When I was 22 I was trying to be something in show business. I hadn't really narrowed it down. An actor, a writer, an agent, a coke dealer — all viable occupations in 1986. I was in what seemed like my 80th semester of UCLA, and still floundering when I got the chance, through a family friend, to work as an “apprentice writer” on It's Garry Shandling's Show. I had never heard of that job, but it was better than trying to spend hours trying to find a parking spot at UCLA so I jumped at the chance. It was a new sitcom on Showtime, a place that didn't really make sitcoms or shows. Well, when I showed up for work in my suit, I was told to get the producer a bagel and cream cheese. I realized immediately there was no apprentice writer job. I was a runner, a production assistant. I knew this job well. I had done it before. Basically, you get people food, deliver scripts and do any s–t job that needs doing that no one else is willing to lower themselves to do.
It's a terrible gig but a great vantage point to learn production. You get to see how the sausage is made. The show was created by Alan Zweibel and Garry Shandling. Garry was a successful stand up but started out as a writer and always seemed more at home at the rewrite table. Despite seeming like a cranky New York Jew, Garry was from Arizona, into healthy food and was a Buddhist. He was not what he seemed on any level. Not a nebbish, he was a ladies' man. Not a nerd, he was actually a pretty good basketball player (maybe he wasn't, I wouldn't really know. But he liked to play.)
The one thing you would expect from him would be the funny and he always delivered. He was very funny. Alan was funny. And Alan and Garry assembled an amazing staff. I got to watch great writers like Ed Soloman, Max Pross & Tom Gammill, and Sam Simon work a rewrite room. Garry always made the writers work the script. Even when the script was perfect he would continue rewriting it anyway. I'd say he'd usually go two or three drafts past the best one but then work the best jokes from the old scripts into the actual show.
Sometimes I would get Garry yogurt and he'd tell me tales of being a writer and a stand up. I don't remember them much because he'd always have a little yogurt on his face and that's all I could think about. He told me to value my anonymity. An odd lesson to a runner who would rather be famous than have someone else get the yogurt.
The more I got to know him the more I understood he was seeking happiness. He'd gotten into a car wreck as a writer and decided that was a wake-up call to do something more with his life. He had wanted to be a stand-up and he thought he better give it a try. Turns out it was a good move. He was hysterical. But once he found that success he turned his attention to other parts of his life. Acting. Writing. Faith. Relationships. Friendships. He was never truly happy but always in search of it.
Once, on vacation in Maui, after I had actually become a writer, I ran into Garry at the hotel we were both staying at and he made it a point to hang out with me. We were watching a gorgeous sunset and I commented on how pretty it was and he seemed to agree, while implying there were prettier sunsets out there. I hope Garry finally found his perfect sunset before the sun went down forever.