It’s a rare thing indeed when you can point to one person and identify them as the epicentre of a cultural quake, but Garry Shandling, who sadly passed away last night at the age of 66 of apparently natural causes, was exactly that.
After moving to L.A. in the late 70s, Chicago-born Shandling worked as a successful stand-up, writer, and a frequent guest host on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, but it was with the two TV shows he created that he left his mark on the world. Combining a vicious skewering of celebrity ego culture with a feverish innovation of the sitcom form on the groundbreaking The Larry Sanders Show, and popularising a meta, postmodern, and self-reflexive style on his earlier work on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Shandling laid the foundations for much of the TV that would follow, even to this day. Tina Fey, Judd Apatow, Dan Harmon, Ricky Gervais, Larry David — Shandling’s self-aware stories about often unpleasant people helped create an environment and a zeitgeist where talents like those could flourish.
It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was ahead of its time and pioneering in content, but it was with Larry Sanders that Shandling created his masterpiece. Playing a vain and insecure late night talk show host, Shandling drew on his experiences with the Tonight Show to create not only one of the cleverest and most important shows of the 90s, but also just plainly one of the funniest. Witness this divine little moment, which encapsulates so much of what was great about Larry Sanders (including its fantastic split use of film and handheld for the behind-the-scene footage):
Co-stars Jeffrey Tambor, as the bumbling and desperate sidekick Hank (‘Hey now!’), and Rip Torn, as the quintessential showbiz fixer and producer Artie, put in some of the best performances of their respective careers over the course of the show, and the likes of Janeane Garofalo, Wallace Langham, Penny Johnson, Jeremy Piven, and Bob Odenkirk also did stellar work. Pivoting the show around real-life celebrity appearances, who would come on and play heightened reality versions of themselves, was a stroke of genius (and one that Gervais’ Extras, amongst others, would utilise), showcasing as it did the show’s ‘nothing’s sacred’ attitude towards Hollywood royalty.
Deftly written, masterfully performed, and visionary in its innovation, The Larry Sanders Show is six seasons of near perfection, and it stands, alongside It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, as a wonderful testament to an extraordinary talent that will be much missed in the world.
Do yourself a favour: clear your schedule, pour out a good drink, and binge yourself silly on these two shows. You will laugh yourself hoarse, and you will see their mark everywhere.
RIP the great Garry Shandling. Surely, one of the most influential comedians of a generation.— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) March 24, 2016
Petr Knava plays music