Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Gary Shandling and Keys to a Lasting Legacy
Comedian Gary Shandling died last week at the relatively young age of 66. The unexpected news left many fans reeling. But their response speaks volumes about Shandling’s personal brand, as well as what he meant to them as an entertainer and product producer.
If you listen to the critics and the ratings, the six-year run of the Larry Sanders Show wasn’t any kind of success. Then you take a step back and realize that program influenced nearly every critically acclaimed program in the past two decades. Shandling’s opus was a new sort of TV program, a sort of real, honest and bitingly funny comedy not seen anywhere else in a Full House saturated TV dial.
Want to see what inspired today’s massively successful group of self-deprecating stand-up comics or what show inspired the awkward silence laughs offered by The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm? Look no further. Shandling didn’t just let you peek behind the curtain at the TV business, he ripped the curtain down, showing everyone all the neurotic, kinetic, and hopelessly funny slice of life reality that went along with it. Did you really think 30 Rock invented that gag?
As for the program that flirts with the line between fantasy and reality – Shandling was a forerunner there too. Today you have The Daily Show (is it news or comedy or both) and a host of other programs that tap dance across previously well-defined lines, but Shandling was the Deadpool of TV hosts. He was on a TV show, knew it wasn’t real and celebrated it … making it all the more real.
What can the response to Shandling’s untimely death teach us about how to leave a legacy? Plenty, it turns out.
Lesson 1 - don’t try to leave a legacy, do things that matter to people. Shandling is not the guy you think of as Trying Too Hard. He just did what he did, and people loved it or hated it. That offering left fans with much to laud and protégées with wide shoulders on which to stand.
Lesson 2 – when you find what you’re good at, do it better. Larry Sanders wasn’t Shandling’s first take on the mix he perfected with that show. He tried a beta version of that product once already, found an audience for it, and turned the volume up to 11.
Lesson 3 – give people a reason to care, to notice, and to keep watching. Shandling might not have the same household name recognition as Roseanne, Allen, or Foxworthy – all of whom also found success on the small screen after successful standup careers, but he knew how to inspire the inspirers.
There is an endless line of today’s famous names in comedy who count Gary Shandling among their inspirations. They saw something in him and his act that could make theirs better, so they kept watching. If you can offer someone else similar motivation, they will do the same.