×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Comedy Writer Alan Zweibel Remembers the Birth of ‘It’s Garry Shandling’s Show’

It seems unnatural to think about Garry Shandling and feel sad. To start crying in a Japanese restaurant where my wife Robin reaches across the table and holds my hand.  To give interviews where television personalities show clips of our co-creation, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” before asking questions using words like “was” and “did.”

Garry was about laughter. And about causing one to marvel at his ability to place his words in an order that no one else could.

We met in 1986 after my manager, Bernie Brillstein, recommended me to consult on a special Garry was doing for Showtime. I flew to Los Angeles, went straight to a restaurant, thought Garry was a nice enough guy, then headed to my hotel where at 1 in the morning (4 a.m. for my exhausted Jewish body) the phone in my room rang. It was Garry’s voice.

“Alan…?
“Hey, man, what’s up?”
“Alan, my dog’s penis tastes bitter. You think it’s his diet or what?”

That morning I called Robin and said, “I think I found a writing partner.”

Almost by definition, writing teams are eccentric couplings. Two people who view the world similarly, yet with an appreciation for the differences that give their product an alchemy that neither could achieve individually.

Together we wrote the quirky lyrics to the “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” theme song in an elevator we got into on the sixth floor of a Los Angeles building. The song was complete by the time we reached the lobby.

             This is the theme to Garry’s show,

             The theme to Garry’s show,

             Garry called me up and asked if would write his theme song,

             I’m almost halfway finished, how do you like it so far?

             How do you like the theme to Garry’s show?

             This is the theme to Garry’s show,

             The opening theme to Garry’s show,

             This is the music that you hear, when you watch the credits,

              I’m almost to the part, of where I start to whistle,

              Then we’ll watch “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”

              (three seconds of whistling)

              This was the theme to Garry Shandling’s show.”

 

On the other hand, writing with someone so one of them could deliver the material while playing themselves is a more complicated situation.  Because to be able to put words in Garry’s mouth that he could deliver with comfort, it was necessary for me to get to know every aspect of his being. His biography. Likes. Insecurities. Penchants. Perverse spins on the otherwise mundane. The stuff of comedy. The stuff of marriage.

And what I also discovered was the size of Garry’s heart. The generosity he displayed to my pal Gilda Radner when she appeared on our show while battling ovarian cancer. The unbridled help he gave to the community that mourns him now. The fellow comedians for whom he was always there to support in any way and for any cause. The writers who swear they honed their craft by paying heed to the examples Garry set. And the public who identified with the observations and vulnerabilities he was brave enough to share with them.

“I have a mirror over my bed that has the words “Caution: objects may appear to be bigger than they actually are.”

Being Garry’s partner was not easy. In fact, after our show ended, we were hardly speaking — the unfortunate result of two strong personalities growing resentful of the same traits that drew them together in the first place.

But after a while, I started missing him. So I reached out. Sometimes he answered. A lot of times not. I took what I was able to get with hopes that, well, that we could be friends again.

And then we were reunited for one evening when the San Francisco Comedy Festival commemorated the 25th anniversary of “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.” We flew there together. We were funny onstage. We enjoyed the old clips as if watching memories of what we once were. Mostly, it was fun hearing that voice again.

I even e-mailed a new joke I’d written for that voice.

“The ads for Cialis say if you have an erection that lasts four hours you should call your doctor. If I have an erection that lasts four hours I’m calling everyone.”

We had a second shot at it. We were slowly reestablishing a friendship based on the mutual desire to be in touch. And then last Thursday we got word that he died. Yet, I still hear that voice. And suspect I will for a long time. Rest in peace, my writing partner. I miss you already.

Comedy veteran Alan Zweibel was one of the original writers of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and co-creator with Garry Shandling of Showtime’s “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.”

More TV

  • Lilly Burns Tony Hernandez

    Variety to Honor Jax Media Chiefs Tony Hernandez, Lilly Burns at New Leaders Event

    Emmy Award-winning producer Tony Hernandez and Emmy-nominated producer Lilly Burns will receive the Creative Leadership Award on behalf of Jax Media at the Variety New Leaders event presented by City National Bank, taking place Nov. 14 in New York City. As founders of Jax Media, Hernandez and Burns have produced shows and specials such as [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Virginia Leith, Female Lead in Stanley Kubrick's First Film, Dies at 94

    Actress and model Virginia Leith, who starred in Stanley Kubrick’s first film “Fear and Desire,” which he later disavowed, has died. She was 94. According to family spokesperson Jane Chalmers, Leith died after a brief illness at her home in Palm Springs, Calif. on Nov. 4. Born on Oct. 15, 1925, Leith met Kubrick in [...]

  • Friends

    'Friends' Reunion Special in Early Planning Stages at HBO Max

    More “Friends” could well be there for you when the HBO Max rain starts to fall. An unscripted “Friends” reunion special is in the works at the forthcoming WarnerMedia streamer, Variety has confirmed with sources. Sources say original cast members Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer are in discussions [...]

  • TC3_SM_060718_238A4600.cr2

    'The Crown' New Season: Netflix to Offer Opening Episode for Free in the U.K.

    When Olivia Colman steps into the royal shoes of Queen Elizabeth II, viewers in the U.K. and Ireland will be able to watch for free as Netflix makes the eagerly awaited Season 3 curtain-raiser available gratis. The streaming giant will launch the series opener on a dedicated site for a limited period starting Sunday, making it [...]

  • T.R. Knight

    TV News Roundup: T.R. Knight Joins HBO Max's 'The Flight Attendant'

    In today’s TV news roundup, “Grey’s Anatomy” star T.R. Knight joins HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant” and BET renewed “Games People Play.” CASTING T.R Knight has been cast in HBO Max‘s dark comedy “The Flight Attendant.“ Knight will play Cassie’s (Kaley Cuoco) older brother, Davey. When Cassie’s life starts to unravel, Davey deals with the [...]

  • Days of Our Lives Bill Hayes

    'Days of Our Lives' Cast Members Released From Contracts

    The entire cast of the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” have been released from their contracts, Variety has confirmed. The daytime drama has run for over 13,000 episodes since first debuting in 1965. The show will go on hiatus at the end of November, though it has shot enough episodes to last through the [...]

  • Live+7 Ratings Week of Oct. 28:

    Live+7 Ratings for Week of Oct. 28: ‘This Is Us,' 'Grey's Anatomy' Double

    “This Is Us” and “Grey’s Anatomy” were among the biggest TV ratings growers for the week of Oct. 28. Both the NBC drama and the ABC medical show doubled their ratings after seven days of delayed viewing, with the former ending up on a 2.8 among adults 18-49 (the highest rating for a non-football show [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content