Monday, April 9, 2018

"Random Notes On 'The Zen Diaries Of Garry Shandling"

I looked this up, for maximum accuracy.

Broadcast in two parts, “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling” runs four-and-a-half hours. 

The film Gandhi runs three hours and eleven minutes.

Imaginably quoting the late Garry Shandling, though unlikely about himself

“That seems a little “off” in its proportion, don’t you think?”

“… for a man who didn’t liberate India?”

(Note:  That was not me, being sarcastic.  That was me, channeling the late Garry Shandling being sarcastic.  And, arguably, being alsocorrect.)

Judd Apatow developed this posthumous tribute to his show business mentor and personal guru.  As my daughter Anna points out, it is Apatow’s signature M.O. to make his projects too long.  (See:  Any comedy he ever produced.)  But, imagining again, since I do not run in circles where I’d bump into Judd Apatow, I am sure he’d point out how much documentary material he cut.  The fact is, at this exalted point in his career, Judd Apatow can make projects any length he prefers.

Even if that extended length tsunamiesits inherent message.

What isthe inherent message of “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling”?

Besides that Judd Apatow can make projects any length he prefers?

At this point, echoing Garry’s instruction to Ricky Gervais taping a British television show to not thinkbut instead remain passively “in the moment”– a feat Gervais was unable to pull off, being not that kind of comedian – I shall remain still and silently “in the moment”, calmly awaiting what intuitively comes up. 


I just sighed.

Now I’ll have to start “still and silent” all overagain.


I just took a sip of coffee during the “break in the action”, which is, again, a mistake, the “still and silent” part inherentlybeingthe action.


Y’know, this “still and silent” stuff is a lot harder than it looks.  I am totally usedto doing nothing.  But this is a specifically different kindof doing nothing.

No wonder director Mike Nichols hated working with Garry.  Nichols was trying to complete the movie, and Garry, following his dramatic training, was waiting for that genuine “Truthful Moment” to inspire him to perform.  

Those goals are explosively out of sync.

Okay.  Back to “still and silent.”  Here we go.


I guess this is like psychoanalysis.  (Which I have never attempted but a close family member does for a living.)  You “free associate” on whatever pops into your mind. Which for a comedian takes particular courage, because… what if nothing ultimatelydoes?

Or it pops into your mind but it’s not funny.

“I have to remember to pay my taxes” – which just popped into mymind – is not an obvious “springboard for hilarity.”  

I’m not sure this process is actually workingfor me.

Or more honestly, I amsure it isnt.

Lemme keep at it. Maybe it takes time.


I just flashed on a point of common experience between Garry Shandling and me.  

Garry’s brother died when Garry was very young.  

I just sighed again.  

Because my father died when Iwas very young.  

I don’t recall if we ever talked about that.  But we seemed to “connect” when I consulted on both of his series, so maybe there’s this subliminal vibe you give off, where people in that lamentable condition just “know.”

Though our visceral reactions to it were diametrically opposed.  Garry was compelled to go deeper, mining precious nuggets of comedic illumination.  

Ijust wanted to laugh.

And then there was this.

Garry Shandling was surprisingly drawn to my family.  When we met on vacation, visiting the same hotel in Hawaii, Garry accepted an invitation to join us for dinner, condensing it to a more manageable “I’ll come for dessert.”

He never once tried to be funny.  It was just a normal family dinner, a comedic icon, arriving later for cake.  Anna – who was then ten or eleven – recalls Garry directing the bulk of the conversation to her.  The two appeared naturally attuned.  

On a subsequent co-visit, an unwell Anna confined to her room, Garry insisted we go up after dinner and see her.  Finding her asleep, Garry abandoned his “Come on.  Let’s have fun!” idea and stood quietly, watching her sleeping in her bed.

That is a long way from palling around with Warren Beatty. 

There was also this apparent physicalresemblance, or at least our co-membership in the club: “Generic Jewish Funny Person.”

I once drove onto a studio lot for a meeting.  This was after 9/11, so this Security Officer approached to inspect my I.D.  The studio guard had this enormous smile on her face. Then, while checking my I.D., her smile immediately disappeared.  “Is something wrong?” I anxiously inquired.  “No”, she replied.  “I just thought you were that comedian… Adam Shandling.”



It appears I have failed miserably in my attempt to remain “still and silent”, awaiting the spontaneously truthful “Expressible Moment.” 

I suppose I should keep trying.  Hoping… 


I think if you’re “hoping”,

You’re not doing it right.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

A surprising number of my friends really enjoyed the Shandling documentary and weren't bothered by the length.


JED said...

And when Hollywood finally wises up and makes a documentary of Earl Pomerantz, I wouldn't be bothered if it ran five hours.

Anonymous said...

I actually thought it was a tad brief to celebrate the entire life of a comedic genius. I watched the entire series 4 times. Going back for a fifth!!!!!! JWC