We were at this fitness place we go to in Mexico last week when my daughter Anna called with the unfathomable news that Garry Shandling had died.
An hour later, I was talking to him in the sky.
“How is it?” I asked.
“Baaaad!” replied Garry, in his inimitable whine.
“Death is bad?”
“Being dead is bad. Death is just death.”
I was never certain when Garry Shandling was serious and when he was kidding. Not about that – I am pretty sure that death is just death – but about the following.
I met him once at breakfast, interviewing for a consulting job on The Larry Sanders Show. He arrived somewhat late and noticeably distraught.
“I’m sorry I’m late; I am a little out of it. I just broke up with my girlfriend.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. When did it happen?”
“Nine months ago.”
That sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? “Nine months” was not the number I was expecting. Judging from his demeanor I was thinking more “This morning.” But I didn’t laugh. On the off-chance that he was serious. (And thereby blowing the interview.)
Garry and I were hardly bosom buddies, and have not, in fact, interacted in years. But I was a consultant on both of his TV series.
Both times, it was like being asked to suit up for the Yankees.
I could talk about Garry’s career, my sense that superstar comedians like Leno, Letterman and Seinfeld held him in elevated regard, their respect an acknowledgment that Garry’s comedy displayed a more admirable “Degree of Difficulty” than their less penetrating – more commercially reliable – techniques.
That may have been a practical calculation on their part. But more likely, it was that Garry Shandling was unique, his comedic intention more naturally risky, landing in a deeper, more anxiety-laden locale.
What I am sharing instead is a time on our Hawaiian vacation when Garry, as he had earlier promised, joined us for dessert at the dining room of the hotel we were both staying at.
Though he could easily have ditched us for Charlize Theron – whom Garry knew and was also staying at our hotel – Garry, for the moment at least, preferred – and seemed to visibly luxuriate – in the unglitzy company of a typical family.
After dinner, rather than blowing us off, Garry volunteered to remain in our company, exhorting enthusiastically,
“Come on! Let’s have some fun!”
Unfortunately, Anna was unwell that evening and she needed to go immediately to bed. I see Garry standing at the edge of her hotel room watching her sleep – not at all as creepy as it sounds – wistful the collective festivities had been disappointingly cut short.
I warmly remember that connection.
And I remember this one.
I never got to tell this story to Garry. I am pretty sure he’d have enjoyed it.
I am driving onto the Fox Studios lot, facing an obligatory post-9/11 “Security Check.” As I pull up, I catch the Security Guard, greeting me with an expansive smile. When she checked my I.D., however, her smile abruptly disappeared.
“Is there anything wrong?” I nervously inquired.
“No,” she explained. “I just thought you were that comedian… Adam Shandling.”
I have mentioned in the past that at this fitness place we go to in Mexico there is this visible-only-to-me Mariachi Band that serenades me on my arrival and departure, and plays encouraging music as I struggle up challenging inclines.
On my last day, I looked up at the sacred Mount Kuchima and suddenly, where the band is traditionally set up along the edge of the ridge, I saw Garry Shandling standing incongruously among them, in full mariachi regalia, awkwardly brandishing a trumpet.
“They put me in the baaand”, he loudly lamented. “And I can’t play anything!”
Although I detected the recognizable Shandling wince, I could not help but chuckle.
I have been quoted as saying that we do not die in order.
Even so, the announcement of his departure was a reverberating shock.
And thanks for the job.