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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.”

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