Let me cut to the chase. If you’re at all creative or in any way desire to put your talent out in the world, WATCH THIS DOCUMENTARY!! It’s on HBO and is called The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling. Even if you have to try out a free subscription for a month, it is worth your time and attention.
I’d vaguely known and liked this comedian’s work before tuning in, but after viewing this 4.5 hour gem in two parts, I put in a reserve on a set of DVD’s from my library and can’t wait to watch his TV shows. Based on miles of film footage and years of accumulated journals (“I’ll sell them to you in two installments of $9.95 each,” Garry tells creator Judd Apatow as he opens up an enormous storage bin filled with his hand-written notes.)
It is by turns hilarious, heart-wrenching and always authentic. First interviewed by Apatow when the younger man was 16 and in high school, the two formed a lifelong mentorship and friendship, as did many other comedians and colleagues along the way.
We see Garry’s early days, the younger brother to Barry, who tragically passed away of cystic fibrosis at 13 years old when Garry was 10. His parents never talked about it with Garry, nor did he get to say good-bye or attend the funeral. These events left an indelible impression on Garry and affected him throughout his life.
What stood out most, for me, throughout the film, was how consistently Shandling worked. He wrote every day, filled pages of journals and yellow pads with his ideas. As a young man, he went to see George Carlin perform, handed him a manila envelope of monologues he’d worked on for him, and asked Carlin to look them over. “Sure,” Carlin replied. “Come back tomorrow and we can talk about your work.” He didn’t know that Garry had driven 3 hours to see him, nor did Garry complain about it. He simply made the 6-hour round-trip the next day. Carlin said that he was “very green,” but that there was something funny on each page. And that if he was thinking about pursuing this line of work, he should continue.
Though Shandling wrote for hits like Sanford and Son and Welcome Back, Kotter, he hated the sitcom format and decided that stand-up would be a way for him to truly find out who he was. This vulnerable, soft-spoken meditator and ‘health nut’ plunged into the world of comedy and rose to its top.
I found it deeply inspiring. To keep at one’s craft no matter what; to see that demonstrated–as he succeeded and as he despaired about his abilities. I appreciate being given the opportunity to watch an artist in process. This was an intimate portrait of an imperfect, but incredibly productive and brilliant man.
Let me know what you think.