It was a surprise, coming to me as it did, on the highway. I was riding in the passenger seat of our family car, catching up on e-mail as our son drove us south. We were headed for a little time away, in the bottom half of the state. We were looking for a little rest and relaxation: R&R. What I got in that email was a little reckoning and reaction. Gary Shandling had died, and my friend had sent an message along to me, expressing his shock and dismay.
I was right there with him.
Not just a couple weeks before, I had been watching Jerry Seinfeld’s web series “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee,” an episode that featured his longtime friend and funny guy, Mister Shandling. It was a reminder of all the things that made the two of them such comedic forces to deal with. It also put the styles of these two gentlemen in stark contrast. It made me remember something I had learned about comedy, years ago, from another source.
Chuck Jones, animator for most every cartoon of any importance in my youth, had once suggested that Bugs Bunny was who we all secretly wanted to be. Daffy Duck was who we all really were. Bugs with his self-assured manner and his ability to turn all forces against him back in his favor, including gravity. Daffy and his narcissism and hair trigger temper, and accident waiting to happen for anyone who crossed his path.
Jerry Seinfeld is Bugs. No matter how many times George or Kramer or Elaine brougth their issues into the mix, Jerry sailed above it. The pitfalls and explosions happened to those around him, the ones who didn’t understand that the alternative physics in his world. Things really did bounce off of him and stick to you. He held a mirror up to us all and we learned to check ourselves before we messed with the inevitable machine of fate that would punish us for not taking the simple Jerry zen path.
Garry Shandling used ot do a bit about the mirror on the ceiling of his bedroom. It included the admonition near the bottom, “Objects in mirror may be larger than they appear.” And that was how Gary Shandling’s career existed. It was much larger than it appeared. The number of funny folks who have been brought up through the laugh track is astounding. Not the least of which would be Judd Apatow, the man who launched a hundred new comedy careers himself.And now, as we bid farewell to Gary Shandling, who passed away at the tender age of sixty-six, I find myself wondering how life will maintain its balance with Daffy Duck out of the picture. Aloha, Gary, you stomped and moaned and whined across the Terra, and made me laugh like there was no tomorrow. I'm sorry you won't be there.