I want to say this carefully but clearly: Judd Apatow‘s The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, the 270-minute doc I finally finished watching a couple of days ago, might be the best thing he’s ever done. Seriously. The most full-of-feeling, the saddest, the wisest, the most melancholy, the most emotionally affecting.
And I say this as a serious admirer of Apatow’s Knocked Up, Funny People, This Is 40 and Trainwreck, not to mention all the good or near-great comedies Apatow has produced (Bridesmaids, Pineapple Express, Get Him To The Greek, Juliet, Naked). Maybe I’m overpraising, but I don’t think so. All I know is that I began to really miss Shandling after it was over, even more than I did when he suddenly died two years ago.
There is nothing more interesting than the story of a man or woman who started out feeling oppressed or miserable, and nothing less interesting than hearing about how he or she ended up feeling happy or content. That was John Lennon‘s life — he was a much more interesting guy between ’60 and ’74 (his anxious, cutting-remark period, including his lost-weekend alcoholic phase during ’73 and ’74) and an almost dull fellow between ’75 (when he became an obedient Yoko Ono house-husband) and his assassination in December ’80.
The best part of Apatow’s doc comes at the very end, when Kevin Nealon delivers an on-stage eulogy: “I think the fact that Garry spelled his first name with two rs…that was a warning he was going to be complicated.
“It was very hard to be Garry. A perfectionist with the highest standards. For years he complained about his house” — a really nice pad above Mandeville Canyon that HE happened to visit a few days ago. “How it was facing the wrong direction, the light wasn’t hitting it right.
“He did hate his house. For years he complained about it. This beautiful amazing home, in this gorgeous park-like setting, with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, continued to be Garry’s albatross. [But] that was Garry, that was Garry.”
Website excerpt: “Epic in scope and intimate in detail, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling features conversations with more than 40 of Shandling’s family and friends, including James L. Brooks, Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen, David Coulier, Jon Favreau, Jay Leno, Kevin Nealon, Conan O’Brien, Bob Saget, Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman, and four decades’ worth of TV appearances, along with personal journals, private letters and candid home audio and video footage that reveal his brilliant mind and restless soul,” blah blah.
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling is much better than it might sound.
“Garry Shandling launched in the mid ’80s with It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, but he owned the ’90s by way of The Larry Sanders Show, which ran on HBO from ’92 to ’98. I lived through that landmark show. The satirical, self-regarding tone was always stinging and razor sharp and comfortable as fuck. And now Shandling’s gone — abruptly dead from a heart attack at age 66.
“It’s 4:30 am in Vietnam and I have to try and get at least some shut-eye, having awoken at 1 am and stayed that way for three hours (don’t ask), but this is truly sad news. From the mid-Reagan era to the late Clinton years, Shandling captured and lampooned American culture by marrying it to his own anxieties and neuroses and then tickled it just so. I loved his wit and his somewhat aloof, lonely-guy attitude about things. (Shandling had relationships but never married or had kids.)
“I’m among the few who really loved portions of Town and Country, the commercial disaster in which Shandling played Warren Beatty‘s BFF. (They were offscreen pals back then.) Shandling and Beatty had an appealingly loose bro vibe in that film that made me smile. I’m very sorry Shandling has left so early, but for roughly a 12-year period he held mountains in the palms of his hands.”