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Shout-Outs to Garry Shandling

November 3, 2010

Today’s Shout-out is dedicated to Garry Shandling.

Shandling was actually off my humour radar when he was at his peak of media visibility. I confess that, going only from commercials, I thought “The Larry Sanders Show” was actually a real talk show.  It wasn’t until a few years ago, when a co-worker explained that it was a complex meta-comedy, that I went back and checked it out.

It was enlightening to watch “The Larry Sanders Show” after it aired.  I am a huge fan of shows like “30 Rock” and “Entourage,” which owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneering efforts of this show.  Long before shows like “Modern Family” were breaking the fourth wall in television, Shandling was testing the waters.

For the last decade or so, Shandling has been flying low under the radar.  But if indeed his career has peaked, don’t shed a tear for him, because he’s received a ton of recognition from the industry, racking up some impressive accolades.  By Wikipedia’s count:

“During his three-decade career, Shandling has been nominated for 19 Primetime Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, 11 CableACE Awards, a BAFTA Award, three American Comedy Awards, two Writers’ Guild of America Award nominations, and two Satellite Award nominations. In 2004, he was presented with the Austin Film Festival’s Outstanding Television Writer Award.”

Of course, he does stand-up too, and was so well-loved by Carson that he became a regular guest host on the Tonight Show, and was a serious contender to take over hosting duties when Carson retired.  (The crown eventually passed, of course, to Jay Leno).

Shandling is notoriously press-shy, but I did manage to find an excellent interview with Amy Wallace of GQ Magazine (please note that all quotes in this post are from her article unless otherwise indicated).  There are some great quotes in this extensive feature, such as this one about his unexpected hobby of boxing, which I think can easily be applied to stage presence in stand-up comedy:

“The art of boxing is seeing spaces and being able to take shots… The hitting and being hit have to become one. Your reactions have to be so in the moment. There’s no time to think.”

One thing I find really interesting about Shandling is the emphasis he places on truth in humour, sometimes even above the laugh itself.

Peter Tolan says,

“Garry is interested in people showing themselves truthfully, either by action or by what they say.”

It’s hard to tell when he’s serious or joking, like when he had a half-eaten cookie sent to Conan O’Brien on a shared flight.  This was after Conan had lost the Tonight Show, and the insulting gesture evolved into a shouting match that bewildered fellow passengers.  In this instance, Conan, a good friend of Shandling, was in on the joke. But who knows what’s real in this bizarre interview with Ricky Gervais that is hyper-awkward, and at times openly hostile.

No one knew what to make of this interview when it aired. Was it all an elaborate act, or did Gervais truly rub old Shandling the wrong way?  Read the rest of that GQ interview Interview to hear Garry’s perspective.

What is Garry doing these days? Most recently, he had a cameo role in “Iron Man 2” as a smarmy senator. Apparently, he is also quietly working on a self-described re-invention of stand-up that sounds like a cross between Lenny Bruce’s jazz-like riff sessions, and Richard Jenning’s self-analysis. To be honest, it doesn’t sound like he’s totally figured out the plan, judging from this rambling quote:

“You’re getting the whole spew out… I mean, it’s so honest that I just don’t know what to say. The truth is, once you open yourself up to this process of being in the moment, stuff starts to happen in the moment. You’re going to say, ‘Garry, all fascinating! But I’m lost.’ So I understand. But I’d rather give you this—because I’m impulsing off of you. “See the point?… You’ve already seen the act. It’s like this. With a few less lulls.”

The fact of the matter is, with a ground-breaking TV show to his credit and a startlingly innovative approach to comedy, it’s a safe bet that whatever Garry Shandling has planned, I’ll be paying attention.

Five Fun Facts:

1) When Shandling first started out, he tracked down George Carlin and asked the legendary comic for feedback on his jokes.  Apparently, it was Carlin’s positive feedback that convinced Shandling to abandon his career path of Electrical Engineer.
2) Every week Shandling invites humorists over to his place to shoot hoops, including the likes of Sarah Silverman, Kevin Nealon, Adam Sandler, Sacha Baron Cohen, and David Duchovny.
3) Shandling was born Jewish, but practices Buddhism. I suspect this change in perspective, which occurred in the early 80s, is related to a terrible car accident in 1977 which left him in critical condition for weeks.
4) The Larry Sanders Show cast is a goldmine for cameos.  Jeffery Tambor, perhaps most famous for his role as George Bluth on “Arrested Development,” plays his sidekick Hank “Hey Now” Kingsley.  Also, Jeremy Piven of “Entourage” (with much less hair), played one of the writers.
5) Garry is called out in the book “I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era” for being a scab during the legendary 70s comedy strike.

I recently finished reading a great book called “And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft,” and the interview with Judd Apatow (director of “The Hangover”), blew me away.

Mike Sacks asked if there were any particular scenes in the tragically cancelled “Freaks and Geeks” TV show that were lifted from Judd’s childhood.  Apatow referenced a scene from the episode “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers,” where Bill eats an after-school snack while watching Garry Shandling on TV.  So there you go. If you don’t believe me that Shandling deserves a shout-out, at least listen to Judd, you bum.

I will leave you with the clip in question, which is one of my favourite scenes ever put on television.

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