Shandling: Comedy and kindness blended in a busy life

When I first met Judd Apatow -- 25 years ago, when he was a writer-producer for "The Ben Stiller Show" -- I could tell he was special; he was a good guy, with a sense for other people. Now we find that he had a good example to follow -- his mentor and friend, Garry Shandling. Apatow's richly detailed profile of Shandling debuts Monday on HBO and reruns often; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

A generation ago,
these friends-to-be met.

Both followed the
Jewish tradition of comedy, but that was all they had in common.

Gary Shandling was
34 and had just guest-hosted Johnny Carson's show; Judd Apatow was
16, interviewing comedians for the radio. Shandling had grown up in
Arizona, Apatow in Long Island. Shandling was spiritual; Apatow ...

“My parents didn't
believe in God,” he recalled. “I wasn't Bar Mitzvahed. The only
religion in my house was every once in a while, my mom would go,
'Nobody said life was fair.'”

Shandling would
later be his mentor and friend. Now, two years after his death (at
66, of myocardial infarction), he's remembered in Apatow's two-night
HBO biography.

This was someone
with a deep view of life, Apatow said. “He talked about Buddhism
and he gave me a book (by a Buddhist monk). That really changed my
life. He was a great friend .... He liked to talk a lot about being
kind and trying to be a loving person.”

In that long-ago
interview, Shandling discussed his early obsession (“I had a total
interest in comedians when I was 10”), his detour (at first,
majoring in electrical engineering), his success as a TV comedy
writer and his abrupt change: “I was sitting at my typewriter one
day and I realized this was not what I wanted to do the rest of my
life. I had a mid-life crisis at 28.”

He did stand-up,
then cable comedy for Showtime (“It's Garry Shandling's Show”)
and HBO.

“'The Larry
Sanders Show'” kind of lit the way for what HBO could be, (with)
very high-quality work,” Apatow said.

Apatow would
continue that, producing HBO's “Girls” and “Crashing,”
alongside movie hits from “40-Year-Old Virgin” to “Trainwreck.”
Now he's using HBO to recall a philosophic friend.

-- “The Zen
Diaries of Garry Shandling,” two-part, four-hour documentary, HBO

-- First part is 8
p.m. Monday (March 26). The two parts together are 6-10 p.m. Tuesday,
2-6 p.m. Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, 3-7 p.m. April 5.

-- Also, first part
reruns at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, second part Thursday night at
midnight; more reruns are on HBO2

-- Apatow's
interviews with Shandling and other comedians are in “Sick in the
Head” (Random House, 2016)