HBO is running a two-part documentary by Judd Apatow on the writer/comedian Garry Shandling. It is titled The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling. I watched it over the weekend and was fascinated. I greatly prize the ability to make people laugh out loud. Shandling seems to have had the gift from an early age and, as it frequently does, it seems to have come from a very dark place. In Shandling’s case it was the death of his beloved older brother Barry of cystic fibrosis at the age of 13 in 1960.
Apatow is himself a next generation writer/director who was mentored by Shandling. In the course of the documentary Apatow calls on several younger comedians with whom Shandling had a similar relationship. The documentary reflects Apatow’s desire to understand Shandling, to pay tribute to him, and to express his gratitude. It is full of human interest.
It is also entertaining. Toward the end it arrives at Shandling’s six seasons on HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show. The show is a behind the scenes send-up of the Tonight Show that Shandling used to explore his own issues in show business. Apatow worked as a writer on the series during its second season and even directed an episode or two.
The documentary sent me back to the series. Season 1, episode 1 aired in August 1992, during Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, yet Larry Sanders’s opening monologue has an incredibly contemporary feel. “The only reason I’m not running for president this year is that I’m afraid no woman would come forward to say she’s had sex with me,” Sanders says. “I feel I would be doing one of those CNN interviews, looking into the camera saying, come on Susie, you know you did it with me. Say something.”