Garry Shandling dies













Comedian known for “It’s Garry Shandling Show”; “Larry Sanders” left legacy

The comedy world is mourning the sudden, shocking loss of Garry Shandling, a stand-up comic and sitcom writer who died Thursday at the age of 66. Paramedics were called to his Los Angeles home for “a medical emergency” and was sent to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Reports state Shandling died from a heartattack.

Shandling was born here in Chicago in 1949, but moved to Tucson, Arizona when he was two. Shandling moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970’s and after a short stint in advertising, landed gigs writing for sitcoms Sanford and Son and Welcome Back, Kotter. But it was his stand-up comedy that drew notice, with his first performance at The Comedy Store in 1978.  Shandling’s fortunes received a boost when he performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1981. The appearance led to Shandling filling in for Carson several times and to his own comedy special for premium network Showtime in 1984, at a time when less than half on the country had cable penetration.

In 1986, Shandling signed a deal with Showtime to star in a his own self-titled sitcom, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, a groundbreaking show where Shandling played himself and broke down “the fourth wall”, or addressing the audience directly, a concept only used up to that time in The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and since featured in Saved By The Bell, Malcolm In The Middle, and The Bernie Mac Show.

Shandling’s featured guest appearances from Florence Henderson, Bob Newhart, Gilda Radner, Red Buttons, Don Cornelius, Tom Petty (who became somewhat of a series regular), and Vanna White (who gave away his stuff on Wheel Of Fortune in the first episode), among others. While sitcom viewers are annoyed by studio audiences and laugh tracks these days, Shandling included his studio audience as part of the show, and interacted with them.

The studio audience was even a character in one episode (when Sheena Easton was a guest.)

And of course… that theme song. (“This is the theme to Garry’s show…”) It was song by musician Bill Lynch.

It’s Garry Shandling’s Show also became notable for becoming the first premium cable series to air on a broadcast network, airing on Fox between June 1988 and March 1990.

Garry Shandling at his home, 1986.
Garry Shandling at his home, 1986.

After Fox’s cancellation, Shandling’s run on Showtime wrapped up after 72 episodes, nominated for four Emmy Awards, winning four CableACE awards, and a TCA award for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy. He went on even more critical acclaim in The Larry Sanders Show, airing on HBO between 1992 and 1998. In this show, Shandling played a self-absorbed, neurotic talk show host – a character nearly similar to Shandling himself. Celebrities played ramped-up versions of themselves with memorable results (and there are too many of them to name here.) In coming up with the idea for Sanders, Shandling told Entertainment Weekly it came from a plot of his previous program when his character appeared on a LA morning talk show.

Sanders also gave a huge boost for veteran actors Jeffrey Tambor (who would later star in Arrested Development) who played his assistant Hank,  and Rip Torn who played Artie.

The program won three Primetime Emmy Awards and five CableACE Awards, and became the first cable TV series to be nominated for an Primetime Emmy Award. In all Larry Sanders won 24 awards. One notable member of Sanders’ writing stuff was Judd Apatow, who would go on to create Freaks & Geeks and write several influential movies.

Recently, ABC’s The Muppets used Larry Sanders late-night “show-within-a-show format” as a plot point for the series, with Miss Piggy hosting her own fictional late-night talk show. The concept received Shandling’s blessing.

In a case of life nearly imitating art, NBC nearly offered the Late Night gig to Shandling for $5 million after David Letterman left for CBS in 1993, but preferred to stay with his “fictional talk show” on HBO (the Late Night job went to Conan O’Brien.) Shandling was also a serious contender to take over The Tonight Show job when Carson retired, which eventually went to Jay Leno.

Shandling played Se. Stern in "Captain America: Winter Solider" in 2014.
Shandling played Se. Stern in “Captain America: Winter Solider” in 2014.

Shandling was in high demand as an emcee, hosting the Grammy Awards four times and the Emmys twice, most recently in 2004.

Shandling appeared in an memorable episode of The X-Files in the series’ seventh season where he played Fox Mulder in spoof “Hollywood A.D” with Tea Leoni as Dana Scully. Shandling also appeared in the movies Town & CountryIron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Zoolander. His last appearance came in Jerry Seinfeld’s web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Outside of television, Shandling co-owned a boxing gym in Santa Monica, Calif.

On a personal note, I would like to credit Garry Shandling for being a major influence on my writing. As a teenager, I discovered It’s Garry Shandling’s Show through Fox and was amazed on how good the writing was and the unusual concept. Shandling inspired me to take up writing, which resulted in plays, scripts, several journals containing short skits, and of course, this blog. If it weren’t for Garry Shandling, I wouldn’t be writing. Unfortunately, I never got to see The Larry Sanders Show in its prime, since I didn’t have cable TV at the time. I was a big Garry Shandling fan and was one of the first people I followed when I signed on to Twitter seven years ago.

The news of his passing is particularly tough on me, given I lost my Mom a month ago.

Thanks for the laughs, Garry. Keep ’em in stitches in heaven.