FRESH AIR: Judd Apatow was a teenager when he first “met” comic Garry Shandling in a phone interview for his high school radio show. Years later, their paths intersected again when Shandling, who was hosting the Grammy Awards, hired Apatow to write jokes for him. Shandling had been Johnny Carson’s guest host on The Tonight Show before creating and starring in the groundbreaking comedy series It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show. He became Apatow’s mentor and close friend. “He completely changed my life,” Apatow says of Shandling. “He hired me to write for his show. He did a cameo on the pilot of The Ben Stiller Show, which I thought was part of why we got picked up. He asked me to direct. … It was always mysterious to me why he was so kind to me.”
Apatow went on to produce Superbad and Girls, and to direct The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Trainwreck, but he always stayed in touch with his mentor. After Shandling’s sudden death in 2016, Apatow helped sort through his belongings — including boxes of diaries dating back to 1978. Shandling practiced Zen meditation for decades, and many pages of his journals are reminders to himself to stay calm, remain unattached to worldly things and let go of his ego.
“I felt like there was so much wisdom in examining Garry’s life,” Apatow says. “Garry was a wounded person. He was a neurotic man. He was a guy constantly attempting to evolve and heal. I felt like there’s so many lessons that people can get from learning about how he lived his life.” Shandling is the subject of Apatow’s new book, It’s Garry Shandling’s Book, which is a companion to the HBO documentary Apatow made last year, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling. “I saw in the journals that he wrote, ‘Learn to grow old gracefully. Learn to become a mentor gracefully,'” Apatow says. “Now I’m more tuned into the responsibility of doing that. I’m lucky enough to be in a place where I can help people who deserve to be heard from or who deserve breaks. … I definitely try to keep that Garry tradition alive.”
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