Filmmaker Judd Apatow pays tribute to the late comedian with The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling. It’s an emotional retrospective full of clips but just as importantly, Shandling’s colleagues reminisce about in a documentary airing two years after his passing.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been just over two years since we lost Shandling. It feels just like yesterday. Apatow’s documentary, which airs over the course of two nights on HBO, is one of the best tributes that we’re going to get on Shandling’s life. Given the role that Shandling played in leading Apatow to create character-driven comedy (and influence a new generation of comedians and comedy writers such as myself), it’s no surprise that the multi-hyphenate spear-headed this project as a way of paying tribute to his mentor.
On the TV side of things, Shandling is best known for co-creating two of the innovative and groundbreaking television sitcoms of all time with It’s Gary Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show. The former, co-created with prolific comedy writer Alan Zweibel, may have been innovative in breaking the fourth wall but the latter was innovative in many ways. Larry Sanders brings it’s success from having roots in Shandling’s own life. A stand-up comedian, Shandling was one of the two exclusive guest hosts during the final years of Johnny Carson’s career hosting The Tonight Show. As such, he was able to bring those personal experiences over to the new show.
Both Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, both former hosts of The Tonight Show, discuss their feelings about Shandling as a comedian but also a sense of knowing that he was somebody who looks at comedy as art and wouldn’t have been able to handle the in and out’s of doing a nightly show. They saw him as a type of comedian better suited for a weekly program rather than a daily one.
Outside of the comedy world, Shandling was only known for being a stand-up comedian and the co-creator/star of the aforementioned sitcoms. To those that personally knew him, he was a much different person. Apatow is able to show us the type of person that Shandling was to those who know him. It’s more than the comedy career that spanned the course of four decades. Shandling’s journals, letters, home audio/videos–topped off by an emotional and heartfelt letter to his late brother Barry Shandling, who passed away from cystic fibrosis when he was very young.
The second part of the documentary turns it’s focus to Shandling’s Larry Sanders Show. The examination of the groundbreaking series could be a documentary in its own right. In addition to that, his friends and colleagues open up to the battles that Shandling faced following the series’ ending. He was a very neurotic person.
Over the course of 4.5 hours in The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Apatow gives us an authentic view of someone that he called not only a mentor but a friend.
DIRECTOR: Judd Apatow
FEATURING: James L. Brooks, Jim Carrey, Michael Cera, Sacha Baron Cohen, David Coulier, Linda Doucett, Jon Favreau, Jay Leno, Merill Markoe, Kevin Nealon, Conan O’Brien, Bob Saget, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, Ed Solomon, Alan Zweibel