I’ve never really understood the grief some people feel at the death of a public figure, usually a celebrity of some description. Sure, one can feel surprise or shock at the sudden death of a notable person or some sympathy for the departed’s family and friends, but those who take to the internet to metaphorically tear out their hair and rend their clothes? You may have thought you knew the person through their public persona or works but you most certainly did not. That is why I’m somewhat taken aback by my own dismay at the unexpected death of the American comedian, Garry Shandling, who passed away yesterday, aged sixty-six, in his hometown of Los Angeles. You will see all sorts of superlatives to his career and influence in the press over the coming days, not to mention the obligatory “celebrity tweets”(as if such things mattered a fucking whit). However for once the praise is wholly justified. Through his writing, acting and producing the Chicago-born standup turned American television on its head, beginning with the surreal, fourth-wall breaking “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” where from 1986 to 1990 he played a caricature of himself as a self-aware TV sitcom character. This was followed by the even more successful “The Larry Sanders Show”, a behind-the-scenes view of a fictional chat show broadcast on HBO between 1992 and 1998, and the spawner of a hundred television and cinematic imitators.
For me the latter series has a special significance. I first saw it on late-night television reruns many years ago when I was working a particularly exhausting shift pattern that finished every week just before 11pm on a Friday. I would trek home, utterly shattered, grab some food and flop down in front of the TV to loose myself for half-an-hour with the wry travails of Larry, Hank and Artie, before passing out. Around the same time my then girlfriend screwed me over in spectacular fashion, so the acerbic and cynical comedy, with odd snatches of sentimentality, was a welcome escape that in retrospect meant more to me than I realised. Even now when I see it I’m back there in that place, though not necessarily in a bad way. In fact, I find it weirdly comforting to watch, which, if you know the Larry Sanders Show, is probably rather odd. But that’s me.
So, anyway, here is my little tribute to the late Garry Shandling and the show that illustrated his genius.