Jeffrey Tambor on Garry Shandling: 'Larry Sanders' Audition "Changed My Life"

The Larry Sanders Show HBO 1992-1998 - Jeffrey Tambor- Jerry Seinfeld- Garry Shandling- H 2016
Courtesy of HBO

The actor remembers his first day of shooting the HBO comedy series when his "heart was racing and pounding through my chest" and Shandling, without a word, reassured him and the rest of the cast and crew: "I knew we were in such good hands."

The first time I met Garry Shandling was my audition for The Larry Sanders Show, with Garry and his casting director Francine Maisler. I can recall every minute of it. He was gracious and kind and he read with me. He was terrific.

That audition changed my life. He was so giving in it, but I had to wait a good long time to find out if I was cast or not. And then to be cast and work alongside such greats as Janeane Garofalo, Jeremy Piven, Wally Langham, Penny Johnson. So many people say they went to school on The Larry Sanders Show. He went past the laughs to character revealment. That's not just a strategy, that is a heroic strategy.

On the first day of shooting, Garry, Rip Torn and I did a walk-and-talk scene with a few other castmembers and cameraman Pete Smokler, who was walking backward.

My heart was racing and pounding through my chest, and when they yelled, "Cut!" as we got to the elevator, Garry extended his hand — palm upward — to each of us. He didn't say anything, but the subtext was, "Are you OK? You got this." I knew we were in such good hands.

The first time we did The Garden Weasel [commercial parody] bit, I was nervous about delivering "Hey now." He assured me that it would deliver. I said the line, the audience laughed and I looked at him and those eyes were smiling. He was such a mentor to me, too, about staying in the moment. The best comedy not only makes you laugh, but on the moment of the laugh, you learned. That's what Garry's epic was.

Some of my favorite times with him were sitting on the stage with him. We would sit in silence. A real friend is someone you can be silent with for a very long time. But then he would say something hysterical out of the blue. 

In the days since Garry has passed, a number of people have come to me, and every conversation is dominated by how much Garry meant to them as young artists or young comics. I swear to you that every other sentence sounds like this, "Garry helped me on this..." or "I'm doing this play right now and Garry gave me 20 pages of notes on it..." Not only was he a great artist and a great human being, he was a great teacher. That's truly what he was about. He was a mentor, a teacher, a supporter.

What can I say about a world without Garry Shandling? This is where I need Garry. He would have something pithy and there would be a laugh and your heart would break at the same time. He changed my life.