By Haley Frederick
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor
Zach Funk is not a stage name. Funk is the real name of a real Pittsburgh comedian who is recording his first comedy album live at Mr. Smalls on April 12. But before that, he’s meeting me for lunch at Alquisiras Paleteria in Beechview.
But Funk is used to people thinking that he’s using a fake name. He even joked about it in his first ever comedy set back in the summer of 2011.
“Yes, my name is Zach Funk—that is my real name. My dad was Richard Funk—so yes my dad was Dick Funk,” he says, recalling the original punchline.
A version of that joke has morphed into something almost entirely different over the past 8 years, and it will make it onto his comedy album, “Brains are Weird.”
We decided on Alquisiras Paleteria, the bright pink building on Broadway Ave, because Funk and the Current both reside right down the road in Beechview. But Alquisiras isn’t just a paleteria—a shop that makes and sells fresh Mexican ice pops called paletas—they also have a sizable menu of Mexican dishes.
I order two sopes—one chorizo, one chicken. And some horchata to wash it down. Funk gets a chicken quesadilla.
“I picked the title ‘Brains are Weird’ because I talk about mental health in my act—I’m very much the therapist friend for people.”
Mental health is important to Funk. He has had his own experiences with depression, or in his words, “I got shitty brain chemicals and sometimes I hate myself.” And as the “therapist friend,” he’s talked a lot of people through tough times. Funk believes that talking about these kinds of issues, even in a comedy set, can help people who are struggling.
“I try to be very open both on and offstage because I think there’s so much stigma around stuff,” Funk says. “Remember it’s OK to not be OK and you don’t have to make sense all the time.”
It’s easy to tell that Funk is a genuine guy. Sure, he can get existential when talking about the randomness of the universe, but he isn’t a downer. He approaches everything with a sense of wonder. Like a true and unapologetic nerd, he references scientific theories like the law of the conservation of energy or the comic book hero he has tattooed on his arm. But he isn’t doing it to make you feel stupid or to prove his nerd-cred—he just genuinely loves the stuff.
“I’m one of those people where I don’t want to fake enthusiasm,” Funk says. “If I care about something, I care about it very deeply, and if I don’t, I just don’t.”
In the set he’s put together for his album recording, he’s going to touch on a lot of the things he cares about.
“I like to say it’s Zach Funk show, if you don’t laugh you’ll at least learn things,” he jokes.
But if the few bits he tells me over our dinner at Alquisiras are any indication, I think you will laugh. Funk has a way of taking a typically unfunny situation and reframing it as something silly, but it’s a kind of silliness that gets at the truth.
After we’re done eating our food, which is classic and good Mexican fare, we’re not really hungry for paletas. But I, being a staunch, dedicated food professional, suck it up and eat a popsicle anyways.
There are so many flavors—coffee, pistachio, watermelon, rootbeer, strawberry, peanut butter, cotton candy and more. I get strawberry, and it’s superior to american popsicles in every way. It’s creamy, full of fresh fruit and it holds up to biting way better than that sad sugar-water on a stick that the typical ice cream truck carries. If you find yourself in Beechview in the soon-to-come warm weather, get a paleta at Alquisiras.
And if you find yourself with free time next Friday night, go see Funk record his album, “Brains are Weird,” at Mr. Smalls in Millvale. Local comedians and “This Tastes Funny” alum, Krish Mohan and Helen Wildy will be opening up for Funk at the show.
Afterall, it’s a Zach Funk show. So even if you don’t laugh, you’ll learn something.