When Garry Shandling got back together with fellow cast members from his groundbreaking HBO comedy series The Larry Sanders Show for EW’s Reunions issue (on stands now), it was more than just your typical reunion. “People always talk about the cast of a series being like family—that isn’t what this group is like,” says Shandling, who was reunited with co-stars Rip Torn, Jeffrey Tambor, Sarah Silverman, Penny Johnson Jerald, Wallace Langham, and Mary Lynn Rajskub. “We’re somehow even closer than that. This was more like a group therapy reunion.”
Then again, Larry Sanders went deeper than your typical TV comedy. When it debuted in 1992, the show — a warts-and-all look at a narcissistic late-night talk show host (played by Shandling) and the often petty, narcissistic people around him — was unlike any other comedy on television: more raw, more real, and waaaay more awkward. Twenty years later, the fingerprints of Larry Sanders can be seen all over the TV landscape, from The Office to Modern Family to 30 Rock to Parks and Recreation and beyond. Here, Shandling shares some thoughts about the show’s creation, its comedy style, and its creative influence. Then scroll down for behind-the-scenes video from EW’s Larry Sanders reunion photo shoot. Hey now!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the original inspiration for The Larry Sanders Show? You had obviously had a lot of experience guest hosting The Tonight Show for Johnny Carson.
GARRY SHANDLING: The idea for doing something about a talk show host actually came out of an It’s Garry Shandling’s Show episode in which I was the guest on an LA morning show. When I was on that set, I realized, ‘Oh, there’s another story to be told from a different point of view.’ I realized that the curtain is a good metaphor for how we want people to see us versus what we’re really like. Fortunately, I had hosted The Tonight Show several times, so I knew that part. I thought I could make the talk show look very real so the audience would buy that part and then slowly suck them into the realities of life once Larry goes behind the curtain. We were digging into the human condition and reflecting that. Sure, it’s probably more entertaining when it’s a talk show host, but we actually could have done the show in any setting where human beings exist.
People always assumed you were playing a version of yourself in Larry Sanders. How much overlap was there between Garry and Larry?
I was always playing Larry. There was no confusion. Once I stepped onto the set and the cameras were going, I was in Larry’s shoes and heart. The best way I can describe it is that Larry was consumed with being a talk show host and the ratings and how he was being accepted. I was writing a show about that guy and the other people on the show. Larry is more narcissistic. He’s not concerned with what the other characters are going through. That’s a big difference.
The show pioneered a new style of comedy for TV: doing away with a laugh track and reveling in awkward pauses with a detached, almost documentary approach. Did that style just come naturally to you?
Yeah, I’ve always felt that the truth is in the silence. I wrote a tweet recently that said, “Buddha once said: ha ha ha.” That is my point. Everything was played with a heavy hand [comedically] at the time on the networks and this show was going to be not that.
The Larry Sanders style of comedy can now be seen everywhere. Are you surprised to see how much influence the show has had?
I was surprised by the impact it seemed to have on new writers, new comedic actors, directors. Sometimes I’ll be watching TV and what happens is I’ll flip to [a show] and within two seconds, I feel like I’m in the writers room again. That’s when I know there’s some similarity in the sensibility of the writing. [pauses] Mostly The Price is Right.
You haven’t done another TV series since Larry Sanders, and some people have this idea that you’re sort of a semi-recluse these days.
What do you suggest? [Laughs] Seriously, I go out and I still do standup. I think I’m better than ever. I go on a talk show when I have something to say. I’ve done a lot. I think Larry misses the limelight more than I do by a hair. But Larry just has to go out and do some jokes. I have to do something that matters to me. You know, I’m proud of Larry Sanders and proud of every single person who went on that journey. It’s a very special show to me, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons from it. I need to find something where I can learn some more lessons and then I’ll do that project.
Would you ever consider getting the Larry Sanders cast back together for another go-round on TV or in a movie?
My only thought is, maybe when Larry dies we’ll do something on Access Hollywood. We’ll get a bunch of stars to just go on and on about Larry and what it was like to be on his talk show. [Laughs] I think we could probably fool a number of people.
Other reunions in the annual double issue, on stands this week (or available to buy online), include Clueless, Arrested Development, Breaking Away, and National Lampoon’s Vacation.