The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

I did not know who Garry Shandling was before watching the Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling. I didn’t watch either of his shows and I hadn’t seen him stand up. Buta four hour long documentary about a stand up comedian, sure I’ll watch that! 

This, like all of Judd Apatow’s movies, is too long. Four hours is unnecessary for this documentary that just basically goes over Shandling’s life. It features a lot of clips of Schandler that you might not have seen before even if you’re a fan of his, specifically a lot of extras from the dvd of the Larry Sanders show. It also has a lot of interviews with comedians that Garry mentored or came up with. Kevin Nealon says a lot in this film. Shandling himself is played by Micheal Cera, which is a little weird. 

For me the great aspects of this documentary are when it goes in depth to the lawsuit Chandelier had with his agent, and when it’s more about stand up as a scene. When Jay Leno talks about what Chandelier was like, it reveals more how little Leno seemed to know about Chandelier, and how they weren’t close, despite physically being in the same comedy clubs. The movie did a great job at showing why Schandliner created the Larry Sanders show. 

The other thing I appreciated was how it showed Schandler’s more neurotic tendencies, and more often abusive tendencies. But it didn’t go very far, and it never went into a lot of detail. There were interviews with writers where they would tell you that Schandler would keep them at their writing job for hours on end, but what did he say to them? There are tons of notes on every little thing, but why can’t we see Schandler actually being a harsh critic of these writers. It just seemed a little tame in it’s showing Schandler as hyper-critical. But it was relatable, as I’ve met comedians that I felt like what was described in the movie. 

The other that I thought the movie failed for me at was the central thesis. It goes back constantly to this moment in Schandlier’s childhood when his brother died and his parents did not tell him. Throughout the documentary we are told why he was motivated to do his shows and become a great stand up comedian. But for me, this highlights the weakness of biography vs autobiography. There are no revelations about this childhood incident, and there is nothing that Schandler says that shows that he’s grown out of that or has made significant progress in growing out of. So each time it comes up,and it’s not resolved, it feels like a waste of time in the documentary, or like a moment of showing Schandler’s weakness– one that’s we;ve been shown before in the movie. In an autobiographical work, just bringing up and reflecting on the innocent would be the progress that a story necessitates for me. 

If you’re into comedy I definitely think it’s worth watching, but as a movie I think it’s bloated. It’s like a timeline, and there are nonfiction works that are exhaustive in nature but still manage to tell a character’s story. Robert Caro’s books gives us a story with exhaustive detail. The Power Broker starts with a story– of Robert Moses quitting his Yale swim team, and this worked on, and the moral and reflection of this story is brought to bear throughout the book. Here we’re given a powerful story without a powerful character analysis, just an exhaustive timeline.

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