Thursday, March 31, 2016

Godspeed Garry Shandling

Comedian, actor, and writer Garry Shandling died on March 24 2016 at the age of 66. He died from a massive heart attack. He had suffered from the condition known hyperparathyroidism.

Garry Shandling was born on November 29 1949 in Chicago. He grew up in Tucson, Arizona. Mr. Shandling had become interested in comedy when he was very young, but initially majored in electrical engineering at the University of Arizona. Before graduating he switched his major to marketing. After receiving his degree he pursued one year of postgraduate work in creative writing.

In 1973 Mr. Shandling moved to Los Angeles where he went to work for an advertising agency. It was while he was still working at the advertising agency that he sold a script to the sitcom Sanford & Son in 1975. He sold three more scripts for Sanford & Son, one for the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, and one for The Harvey Korman Show. He then became a stand-up comic. In the next few years he appeared as a stand-up comedian on the shows Rock Concert and Solid Gold. It was in 1981 that he first appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He would appear several more times on the show.

In 1984 Garry Shandling appeared in his first special, Garry Shandling: Alone in Vegas, which aired on the premium cable channel Showtime. It was followed by another special, The Garry Shandling Show: 25th Anniversary Special, that also aired on Showtime. It was that same year that the sitcom It's Garry Shandling's Show debuted on Showtime. It's Garry Shandling Show centred on, well, Garry Shandling, who played a neurotic, self-deprecating comedian who was aware he was a TV show character. The show developed a cult following and ran for four seasons and 72 episodes.

The success of It's Garry Shandling's Show was followed in 1992 by The Larry Sanders Show. The Larry Sanders Show was essentially a mockumentary sitcom that offered a "behind the scenes" look at a fictional, late night talk show (titled, of course, The Larry Sanders Show). Airing on HBO, The Larry Sanders Show developed a cult following. It ran for six seasons and 89 episodes. During the Nineties Garry Shandling guest starred on The Ben Stiller Show, Caroline in the City, and The X-Files. He appeared in the films The Night We Never Met (1993), Love Affair (1994), Mixed Nuts (1994), Hurlyburly (1998), and What Planet Are You From? (2000).

In the Naughts Garry Shandling appeared in the films Town & Country (2001), Zoolander (2001), Run Ronnie Run (2002), Trust the Man (2005), and Iron Man 2 (2010). He provided a voice on the animated film Over the Hedge (2006). He guest starred on Tom Goes to the Mayor. In the Teens he appeared in the films The Dictator (2012) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).

Garry Shandling was an extraordinary talent. He was certainly very funny. His neurotic, self-deprecating persona as a stand-up comic was one with which many could identify. And if they couldn't identify with Garry Shandling's stand-up persona, chances were good that they knew someone like him. That having been said, Garry Shandling was much more than a stand-up comedian. He was also a writer and producer who took the television sitcom in directions that had rarely been explored before. Like The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and Green Acres before it,  It's Garry Shandling's Show often broke the fourth wall and the idea that Garry Shandling knew he was a character on a TV show was an important part of the show. by doing this Mr. Shandling was able to parody sitcom tropes while at the same time sticking to them.

The Larry Sanders Show would also be starkly original. While done as a "behind the scenes" look at a late night talk show, The Larry Sanders Show was in truth a sitcom that sent up television conventions.  In blurring the lines between reality (the guests on the show were often real life show business personalities playing themselves), The Larry Sanders Show was in many respects a forerunner of 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

While Garry Shandling was extraordinarily talented as both a comic and a writer, he also had some talent as an actor. Garry Shandling on It's Garry Shandling's Show was very different from Larry Sanders on The Larry Sanders Show. The former was a neurotic with extremely low self esteem, while the latter was an egomaniac prone to bouts of anxiety. He also gave solid performances as Senator Stern in Iron Man 2 and Captain America: the Winter Soldier as well as Artie in Hurlyburly. Quite simply, Garry Shandling was an extraordinary talent who created two starkly original sitcom and excelled at both stand up comedy and acting.

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