LAST NIGHT I finally came to the end of Judd Apatow’s extraordinary four-hour film about the late Garry Shandling – the so-called Zen Diaries of said comedian.
As the director of There’s Something About Mary read aloud a letter that Shandling had written to the older brother who’d died, as a child, of cystic fibrosis, I completely lost it – I broke down and sobbed. I’d come to the close of a remarkable, hilarious, neurotic life haunted by the loss of Barry Shandling (a death never explained to the little brother) and felt overwhelmed by compassion for the witheringly brilliant creator of the meta-show about host Larry Sanders.
It made me realise how much Shandling and his Comedy Store peers – a particular strain of American-Jewish humour that slices through to the heart of the human condition – have meant to me. And it prompted this short distillation of gratitude for the sheer fearlessness of Shandling, Seinfeld, Silverman, Larry David – and of Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Jackie Mason and the many who came before them. Out of such pain has come the purest comedic joy I’ve ever known.
Always I’m in awe of them:
unsparing men and salty women
lancing my illusions
and my gentile self-delusions.
No hugging and no learning,
nothing left to lose:
ancestral agony of pogroms
and the terrors of the Zyklon B.
The balls it takes to work that space,
illusion of a mastery that masks
the backstage whimper of a fevered need:
“You think they liked me?”
“Man, you killed out there.”