I Know I'm Not Alone in Wishing I Had Known Garry Shandling

Why doesn't Microsoft recognize the name Shandling? And then again why did I not know of the vastly creative man myself, in any kind of depth? On the day he died, at 66, apparently quite suddenly, my husband and I watched the episode of Jerry Seinfeld on his web series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee", with Shandling from January 2016, and he so impressed me.

I wrote a comment in the New York Times on March 24, when they published a piece entitled "Garry Shandling, Star of Groundbreaking Sitcoms, Dies at 66" by Peter Keepnews.
It got one of those yellow flags that says the Times recommends the comment (a Times "pick"). The comment went:

I confess that it was through Judd Apatow's book Sick in the Head (Random House, 2015) that I really began to understand and appreciate the breadth and depth of this amazing man, and all that he did for television and comedy.

So, oddly I feel I was just beginning to get to know him, and I'm really sorry he has died, and so suddenly.

It is not a brilliant comment by any means but the "pick" may mean that the comment could resonate in the responses of more than just me.

I will no doubt be one of the many who will try to get to know him and his contributions after his death. I was so struck while reading Sick in the Head by the generosity and innovativeness of this man, who at a few years younger than me did seem young enough, or sort of "too young to die."

The personalizing of grief and sadness and the unevenness of the experience can feel daunting at times. I remember calling into Marc Maron when he hosted a show on Air America. It was right after the earthquake and tsunami had struck Thailand in 2004. As one Jewish neurotic person to another, I shared my guilt about not having yet contributed to a fund that was going to help survivors, and he confessed the same. We both seemed not to know which organization to trust in the matter. When I said I had decided to contribute, he said then I was making him feel bad. He was funny and easy to talk to, and open, a real person. And yet what made me call was something else, relating to someone in Italy -- an old friend of my husband -- who had died just earlier the same day.

I told Marc that it felt strange, even perhaps a little wrong, that I was feeling more connected to the death of someone I hardly knew, than I was to the tragedy of so many people losing their lives in such a global tragedy. Maron, himself known for his harangues, his guilt and annoyances -- his complaints which were frequently entertaining and often glaringly on point -- was easy to talk to about that. He seemed to get it, and yet it does feel almost odd to feel so connected to someone never known or hardly.

I know, I know, there is transference to everything. We get set off, reminded, provoked -- touched in one way or another. The man in Italy seemed vibrant and when we met he was standing in front of a sign that read, "European Socialists". I asked him if he was one, and he said yes, the mood being kind of entertaining rather than serious. He had a twinkle and seemed kind. Then, for the fun of it, I asked if I could have a photograph in front of the sign. So it was I, and Peppino and another friend of his standing like comrades. The experience of meeting this man, made me smile.

When I heard Peppino died from the effects of a fall on the way home to see his wife and bringing her flowers for no special reason at all, I was deeply saddened. I felt like I had known him, even though I didn't. But he was part of the homeland of Lino, the town of Acquaviva Delle Fonti, outside Bari, in Puglia. He was a regular, and the people I knew well, were all fond of him.

Garry Shandling, when he was on Seinfeld's show was a delightful and for me a seductive human being. He could pull you in because of his irreverence, his humor (duh!), his interjecting of the philosophical and sane in the midst of tired assumptions.

I'm not overly fond of the American habit of popularizing celebrities after their death, their sudden orbit to the bestseller list of whatever. I'm particularly not fond of the gossip that seems to come out of any woodwork around.

Then again there is an opposing tendency to idealize to the point of setting in stone certain memories or perceptions.

Here I get the sense of something human going on, something real. I get the sense that the people who knew Garry Shandling felt they were, in a way, blessed to know him, fortunate for the experience and grateful for his presence. It seems real, this thing.

And so I confess to having missed a chance to know him, personally and of course through the media channels. When someone of this ilk passes on, it is also a reminder of how polished and practiced and rehearsed so much of our entertainment and our communication are. I would dare to say that his daring to be quiet and wait before responding to a question -- something he was known for -- would be either smashed down or elevated as pioneering, if it were to be more present today.

Imagine our politicians taking seconds to think, to wonder, to react in a way that registered presence of heart and mind? Okay, let's not push the envelope or the subject.

Suffice it to say, that even if it seems strange to miss someone I didn't know, that's how it feels.