There’s rightfully going to be a lot of looks back at Garry Shandling‘s impact on television and comedy due to the success and intellectual chutzpah of both It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show, but their legacy extends beyond the shows themselves. If you’re a comedy fan who has yet to see those series and experience Shandling’s work — go ahead and rectify that ASAP — you’re probably not aware of the extent of Shandling’s influence. Like many other great ones, Shandling (an anxiety-riddled egoist to perfection) wasn’t afraid to surround himself with talent, both on camera and off.
On his first show, the wildly imaginative It’s Garry Shandling’s Show which toyed with many TV conventions in a time before such a thing was commonplace, Shandling aligned himself with original Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel, who served as the series’ co-creator. Putting words in Shandling’s mouth? A significant part of the braintrust behind The Simpsons — namely Al Jean, Mike Reiss, the late Sam Simon — and both Tom Gammill and Max Pross, two writers who also worked with David Letterman on Late Night and Seinfeld. Two other It’s Garry Shandling’s Show writers? Initial Late Night With David Letterman head writer Merrill Markoe and Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, though only for one episode each. It’s no coincidence that Shandling attracted so many writers from so many legendarily clever and hilarious shows. Both of Shandling’s series matched this description and had honors to back up their reputations: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show received four Emmy nominations and The Larry Sanders Show was a constant fixture on the ballot with 56 nominations and three wins.
With many of the players from his first show’s writing team off in the land of Springfield, Shandling looked to new talent to help staff up his HBO series, The Larry Sanders Show. Peter Tolan, who produced Rescue Me and wrote Analyze This found his first steady work as a writer on the show. John Riggi, a comic turned writer and producer went on to eventually work as a producer on 30 Rock after finding some of his first work behind the scenes on The Larry Sanders Show.
With all due respect to Tolan and Riggi, though, the most notable Shandling graduates have to be Judd Apatow and Paul Simms. The former went on to produce Freaks and Geeks and co-write and direct The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Trainwreck, and many other films while shepherding Girls, Love, and numerous other film and TV projects into existence. In short, Apatow has become a comedic institution with his own impressive tree of writers and actors that have gone on to put a dent in the world of comedy. Simms’ resumé is less voluminous than Apatow’s (whose isn’t?), but he pivoted off The Larry Sanders Show and created Newsradio, another smart comedy that people still speak about in hushed tones almost two decades after its final episode. Both Apatow and Simms worked as writers and producers, with Apatow coming off a career as a stand-up who had worked on a handful of comedy specials for acts like Jim Carrey and Tom Arnold, and Simms fresh off a stint writing for David Letterman.
Bob Odenkirk also has a strong connection to The Larry Sanders Show, but not for his writing work. An established talent as a writer on Saturday Night Live who would eventually gravitate to a role writing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Odenkirk’s then nascent on-screen career was boosted by his recurring appearances on the show as Larry’s agent, Stevie, a not-quite Saul Goodman-level slimeball who provided the first glimpse many had of him outside of sketch comedy. (He had already served as a cast member on the smart but underloved Ben Stiller Show).
Jeffrey Tambor worked steadily as a supporting actor before he was cast as Larry’s long-suffering sidekick, “Hey Now” Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show, but that’s probably the first stand-out role on a resumé that would eventually include work on Arrested Development and Transparent.
The Larry Sanders Show also introduced 24 and Mad TV alum Mary Lynn Rajskub into the mainstream, gave Janeane Garofalo, another Ben Stiller alum, a breakout role, and allowed guest stars like Jon Stewart and David Duchovny to play around with their images and maybe let people see a little more than they had expected.
These are, of course, only a few names from the pile. It’s a long list and again, one that reflects on Shandling’s amazing eye for talent, his appreciation for collaboration, and his ability to acknowledge that it really does take a village to make something great. We can’t, from the outside, know the exact ways in which working with Shandling helped to shape these talents and whether it was by example or by direct guidance. Everything is anecdotal, but as we start to see others reflect on his career and his goodness as a person, I’m sure we’ll also see people reflect on Garry Shandling the mentor.