Extremely sad news today: Garry Shandling died this afternoon at the age of 66.
I expect some of our younger readers will be largely unfamiliar with Shandling's work, recognizing him (if at all) from his work in Iron Man 2 and Captain America: Winter Soldier, where he played Senator Stern, Tony Stark's all-time least favorite Senator. Other than that, he's been laying low over the past decade, presumably enjoying pseudo-retirement and being the neurotic mensch we always knew him to be. So fair enough!
But here's a suggestion: if you find yourself wondering why so many of us are bummed to hear about Shandling's passing, you'd do well to look into HBO's dearly-departed The Larry Sanders Show. It is, no shit, one of the greatest comedies ever to air on television. If you've not seen it, you are missing out on some of the most influential, sharply-written comedy of the past two decades.
Here's the setup: Shandling plays Larry Sanders, the host of a nightly talk show. His sidekick, Hank (Jeffrey Tambor), is a dim-witted mess who can barely be kept under control. His producer, Artie (Rip Torn, in what I'd consider his career-defining role), is an ornery alcoholic. His staff - a motley crew of writers, assistants, and producers - all have their own problems and insecurities, all of which have a way of causing unexpected problems for the show behind the scenes. Each episode usually features a celebrity cameo or two (guests who appear on the show-within-the-show), and some celebrities (like the great Bruno Kirby) ended up being brought back multiple times, getting their own fictional story arch over the course of the series.
It's a fantastic show, one I managed to catch (along with other early 90's HBO mainstays like Tales From The Crypt and Dream On) during my formative years. It's brilliantly-written and, given the period in which it was made, impressive in its modern format: there's no studio audience, there's no laugh track, there's plenty of swearing, and the humor ain't always easy. This is smart comedy, the kind we didn't used to see on television. The influence of this series on modern-day TV greats like 30 Rock and The Office and Parks And Rec and Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm is well evident. If you like those shows, you should absolutely try this one.
It's a sadly appropriate time to be making this recommendation, but I think celebrating this series - and spreading the word about it - is a great way to honor Shandling's legacy in the world of comedy.
If you are so inclined, you can pick the entire series up via the Amazon link below for around $20, which I assure you is the smartest $20 you will spend this month.
I'll leave you with the video above, which I think offers a good look at the interplay you can expect on The Larry Sanders Show (it also concerns Hank's legendary catchphrase, so bonus points for that).
Please feel free to share your favorite Larry Sanders Show memories in the comments below. But don't spoil anything about the finale. That thing was perfect and deserves to be gone into cold.
RIP, Garry Shandling. You were one of the greats.
PS: At the urging of a great number of people, I'm adding this link to Shandling's recent appearance on Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. It's great stuff.