“I had a vivid near-death experience that involved a voice asking, ‘Do you want to continue leading Garry Shandling’s life?’ Without thinking, I said, ‘Yes.’ Since then, I’ve been stuck living in the physical world while knowing, without a doubt, that there’s something much more meaningful within it all. That realization is what drives my life and work.”—Garry Shandling
The news broke about two hours ago that Garry Shandling died this morning. It was first reported by a gossip website and then confirmed by the Los Angeles PD.
It may have been the time period—the early 1980s—and my age in that era—14—and the fact that I was a suburban kid with enough book learning to make me confident but just enough experience with getting beaten up in the real world to be extraordinarily not-at-all-confident, but Garry Shandling’s stand-up comedy felt written for me. He and David Letterman were “my” comedians, my generation’s certainly, the comedians we grew up watching; but for me, they were both studies in attitude. Studies in how I wanted to present myself, or so I thought. They both seemed to find things amusing that the audience didn’t catch … and then they found that amusing, too. There was a confidence in their lack of confidence.
It was as if I had been designed to be the perfect Garry Shandling fan. He was not terribly quotable—”How’s my hair?”—but for me there was something about the attitude in the character he presented. His two sitcoms won awards and are remembered with fondness for good reason. The first, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” made putting a show like “Seinfeld” on network TV a possibility. The second, “The Larry Sanders Show,” is legendary: a talk show that wasn’t, yet a talk show that wasn’t that was a talk show.
The self-referencing theme to the first show:
In January, an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s web show, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” featured Seinfeld and Shandling reminiscing about their stand-up days (something Shandling claimed he did not like to do, as he only liked to look forward) and generally cracking each other up. It was worth watching and it still is, even though the episode’s title is sad to see today: “GARRY SHANDLING: ‘It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive.'”
I said something online about enjoying it. Twitter is like a grocery store in which you run into local celebrities all the time. I can not find my specific Tweet, which Garry Shandling re-Tweeted, but I found one in which he and I shared space together:
— Ken Chawkin (@kenchawkin) January 21, 2016
(Ken Chawkin is a great online friend of mine; he seems to possess a talent for knowing when to swoop in and give me an “Attaboy” here and there.)
Like I wrote above, “my” comedian. But of course, many people felt like they were designed to be the perfect Garry Shandling fan, felt like he was “theirs.” That is why his death today at only 66—he and Seinfeld make a joke in “Comedians in Cars” about dying in one’s 60s: Shandling says, “‘Sixty-three is so young’ is a phrase you never hear relative to anything but death, [you never hear] ‘Sixty-three is so young to be playing in the NFL'”—that is why his death today is being so honestly mourned by so many people.
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