To Garry Shandling: From the biggest fan he never knew

Garry Shandling is dead.

If you are in your mid-twenties like I am, there’s a good chance you don’t know who Garry Shandling is. And that’s okay. This article isn’t about his life or trying to get you to care about him.

What we’re here to talk about is the role he was best known for — as the main character of The Larry Sanders Show (which aired between 1992-1998) on HBO — and the place in life I found myself when I saw the show for the first time.

Back then, everything felt like the end of the world. One night I came in from getting super baked, and my dad happened to be watching TLSS. It wasn’t my normal procedure to volunteer my time to my dad to watch TV with him, but this was before he was unbearable to be around. If I was in the right mood — or if I was high enough, I guess — everything was tolerable. Even him. Even with all the passive-aggressive shit between he and my mom that was constantly left on the back-burner.

So I laid down in the couch across from him, and we watched The Larry Sanders Show. Almost immediately, I understood it was for me. It had to be. A bunch of conflicted characters, a dark, dry, witty dialogue. And everyone was dressed like it was the middle of the fucking 90’s (because it was). Here I was watching a 20 year-old show to help me better understand the shit I was dealing with in the present.

I was 21 then, unemployed and going to dealer school, living with my parents again. Over the horizon I could picture some positives, but I was still hung up over my ex and wasn’t getting any immediate satisfaction anywhere.

The Larry Sanders Show is where it all finally clicked. I began asking myself how I could possibly be so selfish. For a time I felt like the unhappiest guy in the world, using all sorts of drugs to cope with the simple reality I had yet to find: That everyone hurts. Everyone is dealing with something.

Yes, it took a show on HBO to teach me that. It was Garry Shandling’s show. He did that. For all the times it made me burst into uncontrollable laughter, TLSS had equal cringe-worthy reality checks. Sometimes it was about love, other times drugs, but it got me. The show knew how to communicate with me.

It was the last real project my dad and I ever shared. Almost nightly, when he wasn’t working, we would hammer out five or six episodes. That was like our thing for a while.

I didn’t know about Garry Shandling until about five years ago, from all the nights of hanging out with my dad in the living room at my parents’ house. I wish I could go back, just for a little bit, just to see what kind of minor bullshit I had on my plate that was making me so sad. It wasn’t a show that single-handedly brought me back to earth, but the experience of seeing something that seemed so old at the time, and how it was so accurate… it was real. The show was fiction, but the lessons couldn’t have been more true.

For someone like me, who doesn’t look for the attention from positing “RIP” on social media, this post is outside my usual lane. I don’t idolize anyone and I’m not living and breathing to be anybody’s fucking fan.

But Shandling is worth it. And if I can persuade even one person who reads this to watch The Larry Sanders Show, then that is worth it, too.

And who knows, maybe you’ll learn something about yourself.


36 thoughts on “To Garry Shandling: From the biggest fan he never knew

  1. That’s a really pretty and endearing tale, thank you for sharing — I didn’t know him so well but he always brought a smile to my face. And nice you’ve found a way to express how the show communicated itself to you. Would seem a stretch from the outset to call this stuff art but bam, there you go: what else could it be? Cheers to you and yours.

    1. The best movies or tv shows are the ones that seem to communicate itself to us. For example, I see so many similarities between me and Harry Potter in the fifth movie that it’s almost as if it was made for me alone.

      1. That Harry Potter is some real truth. Good to surround ourselves and bask in that, make more of it for others. Cheers, Bill

    1. Nice. Funny how your problems that you put down here are pretty similar to the problems I had when I was 21. I don’t know who this Sanders guy is, but I think your onto something about everyone going through similar issues. Its just we don’t see other peoples problems. Like I couldn’t appear in your house and see the kind of shit that your going through with family or whatever else.

      Maybe the smart people aren’t the ones who don’t have problems. Maybe the smart people are the ones who know that other people aren’t so different.

      1. Well said. It certainly took me a long time to stop drowning in self-pity and see that other people often aren’t any happier than I am. Thank God my eyes are finally open.

  2. When The Larry Sanders Show originally aired in the 90s I only caught a few episodes here and there. But I always loved Gary Shandling’s brand of humor since his other show, It’s The Gary Shandling Show. He didn’t have to act like a clown to make people laugh. Now I’ll have to go back and catch up on TLSS.

    1. I loved his brand of humor as well.

      For Christmas this last year I got the complete set of The Larry Sanders Show from my older brother. Not sure how much it was — it couldn’t be too expensive — but it’ll be nice to cozy up and run through the whole series again.

  3. The ‘like’ isn’t for Gary Shandling, I’ve never had the chance to watch his show. It’s for you and for your dad and your last project together. If you got something out of watching a ‘bunch of conflicted characters’ give out ‘ dark, dry, witty dialogue’ I have to wonder what your dad might have got out of it.
    I don’t know you or your dad or your situation, but I can’t help thinking of things I might have said to my dad, conversations I wish we’d had. Perhaps you’re having your conversation with him on this post.

  4. You’ve definitely converted me to try and get into Gary Shandling and his work, the raw and emotional reactions I have seen all over the Internet in regards to his passing is touching, yet thought-provoking. It makes me want to see ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ and see for myself how incredible he was. It’s sad that we nearly always recognize the brilliance of icons once they’re no longer here. Great post!

  5. I loved Gary Shandling in all his guises — the Gary Shandling Show theme song has been earwormed in my head for two days now. I’ve read a bunch of Shandling tributes in the last couple days; I watched Conan’s heartfelt 7-minute monologue on Thursday night. But, I think your tribute was the rawest and the best. I also think Gary Shandling would have been made very uncomfortable by it. He would have shrugged and laughed nervously and stuck his hands in his pockets and walked away. But, deep down he would have liked it.

  6. Gary Handling was one of the comedians of my youth – I think the first US comedian who broke the mould for me back in the UK. This is a great piece.

  7. It was a great show, although I’m surprised to hear a sad millenial nancy-boy likes it. It was quite non-pc and full of microagressions.

  8. Hey, great piece. I’m one of those old dudes who watched Shandling’s show the first time around. It’s easily one the best shows ever; I hesitate to call it a ‘sitcom’ because it was so much more. I even remember the show he had before Larry Sanders, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”, a clever deconstruction of sitcom tropes.
    Shandling was a great stand up as well, and for a while him and Jay Leno were the permanent guest hosts of the Tonight Show when Carson was away.
    It’s pretty cool how the most unexpected things can create a bond between people. I’m glad you and your dad had this.

  9. Hi,
    Life can be hard for sure.
    But you can know genuine joy by receiving life in Christ.
    I’m not pushing religion, or behavior modification.
    Just believe on Christ, and He will give you life.

  10. Yeah I enjoyed the show too. For some of us its watching a show, a song, or some hobby that we connect with and becomes that brighter side of life that is always there but we forget. I did enjoy this post so thanks.

  11. I really liked the Larry Sanders Show. I even watched the Gary Shandling Show as a kid. I liked him since I saw him do stand-up quite a few years prior. At that time, I was about 10 years old and his humor was clean enough for me to watch. That was a breath of fresh air because I have always liked comedy shows and movies but was prohibited from watching these types of humor as they were considered too dirty for me to watch. Gary Shandling goes way back with me and he will be missed. Thanks for your awesome testimony, it takes some courage to talk about these things and I admire you for this. Best wishes!


  12. I never got around to watching the Larry Sanders show, but I did not watch the Gary Shandling Show it was on when I was in my teens and early 20 s i guess I don’t even remember it, only remember that I did not miss it Sad he died young. I totally get relating to shows to get your own emotions in check!

  13. I like your post. Even though you and I have a totally different background, I do know what it’s like to think you’re the unhappiest person in the world. I have always been “different” and I hated myself because of that. I thought everyone else had a perfect life. Later I found out I had Asperger’s Syndrome, that I wasn’t the only one who suffered from that, and that I most certainly wasn’t the worst case. Slowly but surely my eyes began to open and I finally learned to see that there’s no such thing as a perfect life. Like you said, everyone hurts.

  14. So many people are inclined to dismiss TV shows as insignificant and ultimately shallow forms of entertainment. The same way that the novel was thought of when first invented, or the play, or any other sort of art form. I don’t know why it is humanities inclination to dismiss new forms of art as shallow, but I think we’re finally reaching a point where the falsehood of TV not being an art form is starting to ring false to more and more people. As we keep creating relatable and valuable television shows, as more children find their solace and guidance in the characters on the small screen this will change forever. There will come a day when movies and TV will hold the same place a literature in our culture’s sense of value and respect. I never watched that show but I’ve had countless others that have influenced me. Next time I’m searching for something to watch I’ll check it out, though it might not be what I need or too far in the past for me.

  15. I was a sometimes watcher, also in my 20’s/ My bf liked it, probably for reasons similar to what you describe. Makes me feel sad that he’s gone as I’ve been feeling kind of nostalgic about my own life in the early 90’s recently. Good tribute.

  16. This was and still is one of my top ten shows. I loved every episode I saw. When I was a young man, Gary had a self-named show that was also hilarious. Especially the opening credit song (check it out).

    I bring up this show every now and again and was actually thinking about it last Thursday randomly enough. If I see a third reference in the next week, perhaps I should buy the box set…

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