"The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling" is a Remarkable Portrait of the Comedian

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23 March 2018
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The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling
Photo: Larry Watson/HBO
"The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling"
Premieres Monday, March 26 at 8 PM ET/PT, EXCLUSIVELY ON HBO
 
         “You’re either the happiest person I know,” Judd Apatow once told his friend and mentor, Garry Shandling, “or you’ve completely lost your mind.” Shandling responded, “That’s about right.” When Shandling passed away in 2016, he was widely remembered as a top standup comic and the star of two of the most innovative sitcoms in TV history. But to those who knew him, the “real” Garry Shandling was a far more complex person. Now, Apatow has created a remarkable portrait of this iconic comedian in the four-and-a-half-hour documentary THE ZEN DIARIES OF GARRY SHANDLING, which debuts in two parts MONDAY, MARCH 26 (8:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT) and TUESDAY, MARCH 27 (8:00-10:30 p.m. ET/PT), on HBO. 
 

          Epic in scope and intimate in detail, THE ZEN DIARIES OF GARRY SHANDLING features conversations with more than 40 of Shandling’s family and friends, including James L. Brooks, Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen, David Coulier, Jon Favreau, Jay Leno, Kevin Nealon, Conan O’Brien, Bob Saget, Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman, and four decades’ worth of TV appearances, along with personal journals, private letters and candid home audio and video footage that reveal his brilliant mind and restless soul. “Give what you didn’t get,” wrote Shandling in a journal late in his life, the mantra of a self-proclaimed “spiritual warrior” still challenging himself to transcend his own insecurities, despite achieving so much in the face of loss, betrayal and tragic twists of fate.
 
          From childhood tragedy to heartbreak, professional betrayal and unexpected physical trauma, to his emergence as a powerful teacher, friend and guiding spirit for a new generation of talent, Apatow’s documentary not only chronicles one man’s ability to survive the ups and downs of a life in show business, but also offers a profound investigation into the power of comedy to elevate the human spirit.

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling
Courtesy of HBO
          Shandling experienced a normal existence growing up in Tucson until age ten, when his older brother and only sibling, Barry, died from cystic fibrosis. His parents barely discussed their older son’s passing, and his mother, Muriel, began clinging to her younger son, developing an intense and sometimes troubling bond that would later generate some of his comedy material.
 
          Shandling’s unlikely path towards success, through an encounter with George Carlin and an impulsive move to Los Angeles after college, took a turn in 1976, when he was involved in a serious traffic accident, resulting in a near-death experience. As he recovered, he noted in his diaries, which he began keeping in 1977, “Do it – you are ready, be a comedian. It is the real me. The secret is to be myself.” Explains Jim Carrey, “I thought of Garry as someone who told the audience, ‘You’re alright, because I have all these problems.’ But he did it in a way that was so incredibly clever, you had to respect him at the same time.” Shandling made the leap from the pinnacle of stand-up success, appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” to develop his comic persona into something that would redefine television comedy. Realizing that one of his strengths as a standup was simply the ability to “talk to people,” he created a show where talking to the audience was the central focus – “a show that allows Garry to be Garry,” as his journals read.

 
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