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Garry Shandling



The influential comic and star of one of the greatest shows in television history died today at age 66. R.I.P.

Shandling was offered and turned down a couple of offers to do his own late night show — including one to replace Letterman — and he was right. (The monologues that appeared on the show were 1)typical of the genre, and 2)almost always the least funny part.) Larry Sanders was a great show that remained consistently excellent to the end. Shandling’s title character was the neurotic straight man playing off two of the greatest comic creations the medium has ever seen — Jeffrey Tambor’s Hank Kingsley and Rip Torn’s Artie — along with crucial contributions from actors like Janeane Garofalo, Scott Thompson, Bob Odenkirk and and Wallace Langham. It was not only extremely funny, it was frequently wise about people who knew what the business they’ve chosen was doing to them and couldn’t resist. (“Fame as addiction” as Rick Perlstein put it on Facebook.) Coming just before HBO’s Golden Age — it apparently was a major influence on David Chase — it can’t be streamed legally right now, but you can get the whole series on DVD for 20 bucks.

I can’t figure out how to emded it, but this late dialogue with Jerry Seinfeld is very good, and poignant.

…excellent tribute from Pareene.

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  • howard

    i’m not a good enough writer to describe how brilliant larry sanders was.

    • Barry Freed

      Same here. RIP. And I never really realized how much his work just made up so much of the background (?) of a large part of my life until now that he’s gone.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    this is kind of a blow. you could always count on Shandling to just have that extra bit more

  • Hogan

    “That’s what America’s all about. … It’s what makes us a great company!”

    “Country, Stevie.”

    “What did I say?”

  • There’s no way to embed that. And do not forget It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.

    • Nobdy

      Greatest tv theme ever.


      I wonder what it was like to deal with famous people dying before TV. Now you can just type his name into a computer and call up a video. He looks so alive and vibrant on the screen, you feel like “he can’t be dead. This witty clever guy can’t just die…”

      And then of course you realize that all the witty vibrant people you know will die some day and so will you. And it sucks.

      I wonder if it was easier when you just read in the paper or heard at church that Thomas Jefferson was dead, and then you went back to homesteading or chimney sweeping having never seen the man except for a drawing or a glimpse from a crowd.

      Sorry for being morose but Garry Shandling dying just sucks. It sucks. He was incredibly funny and creative and boom his heart gave out and he’s dead.

        • Tyto

          Thanks–I hadn’t seen that episode: now my office neighbor is asking what I was laughing at…

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        I think celebrity culture is such a relatively recent thing that you can’t make that kind of comparison very well. People came from miles away to watch Lincoln’s funeral train go by, but artists weren’t on that kind of level then

        • keta

          Oh, celebrity culture has long been with us.

          Technology and making a “star” out of every asshat that appears on tevee is what’s most different, as you note.

          Hell, the putative nominee for the Republicans has flipped celebrity adoration from credulous goobers into a disturbing art form.

  • A genius who enabled the people around him to shine.

  • Wondering if this is the pilot (or just inspiration) for “Larry Sanders”.

    • Avattoir

      People who haven’t seen this should see this.

      People who have will again.

      I’m not into celebrity worship, but this is like losing someone really important to my life, and I’m sure many here.

      Before Bill Maher’s current show, on his old Politically Incorrect, the absolute quickest wit who was ever on that show was Shandling. There’s one clip of it up on YouTube showing him across the coffee table from Kato Kaelin where Shandling turns to him and insists he responds to this:
      “Knock knock”

      “No, no – do this: knock knock”
      “Who’s there?”
      “Oh, you know.”

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    “It was a back tooth, Hank.” RIP.

  • shewasthenaz

    I didn’t even know that I knew who he was, but today, with the news of his death, I find that I have the theme song to “It’s the Gary Shandling Show” memorized.

    The show aired before I was born and I have no recollection of ever seeing it. It seems unilkely that my parents ever watched it. But… “Gary called me up and asked if I would write his theme song / I’m almost halfway finished / How do you like it so far? / This is the theme to Gary Shandling’s show.”

    Sixty-six is way too young.

  • keta

    Wow, that’s a real kick to the crackers. He always hit my funny bone dead on, and the respect, admiration and love shown to Shandling from fellow performers tells you all you need to know about the man.

    I read this piece from 2010 on him just last week, and was planning on watching some Larry Sanders DVDs, again, on the strength of it.

    RIP, Gary Shandling.

  • Russell Arben Fox

    The Larry Sanders Show was funny, as was Garry Shandling’s stand-up itself, though I never found either quite as funny as apparently many other people did. But as has already been mentioned already, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was not only hilarious, it was transformative, a title throw around way too often but which perfectly fits that show which was so far beyond fourth-wall-breaking and meta that you almost couldn’t call it a tv show at all. Watching the reruns of it on Fox way back when are some of the greatest memories of my youth.

    • Murc

      Might depend on what age cohort you’re in.

      I never found The Larry Sanders Show to be as gut-bustingly hilarious as many others did, but I was in my early teens when it aired. I wasn’t what you’d call the target demo. When I watched it later I wasn’t all that impressed either.

      But I can respect the impact it had and chart the very clear influence it had on shows that I do consider to be milestones. 30 Rock has very clear roots in The Larry Sanders Show, for example.

      I have the same feelings about Letterman. I thought Letterman was definitely the best of the major network late-night hosts, but I never found him to be a particular late-night genius. But without David Letterman, Jon Stewart probably doesn’t happen.

      Going further back… these days, things like the Mary Tyler Moore Show and WKRP in Cincinnati don’t seem all that sharp or incisive to a modern audience. (With one or two exceptions, thought turkeys could fly, etc.) But at the time they were big deals and the legacy they established made other great shows possible.

      It’s possible to respect a shows influence and power without yourself thinking it was all that.

      • Jeff R.

        You can say the same things about “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners”. If you watch them now, they don’t seem all that groundbreaking. But then you have to realize that those shows invented all of the sit com tropes.

        • Lee Rudolph

          You can say the same things about “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners”. If you watch them now, they don’t seem all that groundbreaking.

          Hell, you can—and I often do—say the same things about Ulysses and The Wasteland and The Firebird. What was the big deal? Why were those people scandalized?

          • Vance Maverick

            Looking back, much of the most interesting art does seem to have been shocking at the time. That’s not to say that the qualities that are interesting now are the same ones that were shocking then — the Ulysses trial wasn’t about the audacity of creating a three-dimensional character out of a tissue of cliche and ill-remembered trivia. Of course, there’s no limit to the list of qualities that constitute the permanent value of the piece…but they do, slightly perplexingly to me, seem to go along with attention-grabbing foreground qualities that mattered at the time.

        • los

          I’ve seen some I love Lucy, and they weren’t bad. Also Lilly Tomlin.
          The little of honeymooners I’ve seen were mostly awful.

      • Tyto

        I think this is right on, though I guess I found both of Shandling’s shows funnier than you did (if not gut-busting).

        Also, too: Newhart, both the stand-up and the show are, I think, underappreciated for their influence.

  • paul1970

    I always thought the fact that I couldn’t tell where the monologues at the start of the show were supposed to be funny, and weren’t, or were supposed to be pastiches of the monologues at the start of similar shows IRL that are supposed to be funny, and aren’t, to be part of the programme’s genius.

    By contrast, I never laughed once at a Seinfeld stand-up routine, and after that, could never get into the rest of the programme. Like, this guy is supposed to be a professional comedian?

    • Kurzleg

      I would agree that Seinfeld’s stand-up isn’t particularly noteworthy. I think his TV show only really hit its stride once it defined the other characters more starkly and started focusing on them more than Seinfeld. The three co-stars were the ones with the comedic and especially acting chops. Jerry ended up being more of an MC in that show after awhile.

      ETA – Plus, the writers really started going for broke in the scenarios they concocted for the co-stars. I don’t know how much credit Seinfeld deserves for that development.

      • timb

        I’ll disagree with almost everything the two of you wrote (and condemn you for blasphemy later), but I will note that Larry and Jerry were in charge of every written word on that show if that helps you understand “how much credit” Jerry deserved for “that development.”

        Ps the monologues weren’t supposed to be gut-busting comedy, but a way to suggest themes and tie up loose ends. Stand-up comedy isn’t done in 20 second bursts FFS

        • dr. hilarius


        • Tyto

          I will agree that Seinfeld was deeply involved in the writing and deserves a lot of credit for it, but Larry David did a fair bit of the heavy lifting, as well, didn’t he?

          • Bill Murray

            which is probably why timb said “Larry and Jerry were in charge of every written word on tat show”

        • los

          I’ve seen the Seinfield standup at the end of episodes. I’ve always taken them as being intentionally poor comedy, implying that the series character was a failed comedian.

  • Kurzleg

    I’ve always found Garry Shandling pretty funny. The diaper joke on this Tonight Show clip – the way he takes it in a totally unexpected direction – may not be high-concept, but it’s what I’ve enjoyed about his work.

  • Tom Till

    “People think of Hank Kingsley as a, just a ‘meat-and-potatoes’ guy. You know? A guy you can invite over for dinner. ‘Hey Hank, what are you doing tonight? Do you want some dinner? Come on over! We’re having some meat and potatoes. What’s that? You can’t make it? You’re busy? What are you doing?’ WELL I’M JUST FUCKING TWO WOMEN!”

    “Sex is not a crime. It’s a loving act between two or more consenting adults.”

    For me, Hank’s sex tape scandal might be the single-best comedy show episode of all time. Hank tearfully praying to God for the tape not to go public by reciting the ethics and morals clause of his contract with the orange juice brand he just signed on to endorse is the coup de grâce. Amazing.

  • los

    Didn’t Fernwood Tonight, as a fake talk show, precede Larry Sanders Show?

    • eh

      It’s before my time, but was Fernwood more than a fake talk show? Did they do any bits about offstage?

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