Well, for quite a while I have been meaning to write a piece about Garry Shandling, my favourite comedian and, of course, an inspiration to me. I suppose his early death has (regrettably) prompted me to write this now. I wish I had written this earlier and, deep down, I had hoped that someone of his status might stumble across my piece and appreciate my respect for him. It’s too late now but we can pay respect nonetheless.
I am not quite sure why I like his work – I just do, it resonates with me and I think he and I would find the same things funny. I started enjoying the Larry Sanders Show at university. Usually after work outs, I and my two flatmates used gather round the computer with a bowl of pasta, load up YouTube and find an episode. I even remember the username of the guy who uploaded all episodes: drzemf. The episodes were eventually all removed in time for the box set release. Later on, even before sports competitions I would watch The Larry Sanders show in the hotel room, simply to get into a good ‘space of mind’.
Importantly, though, there are a few aspects about him and his work that I admire.
He was a genius.
“And what was so god-damn funny about me chipping my tooth on the urinal?”
“It was the back tooth. I don’t know how you did it.”
I think we have to start with that. Anybody who can use language to such a high level and add surprising information to anything to create humour, has to be a genius. Actor, writer, director: his observational insights, his accomplishment and the consistency of his work is also the work of an artist and a genius.
Character and confidence
Like a lot of comedians, he is a slightly quirky character who probably developed humour skills early on to integrate himself into a group or soceity. He has, however, the courage not to take himself to seriously (to be able to laugh at himself) and the confidence, like any artist, put his work out there. No other artistic endeavour has the immediate and unfiltered feedback like (stand up) comedy. Like surfing, you can either be riding a wave or crushed mercilessly, simply due to lack of timing or confidence.
His Magnum Opus
The Larry Sanders Show. Life is broadcast onto the big screen and acted out by characters whom we like with traits we recognise in ourselves and in others. The situation is different to ours (Hollywood) but all the emotions and dynamics are the same as in our lives. It’s all there.
GS has not created much since the LSS but after such an accomplishment, what else can you do!
One of the key dynamics is the relationship between the three main characters: Hank, Larry and Artie, who despite their flaws need each other in often bizarre and surprising ways. The prized humour often lies subtlety in the interaction between this trio.
What comes across, especially in the final series of the LSS is the notion of a few good friends working together and trying to achieve, through their work, something meaningful. This mission is often in conflict to monetary values, the demands of the company (i.e. money again), family, distraction, frustration, sloth and generally the egoistic interference from others. But they keep going and keep aiming high. In my working career so far I have often sympathised with their goals. Sticking to your morals and what you believe in is an important goal, particularly in today’s tight labour market where one has to compromise heavily.
Just like Ezra Pound, GS isn’t as well known as the artists he mentored. Judd Apatow, Sarah Silverman and Jon Stewert to name a few. As with any genius, a group is a requisite foundation to bounce ideas, gain inspiration and support for any mission.
GS was known for having a weekly basketball meet up with his friends. A weekly (sport related) meet up is something I could imagine integrating into my life.
Key lesson: “Do what frightens you”.
In some of the few interviews he mentions this. This is why he even started in stand up – because it petrified him.
He also mentions this key line a few times in the LSS to other various characters (I’m starting to sound like a geek here).
This is one of the most important lessons for me and a reminder to not only keep pushing the boundary of the comfort zone but also to try new things, especially those I naturally shy away from. Joseph Campbell said it, the Arabian Tales tells it and King Arthur’s Quest for the Holy Grail embodies it.
For any young man looking for inspiration, will find it in the work from the unlikely genius, Garry Shandling.