The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

New documentary sheds some light on comedian’s life

Rudy Guijarro, Staff Writer

Judd Apatow’s new two-part HBO documentary series “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling” is rich with Shandling’s home movies and unseen footage, but interviews with friends and family of the late Jewish comedian depict him as the tortured, neurotic, and anxious workaholic we all hoped he’d be.  

At 24, Shandling moved to Los Angeles from Tucson, Arizona in 1973, where he quickly got his break writing on the NBC’s hit shows “Sanford and Son” and “Welcome Back, Kotter”.

“I got lucky quickly, those were the days when they were looking for young writers,” Shandling says in an interview with Apatow.

Shandling rose to fame in 1981 after his hysterically witty debut on “Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”. At the time, Shandling had only been doing stand up for three years regularly at The Comedy Store in Hollywood.

By 1985 Shandling was a famed stand-up comedian and was ambitiously developing the lampoon of 80’s sitcoms “It’s The Garry Shandling Show” with writing partner Alan Zweibel.

The show’s premise was a spoof of sitcoms he had written for in his early years of script writing. Shandling broke every rule of formulaic scripted television including the infamous “breaking the 4th wall” where the lead talks directly to the audience.

“The Garry Shandling Show” aired on Showtime in 1986 and was a commercial and critical success with an immense cult following. The show ran for four seasons with a handsome 72 episodes.

Shandling also guest hosted the “Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

Late night host Jay Leno was competing with Shandling to carry the torch of the “Tonight Show” after Carson announced his retirement. Although Shandling was performing very well, he dropped out of the race and quit his own show out of exhaustion.

“I enjoy the work, I really do. But I don’t want to work this hard,” Shandling told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “There is no chance to enjoy the success, I’d like to cut back”.

In 1992, Shandling came back to television with an HBO comedy series “The Larry Sanders Show” a raunchy workplace comedy that took place in a fictional late night show studio. The show ran for seven seasons.

“The only thing worse that working on television every night is wanting to be on television every night,” Shandling told Apatow.

Apatow’s documentary goes in-depth into the dark and personal life of Shandling.

“No one ever knew Garry,” Garry’s cousin, Mike shandling, says in an interview with Apatow.

Garry Shandling was born on November 29, 1949 in Chicago, Ill., but quickly moved to Tucson with his family after his older brother Barry, 13, had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

Barry Shandling had been getting treatment for his disease but died in 1959 at the age of 13.

“They were really close,” Mike Shandling said. “And we never really talked about him (Barry) after that, he was just gone”.

Garry Shandling never talked about his departed older brother on television or in his act.

“All he told me was I had an older brother and he died,” comedian Kevin Nealon said in an interview with Apatow.

On March 24, 2016, Shandling died in his home in Los Angeles, California from a pulmonary embolism. He was 66.

Shandling was never married or had children.

“Garry was a great comic, because you knew he was more screwed up than anyone in the crowd,” Jim Carrey said in an interview with Apatow. “That was the brilliance of Garry Shandling.”

“The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling” is now available on HBO and HBO GO.

Rudy Guijarro can be reached at [email protected]