Point of View

Garry Shandling: With Zen and Comedy

Originally scheduled as a ‘Friday Fun’ post regarding Garry Shandling’s appearance on Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, this has changed to a ‘Point of View’ post where I say goodbye to one of my comedy heroes.

Garry Shandling died suddenly last Thursday March 24, at age 66, of an apparent massive heart attack.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re familiar with his stand up and with the shows he created and starred in, ‘It’s Garry Shandling’s Show’ (1986-1990) and ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ (1992-1998). A truly inventive and original voice in comedy, he created these groundbreaking shows of the 80s and the 90s that are still emulated today.

‘It’s Garry Shandling’s Show’ was the meta sit-com that had Shandling playing himself in front of a studio audience, that broke the fourth wall, with an incredible theme song* that included the lyrics “This is the theme to Garry’s Show, this is the theme to Garry’s Show. Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song…”

‘The Larry Sanders Show’ had Shandling playing a late night talk show host, in a style that switched between what appeared to be the talk show itself, and a documentary-like look behind the scenes in production and in Larry’s own life. Having already worked in the industry, I remember the pure shock I felt at ‘The Larry Sanders Show’. This is what set was actually like, this was what production looked like, how people in the business talked; no PR coaching here. This was before mockumentary and reality TV were the norm; it was as if he drew back the curtain and revealed what was typically hidden, and I couldn’t believe it. And something else; it was hilarious. And its direct and indirect influence can be felt in shows like ‘The Office‘, ‘Parks and Recreation‘ and ‘Modern Family‘.

His comedy will always be moving and funny and watchable because it was grounded in something profound and real; he said himself that ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ might have been about show business on the surface, but deep down it was about what we all share, the human need and search for love and connection. Think of the sidekick character Hank Kingsley – as played by Jeffrey Tambor, he embodied the need for love.

On Sunday, some of Shandling’s friends gathered at his home to play a last basketball pickup game in his honor. But he is also honored by his recent ‘CCC’ appearance with Seinfeld; they talk like the two old friends they are, about their early days, their successes, and mortality. It is, in its way, a beautiful eulogy.

Raised Jewish, Shandling had been a practicing Buddhist for decades. If there’s a joke here, it was expressed in every script he wrote.

When Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh was invited to speak at the Library of Congress in 2003, he asked Shandling to accompany him.

He did, with zen and comedy.

“You’re probably wondering why I’m here,” he said to an audience of dignitaries and religious leaders.

“First of all, humor is a wonderful way to deal with our suffering, because if we can laugh at our troubles, we can feel better. Thich Nhat Hanh is a special man who has helped millions with their suffering with incredible technique. But he doesn’t know real suffering, because he has not dated as much as I have.”

And to quote the theme song of ’It’s Garry Shandling’s Show’ one last time, with love:
“…We’re almost to 
the part of where I start to whistle…
Then we’ll watch ‘It’s Garry Shandling’s Show’.

This was the theme to Garry Shandling’s Show.”

Watch his recent episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee: 
It’s Great That Garry Shandling’s Still Alive

*Theme song by Joey Carbone, Garry Shandling and Alan Zweibel

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  1. Sharon says:

    Good to read, Samantha. ☺️

    • Samantha Swan says: (Author)

      Thank you Sharon. Though probably it’ll be people familiar with his work who will read this, it’d be nice if it helps introduce his work to a new audience member or two as well…

  2. Tania says:

    Thanks so much… so loving… xxx

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