Reading Garry’s Diary With Judd Apatow
Judd Apatow’s long-lasting bond with the late Garry Shandling began with a teenaged interview, and extended into his adult life as a writer for Shandling’s Emmy-winning sitcom The Larry Sanders Show. Their nearly-lifelong friendship afforded Apatow special insights as to what made Shandling an innovator in stand-up comedy, writing and TV writing. Apatow spoke with HBO about what he admired most about the comedian and why his humor is still relevant.
HBO: You first spoke to Garry Shandling as a teenager, What did you admire about him at that age?
Judd Apatow: When I was young, I knew him as a guy who was doing stand-up on The Tonight Show. Then, very quickly afterwards, he was hosting! That was a gigantic opportunity so it felt monumental when they allowed an unknown comic to do it. I saw him as one of the great joke writers of our time.
HBO: Why do you think he took such an interest in you and your work as a young man?
Judd Apatow: We shared sensibilities that developed from our similarly neurotic and complicated moms. We related on a lot of levels that made us very fast friends.
HBO: What did you learn about comedy from working with Shandling?
Judd Apatow: Garry wanted to get to the core of people in his writing. I learned that if you did that, the comedy would come naturally. That's a philosophy I’ve used throughout my career and that I preach to other people.
HBO: Garry was very tough on his writers. How did you thrive while working with a demanding boss?
Judd Apatow: It was hard to try and write scripts for Garry’s “Larry Sanders” character when he knew his voice better than us and was more talented. So when I worked with him, I thought I'm going to do everything I can to make his life easier. I couldn’t solve all his problems but I could take something off of his plate.
HBO: What do you think made him such a great joke writer?
Judd Apatow: He was on a search for truth in the work. The types of questions he would ask people about their scripts would challenge you to create a more complex world. He wanted to discuss the emotional life of your work. Now, he could switch gears and fix jokes and look for humor, but his great gift was provoking conversations about what motivates human behavior.
HBO: You spent a lot of time highlighting his struggles with finding his voice. Did this struggle resonate with you?
Judd Apatow: All artists need time to figure out who they are creatively. I found Garry interesting because he saw standup as an opportunity to figure out who he was. He was aware that by writing these jokes and writing about himself that he would learn more about who he was and who he wanted to be.
HBO: Who do you think Garry Shandling wanted to be?
Judd Apatow: I think he just wanted to be himself. A lot of great artists strip away all of the bullshit as they get closer to who they are. You can see it in the work of so many people that we we look up to. Think of The Beatles: They started out with light hearted songs, like [sings] “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah.” Later on, they evolved into the band that made “All You Need Is Love” and “Let It Be.”
HBO: In Zen Diaries, Jay Leno noted how important it is that entertainers have an anchor outside of comedy. Did Shandling have an anchor?
Judd Apatow: Garry was trying to figure out what made him happy and what type of relationship wouldn't make him happy. His childhood probably complicated his perspective. [Shandling’s brother died when they were children.] But, he put a lot of time into his friendships. He created a family by surrounding himself with people he loved and mentored.
HBO: You focused a lot of time documenting his work on Larry Sanders DVD bonus footage.
Judd Apatow: I think that when he finished the show, he was interested in exploring the relationships and the personalities of the people who made the show. It was almost as if, to Garry, the show was only truthful to a certain point. He chose to explore and go past the truths of Larry Sanders by speaking with the people who made it.
HBO: Talking with Linda Doucett was particularly striking given their controversial relationship.
Judd Apatow: Isn’t it fascinating that he chose to have this interaction with his ex-fiancee? He really is about digging deep, even if it was for a DVD extra. That's what Garry was about.
HBO: For people who watch Zen Diaries and want to learn about Garry Shandling, what should they watch next?
Judd Apatow: The Larry Sanders Show really holds up. Besides being a behind the scenes satire of a talk show, it's about how ego separates people. He used to say “The Larry Sanders Show was about people who love each other, but show business gets in the way.”