Garry Shandling’s friends, collaborators and family gathered in Los Angeles Sunday night to remember the comedian, who passed away last month at the age of 66.
From fellow comics to a Buddhist monk, mourners took turns sharing stories of Shandling, who was remembered for pushing the boundaries of television comedy and mentoring a generation of performers. The private event, organized by Judd Apatow with assistance from HBO, was part memorial service, part variety show, part celebrity roast, with Apatow serving as master of ceremonies.
“Garry and I used to fight, because he would like to tighten things up,” said Apatow, who worked as a writer on Shandling’s “The Larry Sanders Show.” “And I would say, ‘Garry, please, let it be a little looser.’ Tonight I win.”
Apatow spoke periodically throughout the evening, ushering speakers on and off the stage, as well as musical performers including Ryan Adams, Mark Oliver Everett of the band Eels, and Adam Sandler, who closed the service with a rendition of George Harrison’s “Give Me Love.”
In addition to his work as a stand-up comic and multiple late-night appearances with hosts such as Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, speakers paid tribute to Shandling’s work on his two television series — Showtime’s “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show.”
The service, held at the Wilshire-Ebell Theatre, opened with a sketch featuring Shandling’s “Larry Sanders” co-stars Jeffrey Tambor and Penny Johnson-Jerald hewing close to their onscreen characters, bickering over where in the order of speakers Tambor would appear.
Alan Zweibel, Shandling’s former writing partner and co-creator of “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” described receiving a call at 1 a.m. from Shandling the evening that they met, which Shandling made to run a bawdy joke by him — establishing a precedent of odd-hour calls that would continue for years to come.
“I am nowhere near getting over not hearing that voice anymore,” Zweibel said. “I can’t accept that I won’t hear that voice again.”
Over the course of more than two and a half hours, speakers also ventured into the darker corners of Shandling’s life, including his tortured relationship with his mother — the source of many of his best stand-up jokes — and his legal entanglements with Brad Grey, the Paramount Pictures CEO and Shandling’s former manager, whom Shandling once sued for $100 million.
Friends and confidants also shared bits of insight about Shandling’s failing health in recent years, revealing that he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in 2014, then with pancreatitis.
But Shandling was remembered best for what Apatow called his “third show,” the period of time after “Larry Sanders” that he spent nurturing young talent and focusing on Buddhist teachings and practices. Brooke Shields recalled how Shandling would, after seeing her in a play, visit her backstage afterward with tears in his eyes to discuss the work. Sarah Silverman talked about the 18 years she spent as a regular in the Sunday pick-up basketball game at Shandling’s house that was a weekly fixture in the lives of him and his friends.
“All the things he learned the hard way, he offered to me wrapped up in a bow, and there are so many of here tonight who can say that,” Silverman said. “He mad us feel so loved and supported and mirrored with the best lighting. He gave with his whole being. He was the Giving Tree.”
Kevin Nealon described Shandling as a complicated person who wasn’t always easy to be friends with, but one whose friendship was rewarding.
“I read somewhere that grief is not a sign of weakness,” Nealon said. “Grief is just the price you pay to love someone. And I can tell you that Garry was very, very, very expensive. That fucker bankrupted me.”