The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling (2018)

zen diaries of garry shandling poster 2018 movie documentary series
8.0 Overall Score

A reminder of how influential Shandling was and how even fame doesn't necessarily help insecurity

One perspective of Shandling, long

zen diaries of garry shandling title card

Unwrapping Garry Shandling

When Garry Shandling died on March 24, 2016, his friend and collaborator Judd Apatow decided to tell the story of Shandling.  Diving into Garry’s diaries, notes, and journals, Apatow and Garry’s friends and relatives try to find the driving force for the revolutionary comic and unwrap the insecurities and doubts that plagued his life.  Garry Shandling found his way into comedy in an unusual way…but changed it for the better.

Directed by Judd Apatow, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling is a biographical documentary.  The two part series on Garry Shandling (November 29, 1949-March 24, 2016) was released on HBO on March 26, 2018 and March 27, 2018.  It won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special with nominations for Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program and Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming.

zen diaries of garry shandling episode 1 stand up

Stand-up is a hard life…

I loved Garry Shandling.  I’m not a huge stand-up comic fan, but even Shandling’s self-deprecating was fun.  Primarily I found Shandling through his shows.  His It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was rerun on the early days of FOX when they were searching for programming and The Larry Sanders Show was always a rare treat if I was somewhere with cable.  While I watched his shows, I didn’t know much about Shandling and this documentary does a deep dive into what makes him tick.

It becomes pretty obvious fast that Garry Shandling is a rather private person, but he is self-aware.  Much of his humor was a base upon his insecurities and he wore these insecurities on stage.  His practices of meditation and Eastern philosophy feels like a strange contradiction to someone who makes a career out of sometimes crude humor and off-color jokes, but it feels like it shaped much of his life from his stand-up to his relationships (of which he struggled).

zen diaries of garry shandling episode 2 mothers death

The series gets personal

Apatow tells Garry’s story through video and interviews with those who knew him.  Garry is seen as both driven for an unattainable perfection that sabotaged his own relationships with people, but he also seen as a driving and encouraging voice for those who came to him for help.  It is obvious from the interviews and clips (which include Bob Saget, Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Coulier, Jim Carrey, David Duchovny, Jon Favreau, Chris Rock, Jay Leno, Kevin Nealon, Sarah Silverman, Jeffrey Tambor, Paul Willson, and Conan O’Brien among others) that Garry had an important effect on a number of comic names.  While no one might have really known Garry, he still was able to alter their lives.

zen diaries of garry shandling episode 1 judd apatow larry sanders

It is Apatow’s perspective of his mentor…and that has to be remembered

It is also notable that the Garry Shandling presented is the Garry Shandling that Judd Apatow knew.  It does get into things like the lawsuit by his former girlfriend Linda Doucett who found herself fired from The Larry Sanders show after their slip, but other issues like reports of sexual harassment on the set of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show by Janis Hirsch (not necessarily by Garry himself, but witness by Garry) were not covered…it is notable that other things probably happened in Garry Shandling’s life that weren’t covered here.

If you were ever on the fence about Garry Shandling or question his importance to comedy, this series is a great reminder of some of the innovative approaches he took over the years.  His stand-up was different, and his comedies broke the mold of the standard sitcom while elevating the “cable TV” TV series to something that ushered in dramas like The Sopranos and Oz.  Garry Shandling was flawed (he’d admit it), but The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling is not.

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling Complete Episode Guide:

zen diaries of garry shandling episode 1 tonight show host

“Part 1”

Part 1 Airdate:  03/26/18

From his early life in Tucson and the death of the brother Barry from cystic fibrosis, Garry Shandling decides to change his life in college by leaving the University of Arizona and the pursuit of a degree in electrical engineering for stand-up comedy.  While Garry struggled at first, his own worst critic was himself…but Garry is about to take Hollywood by storm and change the face of comedy with a new TV show called It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and the potential to host The Tonight Show.

zen diaries of garry shandling episode 2 larry sanders show

“Part 2”

Part 2 Airdate:  03/27/18

With The Larry Sanders Show, Garry Shandling reinvents his comedy and looks into his ties to The Tonight Show and late night television.  When a lawsuit dealing with Garry’s personal life turns the show on end, Garry finds himself leaving the series and questioning his future…but the death of his mother and a medical emergency might change his perspective.

Related Links:

It’s Garry Shandling’s Show—Season 1 Review and Complete Episode Guide

The Larry Sanders Show—Season 1 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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