×

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

  • Gabrielle Carteris

    SAG-AFTRA Signs Netflix Deal With Expanded Coverage

    SAG-AFTRA and streaming giant Netflix have agreed to a new three-year contract with expanded coverage for union performers. Netflix has previously employed SAG-AFTRA members under the union’s standard master contracts for television and film and had been signing on a production by production basis. The union announced Saturday that the new deal recognizes performance capture as covered work [...]

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show photocall,

    Cara Delevingne Says Her 'Carnival Row' Character Is Pansexual, Explains Defending Taylor Swift Against Justin Bieber

    Cara Delevingne and Orlando Bloom’s love affair may be at the center of the upcoming Amazon Prime Video series “Carnival Row,” but the British actress doesn’t want viewers to assume her faerie character is heterosexual. “I’m a pansexual faerie,” Delevingne told Variety during an exclusive one-on-one interview at Comic-Con adding that there are other queer [...]

  • 'Russian Doll' Star Charlie Barnett Joins

    'Russian Doll' Star Charlie Barnett Joins 'Arrow' Final Season

    “Russian Doll” standout Charlie Barnett is joining the “Arrowverse.” Barnett, who is having a busy year having also appeared in Netflix’s “Tales of the City,” comes on board in the series regular role of John Diggle, Jr., son of David Ramsey’s character. News of his casting was announced at the show’s farewell Comic-Con panel where things [...]

  • THE ORVILLE Fox

    'The Orville' to Move From Fox to Hulu for Season 3

    Seth MacFarlane’s “The Orville” is on the move. MacFarlane announced Saturday at the show’s San Diego Comic-Con panel that Season 3 of the sci-fi series will air exclusively on Hulu rather than on Fox as it has for its first two seasons. According to an individual with knowledge of the situation, MacFarlane’s current workload and [...]

  • Westworld Season 3 Trailer

    Aaron Paul, Showrunners Unveil 'Westworld' Season 3 Trailer (Watch)

    Season 3 of “Westworld” is going to new worlds altogether. Unveiled during the show’s Comic-Con panel, the trailer teases Thandie Newton’s character Maeve entering a new world of hosts set during World War II. Meanwhile, in the human world, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her fellow hosts who escaped “Westworld” in season 2 are being [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Dish Faces Multiple Outages as Carriage Contracts Come Due

    Satellite-broadcaster Dish is known in the media industry as a hard bargainer when carriage contracts come up for renewal. HBO hasn’t been available on the service since November. Now, other TV networks face a similar prospect. Unless Dish and certain content suppliers reach new terms by Monday evening, subscribers who use several cable networks currently [...]

  • Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard of

    'Star Trek: Picard' to Feature Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Jeri Ryan

    “Star Trek: Picard” is bringing back some familiar faces. During the show’s San Diego Comic-Con panel on Saturday, it was revealed that Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and Jeri Ryan would reprising their roles from “Next Generation” and “Voyager” in Ryan’s case. Jonathan Del Arco will also appear, likely reprising his role as the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content