Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Brooks on Books: A pair of resources for "It's Garry Shandling's Show"

On the latest BOTNS episode, I give shout-outs to two books that provide insight into Garry Shandling's first big sitcom, It's Garry Shandling's Show. I find these particularly appealing because I believe this show is underappreciated in comparison to (also brilliant) The Larry Sanders Show. I recommend each book for its own merits as well as for its info on IGSS, and in fact I have to warn you that there isn't as much in either book as you would like.

Alan Zweibel's Laugh Lines is a memoir that covers all sorts of ground, going from his days writing jokes for old-school Catskill comics to collaborating with Billy Crystal on one-man show 700 Sundays.  In between, of course, he had his run as an original writer of Saturday Night Live and later a co-creator of It's Garry Shandling's Show. The book is thoughtful and amusing, though not as "jokey" as I expected. Zweibel has a lot of clear memories of his own life (a possible benefit of being one of the clearest-headed members of that Not Ready for Prime Time crew), and tells his story with wit and likability. His platonic and vital friendship with Gilda Radner is a touching thread that runs through the volume. She helped him get through SNL, and he was there when she made her emotional and beloved appearance on IGSS.

His account of his friendship and working relationship with Garry is fascinating. He shows his own self-reflection and accepts some blame for having a falling out (they eventually reconciled) with Shandling, but he also seems to be holding something back. This book came out in 2020, when his friend was no longer around to share his side, so that may be a factor. You still get a lot more info about the production of and the philosophy of the series than I have seen anywhere else, though I wish there were more about specific production details. The main draw is that Zweibel gives great insight into the complex individual Shandling was. Ultimately, it seems that Zweibel wanted a life outside the show, while Shandling was absorbed by the work, and the former thinks the latter saw any departure from that as a form of betrayal.

I think you actually learn more about the series in Laugh Lines, despite it being one (essential) part of a long and distinguished writing career, than in It's Garry Shandling's Book. My one disappointment about this collection/loose biography assembled by Judd Apatow is that there isn't more about that show. If you're like me, though, you're a fan of Shandling, not just that one series, and so you will be thrilled about the space devoted to Larry Sanders, standup, guest-hosting The Tonight Show, and more.

The one question might be, is the Kindle book worth it? I got the ebook version at a heavy discount AND after I had upgraded my device to a bigger, sharper one. If you see the reviews on Amazon, you will notice many buyers struggle with the ability to read and enjoy the many images. A lot of the content is archival material in Garry's own writing, and he favored a cursive style of note-taking that is hard to read at any resolution and size. For the price I paid, though, even though I did kind of just skip over some of the images or enlarge them as much as I could and squint (Hey, kinda like Garry used to do!), there is tons of other great stuff to enjoy.

Apatow reproduces a lot of old photos as well and solicits memories from friends like Sarah Silverman and, yes, Zweibel! It's interesting reading Silverman, who speaks to the Zen figure we heard about in his later years, the sage voice who was a mentor figure to so many comedians. It seems a contrast to the driven, self-doubting Shandling who pushed so hard to get everything just right and who was troubled by the tragic loss of his brother at a young age and how that affected his family. 

It's nice to think that Garry Shandling found peace in his spirituality and philosophy and that when he died at the way-too-young age of 66 he was at least "in a good place." He was still a complex guy, though, and not one who always pulled back the curtain (ironic, huh?) and revealed much about his inner life apart from his routines. Apatow's book does a fine job of getting at that inner man. 

Zweibel himself in the two books seems to marvel at the difference in how the younger comics perceived the often-difficult boss/partner on IGSS. He wonders if he missed that part of him but concludes that maybe he just changed and grew and was a different person. It's a sensitive, mature take that proves that both books together make a great combination in getting as close to Garry Shandling as we are gonna get. I just wish they had a little more detail on that series!

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