Kevin Nealon Pays Tribute to Longtime Friend Garry Shandling
The 'SNL' alum remembers the weekly pickup basketball games, the long hikes and their 35 years of friendship.
Comedian Kevin Nealon was friends with Garry Shandling for more than 35 years. The Saturday Night Live alum remembered his friend who died on Thursday at 66. Nealon recalled Shandling’s weekly pickup basketball games, the impromptu Sunday memorial they held on Shandling’s basketball court (captured in an Instagram from Judd Apatow at the bottom of this story) and the long hikes the pair took around Los Angeles.
We always met in the kitchen. He would come downstairs because the door was always open for us. We came in as we got there and we’d watch the games on the TV for a little bit and then we’d all get our shoes on to play for a couple hours. We’d come back to the house afterward and he had take out food on the counter for us. He was just so generous. None of us were really good. Occasionally, there’d be a ringer in there. Garry tried to keep the game balanced. I remember Tom Petty being there once on the bench. He didn’t play but he was watching. Sarah Silverman played with us. Everyone from Billy Crystal to Jim Carrey joined in. Ryan O’Neal played in a couple of games with us over the years. I know I’m missing a lot of people.
It was an eclectic group. We usually had enough players for three or four different teams. It was more than the basketball game though. Garry really brought a lot of people together. That’s one of the things that I think people remember. From my experience, he introduced so many people to each other and just kind of helped and mentored so many people that were coming up in their careers. I met so many different people up there. We haven’t played in the last couple of years, but on Sunday we had a kind of a semi-memorial for him with all the basketball players over the years. God, there must have been about 60 people up there in the game over the years. I was in his office just sitting at his desk looking at this stack of legal paper, just covered with jokes — all handwritten jokes — you know, everything. You couldn’t make up some of the jokes, and you know, just all of his interests and talents were in evidence and this wave of sadness hit me.
The thing that I miss about him is that I always knew he was up there. He lives about 10 minutes away from me. It’s like he was a lifeguard. If you had a problem, a joke, or if you wanted to go for a hike, he was always there, he was always around. I remember hiking with him a lot. Up in Malibu there’s that canyon, I forget what it’s called, but there’s a little stone house at the end. And he would sit on the stones and just meditate for 20 minutes or a half hour with his eyes closed.
We talked about everything. We talked about life and death and we talked about women and comedy and movies. When you’re with Garry, there is never anything not to talk about. I was looking at some of my past emails from Garry, and I’m feeling nostalgic. I was in Denver about eight months ago working a corporate gig. I said to Garry on the phone I need this joke about the CEO or something, and he goes, "OK, what’s the guy do?" He’d sit and just talk with me. He’d come out with two or three great jokes. He emailed me back later, and this was seven months ago, he goes, "Denver is a good town but when you come back, we have to go hiking and I mean it," because we hadn’t been hiking in a while. He said "Before I die, we gotta get back onstage together," and he said "Even if I do die, just drag my body onstage — I know you will either way." Like a lot of comics, he could be dark.