The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, directed by Judd Apatow
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling is a warm, sensitive, entertaining documentary about the life of the late, regretted, intelligent, spiritual- perhaps Zen- comedian, writer, actor and producer…Gary Shandling.
Judd Apatow directs this feature, conducts interviews with personalities, performers, comedians who have been part of the life of the hero, inserts various materials, a few lines from a discussion with Ram Dass, recollections from Conan O’Brien, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jay Leno, Jim Carrey and others.
The childhood of the protagonist has been marked by the death of his brother, a tragedy about which the family would never speak in the aftermath, probably in an attempt to protect the surviving brother from the Post Traumatic stress disorder that is likely to be experienced after such an event.
Late in his life, the comedian writes a touching letter to his departed brother, expressing a wish that they meet on the other side and regret that they did not have more time together, appreciation for what the sibling has brought into his life, the joy, the bliss and happiness, which were so glorious, the proof being that he kept thinking about the brother, who in the end has marked, changed all his life.
In opposition with so many stars – if not the overwhelming majority- this superior human being is not vain, superficial, arrogant, self-absorbed, even if the friends in the film emphasize what he was difficult, even at the last rites for the deceased actor, Kevin Nealon talks about this, using humor and wiping a few tears.
Garry Shandling has reached a zenith when he had the opportunity to host the coveted Late Night Show and have his own “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” at the same time- that is not on the air or recorded simultaneously, but produced and filmed separately, taking a toll on the actor and writer.
The hero has to abandon the Late Night Show, because he cannot cope with the two challenging activities and to some extent, perhaps because he had achieved the peak he desired, he had written in his diaries that hosting this appreciated program would be something that cannot be topped:
Nec Plus Ultra
Jim Carrey is one of the charming, amusing presences in this documentary feature, talking about common experiences, including the fact that he has married a waitress with whom Carrey has a child and who had had a relationship with Gary Shandling, speaking in laudatory terms about his prowess as a sex partner.
Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the younger actors who have been inspired, guided and mentored by the remarkable protagonist of this movie and there are others, including Sarah Silverman, who insist on the fact that the hero has had such a tremendous success, not just in his own roles, creations, but through the many people he had advised, protected, inspired, taught.
Conan O’Brien talks about the low – a nadir maybe- point in his career, when he finds that Gary Shandling can offer so much support, as the latter called and the two spent so much time together that O’Brien laughs on his show about it, with photographs of the two men together and reference to the record “romantic” time they had enjoyed, which was probably more of a session destined to help the showman get more positive energy and grit to get back and pass the difficult period.
Since this aspect was mentioned, it is interesting that at the funeral service, one of the speakers – was it Judd Apatow or Kevin Nealon?-refers to the confused sexuality of the deceased and one can wonder what that meant, for reference to this is not repeated throughout the two parts, broadcasted on HBO.
One of the comedies with Gary Shandling, who was also one of the writers of the script, is the amusing, if rather ignored, What Planet Are You From? In which the actor plays opposite the wondrous Annette Benning and he is a visitor from a different galaxy, with some funny features, including a strange penis, interested in having a baby that he would then take to his planet…at least that is the initial plan.
In the documentary, we have footage from shows where the hero has been invited, or he hosted, facing Conan O’Brien, David Letterman and others, with a rather late appearance on the more recent Jerry Seinfeld creation- Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
A large part of the documentary is sad, in spite of the fact that the star, the subject was a man who worked so much- the diaries attest the habit of making efforts, thinking about the career, the way to approach television appearances- be relaxed, do not overdo it, enjoy and so many more insightful thoughts addressed to…self.
The comedian becomes very ill and friends remember the fact that he looked and was so tired, exhausted actually, problems having been detected with the pancreas and surgical interventions recommended.
On the one hand, the hero uses this situation as material on his last stand up appearances- a friend record him on the hospital bed- and on the other hand, the very spiritual artist insists on the need to enjoy whatever time is left, writing something like – if there are three weeks left, enjoy them, if there are a few years, be glad with them.
One can think of Dostoyevsky who has been through a somewhat similar spiritual experience, as he faced execution and then wrote about the last few minutes in the life of a prisoner condemned to death- for that matter, it is universally applicable- and the revelation that life is so extraordinary, we need to enjoy it, sublime chapters that you can find in Crime and Punishment and some of the other masterpieces of the genius author.
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling work as a very good film, but this is also educational, the hero was a role model for many of those he has met and we can look up at his persona, qualities, decency, kindness, generosity, forget some of the natural human flaws, and celebrate this departed, great man.