When Garry Shandling passed away in 2016, he was widely remembered as a top stand-up comic and the star of two of the most innovative sitcoms in TV history. But to those who knew him, the “real” Garry Shandling was a far more complex person. Now, Judd Apatow has created a remarkable portrait of this iconic comedian in the four-and-a-half-hour documentary The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.
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.
“Give what you didn’t get,” wrote Shandling in a journal late in his life, the mantra of a self-proclaimed “spiritual warrior” still challenging himself to transcend his own insecurities, despite achieving so much in the face of loss, betrayal and tragic twists of fate. From childhood tragedy to heartbreak, professional betrayal and unexpected physical trauma, to his emergence as a powerful teacher, friend and guiding spirit for a new generation of talent, Apatow’s documentary not only chronicles one man’s ability to survive the ups and downs of a life in show business, but also offers a profound investigation into the power of comedy to elevate the human spirit.
Part two of The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling offers an extensive examination of The Larry Sanders Show, his landmark HBO comedy series. Colleagues remember the demands of producing material that met Shandling’s high standards, while his diaries reveal an ongoing struggle with complacency and search for authenticity.
A successful gig hosting the Emmys, creating unique extras for the DVD release of The Larry Sanders Show and an appearance with his friend Jerry Seinfeld on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (where Shandling opined about death and mortality) hinted at some of the lessons he’d learned in his lifelong quest for peace.
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling is directed and executive produced by Judd Apatow; co-executive produced by Joe Beshenkovsky and Mike Bonfiglio; supervising producer, Josh Church; produced by Sam Fishell and Amanda Glaze; co-producers, Wayne Federman and Chris Wilcha; edited by Joe Beshenkovsky; directors of photography, Matt Bass and Jonathan Furmanski; music by Mike Andrews; animation by Stefan Nadelman. For HBO: supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.