HBO’S Garry Shandling Documentary
Judd Apatow’s HBO documentary aims to capture Garry handling’s lifetime of in uence as a comedian, yes, but also as a human being. At more than four hours, it feels too short
try to imagine television without The Office, Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm,
30 Rock or Parks and Recreation. If you can’t, blame Garry Shandling and the comedian’s groundbreaking meta-sitcom, The Larry Sanders Show. Set behind the scenes of a fictional late-night talk show and boasting a stellar cast—including Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, Rip Torn, Janeane Garofalo and, in a breakthrough role, Sarah Silverman—the show ran for six seasons on HBO, from 1992 to 1998, and fundamentally altered the way TV comedy works. Fly-on-the-wall camera work, acerbic but heartfelt writing and borderline-unlikable characters are de rigueur today, but they were novel when Shandling built Sanders.
If that show was all he ever did, his place in the cultural pantheon would be secure. But that achievement came two years after the even more genre-bending It’s Garry Shandling’s
Show, which aired on Showtime for four seasons. What looked, at first glance, like a traditional mid-’80s sitcom leaned hard into pioneering self-awareness, including the now-familiar tropes of showing the studio audience and directly addressing viewers. And then there’s that winking theme song: “This is the theme to Garry’s show/the theme to Garry’s show/garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song.”
Incredibly, the show found a huge audience, powered in part by Shandling’s status as a stand-up comic whose nasal delivery, blown-out bouffant and sardonic observations (routinely centered on his sexual prowess, or lack thereof) earned him frequent appearances on Johnny Carson’s
Tonight Show and a spot as one of its regular guest hosts. It also turned him into a role model for multiple generations of comedians. “He’s like the Replacements,” says Judd Apatow. “A rock band that inspired a lot of people to start their own bands.”
Apatow included. For 25 years, the comedy guru counted Shandling— who died of a heart attack in 2016 at age 66—as a close friend and mentor. Apatow’s first contact was as a high school student, interviewing Shandling for his school’s radio station. Years later, when Apatow was doing stand-up in Los Angeles, Shandling asked him to write jokes ahead of hosting the 1991 Grammys. In 1998, Shandling gave Apatow his first job behind the camera, on Larry Sanders, which led to a career directing talent-launching comedies like TV’S Freaks and Geeks and the films The
40-Year-old Virgin and Trainwreck.