David Duchovny Remembers Garry Shandling
Comedian Garry Shandling (November 29, 1949–March 24, 2016) and actor David Duchovny didn’t know each other as kids. They didn’t ascend the Hollywood ranks at the same time and rarely even worked in the same genres. The pair first met in 1995, when Duchovny asked to guest star on Shandling’s groundbreaking, ahead-of-its-time HBO comedy The Larry Sanders Show, in which the latter played a deadpan late-night host. Yet they clicked. And clicked. And clicked, until Shandling’s untimely death at 66 earlier this year. Here, The X-Files star Duchovny recalls Shandling’s greatness, on screen and off.
Garry was on HBO before it was destination television. The Larry Sanders Show was the series bringing notoriety to the channel in the mid-1990s—because it was quality. I loved the show. I was in Vancouver shooting The X-Files, and my manager would send me VHS tapes. I’d eagerly await those tapes and would watch whatever Sanders came my way. I remember saying to my agents, “I don’t care what I do on my hiatus this year, I just really want to be on The Larry Sanders Show.” Somehow, Garry let himself be convinced to put me on.
He used to tell this story about a writer on the series, Maya Forbes, who would say to him: “You’ve gotta have Dave Duchovny on!” (Garry always called me Dave.) And he’d be like, “Who’s that?” So I was never really his idea. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to thank that writer. I thank her now.
The day I was set to film my first appearance, I sat in the audience and watched him film one of the fake talk-show segments. It was mostly improv. He was incredible at that. At one point, he walked into the audience and stood right by me. And it became clear that he had no idea I was going to be acting with him in a few minutes.
The storyline was that I was going to get bumped from the talk show and be a real a–hole about it. We had this little scene in a hallway during which he tells me the bad news. We did one take and Garry yelled “Cut!” He looked at me and asked, “How old are you?” I said, “36.” He said, “What took you so long?” That was the nicest thing anybody ever said to me in show business. I used to remind him of that story a lot.
Yet, he was also strangely insecure. When I directed him in a 2000 episode of The X-Files that I wrote, I remember thinking, “God, he’s so amazing. He’s going to be able to do this so easily.” But he was so conscientious. I saw his copy of the script, and it was covered in notes. Garry did a lot of work to make it seem like he wasn’t doing any work at all. And that’s the best kind of work, really.
In the episode, he was playing a heroic [version of Mulder], a sort of Harrison Ford type. But he had such trouble seeing himself that way. He’d tell me, “I don’t believe me in this.” And I’d reply, “It doesn’t matter if you do or you don’t. It’ll work,” which isn’t the best direction. Looking back, it’s heartbreaking and beautiful that he was vulnerable enough to say to me, “I’m not this guy. I can’t be this guy.”
Garry’s influence on modern comedy is so pervasive that it’s hard to even point out. It’s like Hendrix on guitar. If you found somebody who had never heard of Jimi Hendrix and played his music for that person, they would think that Hendrix was ripping everybody else off. But no, it was Hendrix who did all those things first. Garry started what is now a pervasive industry of celebrities making fun of themselves and revealing the underbelly of show business. Years before reality TV, he was making a “reality-TV show.”
Two weeks before Garry died, we took a walk on the beach. That was the last time I saw him. To remember Garry as an artist, I’d tell people to watch The Larry Sanders Show. You’ll see the funniest, smartest observer of humanity at full bloom. To remember Garry as a person—well, if you didn’t know him, then you’re not going to know him. It’s too bad he’s not around anymore. —As told to Aubry D’Arminio