still collaborate on the column, which is now syndicated to a few hundred papers. And Galifianakis, 49, still lives in Falls Church, where he grew up.

Galifianakis attended the University of North Carolina, and didn't consider becoming a professional artist until after college. "I never remember ever not drawing on driveways, walls..."

Since the cartoons that illustrate the columns stand for themselves, he published If You Loved Me You Would Think This is Cute: Uncomfortably True Cartoons About You two years ago, with cousin Zach supplying the forward. ("We're very close," says Nick. "I'm very proud of Zachy.")

So what's the best way to sabotage a relationship? Galifianakis groans, but then starts counting the ways.

"Lying to yourself is a sure way," he says. "No one can lie to you like you lie to yourself about why you're with the third jerk in a row.

"Being a complete and total slave to your insecurities... instead of trying to find a healthy way to manage them.

"Having a need to blame others and indulging in victimhood is a sure way to ruin relationships... and your life.

"People put milestones, like reaching 'marriage age' or institutions like marriage and having children, ahead of the actual person they're doing these with.

And he offers positive advice that he seems to have practiced since he and Hax have gotten along— even during the separation and divorce.

"Treat others," he says, "the way you want to be treated. The only difference among people is how we respond to what life throws at us, good and bad."

And the list goes on and on, with Galifianakis deftly capturing those moments of relationship insight in single panels.

Galifianakis has spoken at other book festivals, but this marks the first time he'll deliver his remarks in a bar. "Hopefully," he says, "I won't be getting drunken hecklers."

But if he does, we're pretty sure Galifianakis will come up with the right response.
"Relationship cartooning with Nick Galifianakis," 6pm Wednesday, March 21, McGrady's Irish Pub.

Read more on: nick galifianakis