In a preface to a 2010 interview with Garry Shandling, GQ describes the comedian as "a Buddhist, a hoops junkie, and a kind of Yoda to every funny person born since 1965."
Of all the descriptors used it is the latter that lands most heavily in the wake of the news of Shandling's passing Thursday at age 66. His comedy persona was an anxiety-ridden, leery average Joe often on the edge of losing control. In reality he was a comedy giant who greatly influenced his peers both young and old.
Those who had the privilege of working with the comedian – who earned 19 Primetime Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards, along with many other awards and nominations throughout his career – were quick to laud Shandling late Thursday.
"Garry Shandling was as kind and generous as he was funny and that is saying a lot," tweeted Jimmy Kimmel. "RIP the great Garry Shandling. Surely, one of the most influential comedians of a generation," wrote Ricky Gervais on Twitter. "Goodbye Gary Shandling," tweeted Amy Schumer, adding, "thank you for your kindness and your generosity and for making me laugh so damn much."
Perhaps the most telling reaction was from Judd Apatow, who worked with Shandling on "The Larry Sanders Show." "Garry would see the ridiculousness of me being asked to sum up his life five minutes after being told of his passing," Apatow told The Wrap. "It is a perfect, ridiculous Larry Sanders moment."
Most recently Shandling was seen in small roles in big blockbusters such as "Iron Man 2," "Zoolander" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." He recently appeared in Jerry Seinfeld's web-based TV show, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," and will next be heard in Disney's reboot of "The Jungle Book" due to land in theaters April 15.
From his earliest stand-up performances through late night TV appearances, his cable sitcoms and movie roles, Shandling was unique. Here, a few moments in a lifetime of laughs:
King of Late Night Comedy
Shandling first made his mark on the pop culture radar with his debut appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" in 1981. His audience appeal quickly grew and he began substituting for Carson on a regular basis until 1987, when he left to focus on his cable series. Shandling was approached by NBC to host his own late night talk fest in Letterman's old spot when the host departed in the early '90s, but turned it down in the belief that the gig would not allow him to grow as an artist. Here, a "Tonight Show" appearance from 1981:
"It's Garry Shandling's Show"
In 1984, Shandling performed his first stand-up special, "Garry Shandling: Alone in Vegas," for Showtime, the cable network that would soon carry his first series "It's Garry Shandling's Show." Airing from 1986 to 1990, the surreal comedy – which ran for 72 episodes – often broke the fourth wall, with characters directly addressing the at-home audience in an effort to break with sitcom conventions.
"The Larry Sanders Show"
In 1992, Shandling launched his next series at HBO, a mockumentary style look at a fictitious late night talk show featuring Shandling as the host and a seemingly endless parade of real life celebrities happy to appear as exaggerated versions of themselves. Running until 1998, it was a critical and commercial hit in which the comedian drew on his past experiences as a guest and substitute host of Carson's "Tonight Show." Apatow, who worked on the series as a writer, told GQ the main lesson Shandling taught him on "Sanders" was that the backstage/onstage divide was just a metaphor for how we hide our true selves. "He always talked about how it's incredibly rare for people to say what they mean. People are lying a great deal of the time," Apatow said. It was that disconnect between "what people are trying to project versus what they're actually feeling" that was the root of the show's humor.