'Wherever you were, whatever was happening, he'd make you laugh,' praises Shandling's friend and frequent 'Larry Sanders Show' guest star

By Dan Snierson
April 15, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT

Garry Shandling, the gifted comedian/actor who created and starred in such groundbreaking series as It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show, died March 24 at the age of 66. Those who knew him and admired him have been honoring his memory, and, here, Better Call Saul and Mr. Show star Bob Odenkirk, who frequently guest-starred on Larry Sanders, remembers his friend. Odenkirk also will pay tribute to Shandling at the TV Land Icon Awards on April 17 at 9 p.m.

“Garry Shandling was funny all the time; wherever you were, whatever was happening, he’d make you laugh. So naturally you would ask, ‘What are you working on?’ For the last 15 years at least, it seemed Garry was working on himself: on his Buddhist practice, meditating, trying to get past all this samsara. I just looked that up: It’s the cycle of birth, life, awards shows, and death that is characterized by dukkha — failure, suffering, anxiety, and dissatisfaction — a.k.a. comedy gold. Garry was trying to see past all that, find some peace, and share it with others.

“When he gave me a big break, the chance to play Stevie Grant — Larry Sanders’ young, hyperactive agent — I had done nothing to warrant the opportunity. I was being a goof in comedy sketches. This was carefully observed human comedy — Garry’s focus. He took a chance on me, and many others. This is rare in Hollywood. You don’t get to work that far out of your résumé usually.

“And then there was the friend and mentor he was behind the scenes. That’s what we’ll really miss. He encouraged and supported you when you were starting out, or maybe when you took a hit or were just unsure of yourself. There’s no script for a career in this fickle, flimsy business. You hustle and study and grind it out, and if you’re lucky you catch a break. Some of us were lucky to have Garry to talk to. Conan’s tribute piece (go to the Internet) tells that story beautifully. I was lucky to be in the cast of comics, actors, writers, and good people he surrounded himself with.”