The sad news of Garry Shandling’s death this week has comedians across the industry offering their thoughts and memories on the man and his career. We spoke to Keegan-Michael Key, co-star of Comedy Central’s Key and Peele and the upcoming film Keanu, about his memories of Shandling and the influence the late comic had on Key.
KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: The greatest joke that I ever heard Garry tell was from his standup one time. It might have been 1986. It’s one that I love: He talks about how he took a date to see E.T., and that when the boys all flew up into the air, his date said under her breath, “Yeah, right.” And then he goes: “What? It’s not like this thing was a documentary up to this point!” He was really, really good at observational comedy and not making it sound pedestrian, and I think that joke was a great example of that.
I loved the hang-dog energy that he had. He never carried himself as as smart as he was. I think that was his persona. I think Ray Romano does the same thing — he comes across as a little bit “aw shucks,” but he’s really got a sharp wit. Shandling was the same way.
And Larry Sanders was amazing because not only was it a niche piece of programming about a very specific industry — I don’t remember a show prior to Larry Sanders that did that, where it’s like, we’re going to talk about the backstage area of this situation and then also jump on the show with the guests. And the shaky feel [of the camera], the mockumentary feel that it had — it was pretty innovative. It was different for the time.
I think I saw a bit of his work before I saw Eddie Murphy, so I always admired him as a comedian because I didn’t know what to do [with my life] when I first moved through Garry Shandling. I didn’t know if I was going to be a stand-up comedian or that improv even existed. So I was like, “If I do it like these people, do whatever this is — stand-up comedy — then I really like this guy. And he doesn’t really swear a lot!” Even as a pre-teen you get that titillation from hearing people use profanity. But he very often didn’t. It was me understanding observation. Like, oh, I see — the work that has to be done is to figure out how to see the world. How do I look at things and be able to twist them the way he does? And of course, that’s exactly what Jordan [Peele] and I have to do in our world.