Friday, March 25, 2016

Bye Garry. Bye Larry.

Yesterday we heard the unexpected and incredibly sad news of Garry Shandling's passing. I had planned to write about Garry next week, but while the memories are rushing around my head thought it better to just get my thoughts written down.

Two quick anecdotes about this talented man who brought us so much laughter.

Years ago, I was a bartender at a local night club in Santa Monica. Garry, still in the early stages of his career, would sometimes play there and open for the band, Billy & The Beaters. Not long after he had played the gig he was sitting at the back of an airplane, bound from Newark to Los Angeles.

In fact, he was sitting right next to me.

I introduced myself and we started exchanging small talk. I told him how I recognized him from the club and we chatted about our mutual interests. I might've made an important career connection on that flight, but it was not to be.

Before we even took off we both noticed this extremely attractive woman walking, almost in slow motion, down the aisle. She took a seat three rows up from us. When Garry noticed the aisle seat still vacated (this was a long time ago) he cleared his throat, turned to me and said...

"Watch this."

With that he got up. Introduced himself to the woman. Smiled. Looked back at me. Winked. And for the next 5 hours plied her with a winning combination of liquor and neurotic Jewish charm. He "landed" long before the plane did.

The more consequential anecdote happened a good 20 years later.

Rob Schwartz (CEO of the TBWA Chiat/Day NY) and I were spending every waking hour writing spec TV scripts. We knocked out a dozen of these, from SEINFELD to FRASIER to MARRIED WITH CHILDREN. Most were not very good, but through the sheer act of writing them, they were getting better.

One day Rob had a brilliant idea. I hate when other people have better ideas than mine.

"Let's write a spec script for the final episode of the Larry Sanders show. Larry's special guest will be Gary Shandling."

Holy shit, I thought. That is cool.

And though to this day I wish I had been the one who thought of it, I knew we had to write that script. I also knew it would be challenging. It was. But it was the challenging nature of it that made the script sing. It wasn't formulaic, like other sitcoms. And it allowed us to take numerous stinging potshots at the entertainment industry. And writers love to bite the hand that feeds them.

I've searched high and low in my garage but could not find the script.

Though I do remember one pivotal scene involving Larry and Garry standing next to each other in the Men's Room. With dicks in hand, both Larry and Garry, perhaps not surprisingly, get the worst case of Shy Bladder.

Neither can squeeze out a drop. Their stilted dialogue and cringeworthy silence, is interrupted by each man helplessly pulling on the flushing mechanism in order to get their business flowing.

Rob and I could hardly contain ourselves as we chortled and guffawed our way through the script.

And we weren't the only ones. Our worthless agent somehow got the work in the hands of Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, the Executives Producers who ran The Simpsons for many years. They loved the adventures of Larry & Garry and paid us good money to write an episode of their new show, Mission Hill.

Actually, it was shit money. And we were holed up in a room with stinky, dirty Harvard Lampoon writers who smelled of day old onion rings from Burger King. And the network notes, the reams of network notes, were stupid --Hollywood's equivalent of "make the logo bigger." 

Rob and I made a beeline for the exit door. In one short week, we learned the world of making television is absurd, surreal, witless and without any regard for artistic integrity.

In other words, everything Larry Sanders said it would be.

Rest in peace.

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