Actor and comedian Garry Shandling died Thursday in Los Angeles. Shandling, 66, was among the most influential figures in modern American comedy and television, thanks to two brilliant shows he co-created and starred in in the 1980s and 1990s.
This 2010 profile of Shandling in GQ is a decent introduction to Shandling’s personality and his philosophy of comedy (or, often, anti-comedy), but the best way to understand both is to binge on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, in which Shandling played (a heightened and surreal version of) himself, and The Larry Sanders Show, in which Shandling played a vain and insecure talk show host clearly based (in part) on himself.
The Larry Sanders Show, which ran on HBO from 1992 to 1998, is, I think, about as good as TV comedy gets, and it is safe to say Shandling, along with his collaborators (including a young Judd Apatow), invented the form of the postmodern, laugh-track-free single-camera sitcom; there’s no The Office (British or American) without Larry Sanders, let alone 30 Rock, or even Louie.
It’s not entirely clear that he appreciated his influence. In 2006, Office creator Ricky Gervais met Shandling, at Shandling’s home, for an episode of an television series in which Gervais would meet and interview his funny comedian heroes. The interview became, almost immediately, incredibly tense and nearly hostile—because, as Shandling later explained, Gervais was too “on” and Shandling wanted to see what would happen if he threw the supposed master of cringe comedy completely off his game. Gervais promptly ended his interview series.