An Eye for Comedy

The second half of the HBO documentary, “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling,” made me want to be a kinder, more generous, and more forgiving person. The doc, directed by Judd Apatow, lifts the edges of the napkin covering GS’s life without revealing much. We come to know him from his eyes. Mainly they are terrified and squint to muted terror when he erupts in laughter. He was a master formalist. He understood the structure of comedy scenes that arise from sudden exposure and illumination. “The Larry Sanders Show” is the brilliant repository of all Shandling learned about writing, acting, and himself. Sacha Baron Cohen locates his vulnerability in the orbit of Shandling and creates the Jew that is every anti-Semitic Brit’s nightmare of anxious, vulgar exhibitionism. Many other great comic performers share the gifts and inventiveness Shandling offered them directly and in the model of his way of working. I wrote about “The Larry Sanders Show” in the Village Voice and talked to Shandling for a long time on the phone one day. He was speaking from his car. He pretended he wasn’t at first. I said, “Are you driving?” He said, “Yes, but I can concentrate.” He had a soft-spoken intensity that didn’t need anything from you. I loved the show from the start and saw the way it played with the new power structure ushered by cable TV. I loved how intimately he drew his comic characters, little strokes added to make even the most foolish fool (everyone) at once poignant and vicious. Today I woke up and thought: Be kinder to everyone. Love everyone you have ever loved. We don’t have a lot of time. Let the anger go. If someone was a shit to you, let it go. Garry (what’s with the two R’s?) would say: Now let go of the grief you feel about being a shit to others.

Laurie Stone’s blog: