A few more Garry Shandling related links.
One might forget how great the writing on The Larry Sanders Show was. So great. So hilarious. Thanks to Tom Till for the link.
Conan O’Brien’s remembrance of Shandling was rather touching.
The Larry Sanders Show — which holds the personal distinction of being the series that made me order cable for the first time — felt in some ways like an inversion of his Showtime classic, or maybe a Cubist splintering of it. Shandling played the title character, a Johnny Carson–like talk-show legend who was perpetually terrified that he wasn’t getting the best guests, that his “best friends” in showbiz didn’t even like him and only hung around him because he was a star, and that his co-workers only put up with his crap because he was paying them. On some level, all of these fears proved accurate, and on another they weren’t true at all. All the other recurring characters and guest stars on the show were just as screwed up as Larry — they just didn’t usually have his wealth and power, so they had to suffer indignities without recourse. The “backstage” scenes were shot on film, in the graceful yet spontaneous manner of a low-budget indie comedy, while the talk-show segments were represented by cutting between brighter, grainier videotape (representing what the camera sees, and what the audience at home experiences) and filmed images of his staff and crew and backstage acquaintances reacting to his performance. That these textural (and textual) distinctions immediately started to seem arbitrary was part of the show’s point, and part of its philosophical richness. Life was all one big show here, and nobody had the script.
Few lead characters in TV comedies were as pathetic and needy and sleazy and manipulative as Larry. He took his wife for granted until she finally divorced him. He hit on every halfway-attractive woman who crossed his path (and a few of them went home with him, not because they really liked him, but because he was Larry). He’d bring dates home with him from dinner and then make them watch the broadcast of that day’s show with him, solicit compliments on his excellent work, and feel genuinely hurt when he had to coax the praise out of them. Larry was a great performer, and it’s a testament to Shandling’s physical and verbal skill as a performer that you could watch Larry interact spontaneously with guests in barely scripted “segments” and think, Carson could not have done that any better. But he was a terrible boss, petty and entitled, casually sexist and racist and homophobic, though often not as crude about it as some other people in Hollywood, which allowed him to congratulate himself on being oh-so-very liberal. (Except for Albert Brooks, few filmmakers skewered this aspect of showbiz delusion with such precision.) We should have hated him, but we couldn’t because, like The Office’s David Brent and his counterpart on the American Office, Michael Scott, we saw how lonely he was, how miserable he was in his own skin, and thought: That poor bastard. I’m glad I’m not him.
But you were, though. Shandling knew it, and you knew it. And that’s what gave The Larry Sanders Show and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show their slow-motion, train-wreck fascination.
What a huge loss. At least Shandling is being properly remembered at the genius and good person that he was.