Last year there was a program on TV called ‘Ricky Gervais meets Larry David‘ which came as a one-off and completely out of the blue. I watched it, because I was a huge Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fan and I thought that Larry David was a comedic genius. As for Ricky Gervais… well; I liked The Office (and before it was popular to do so – honest!) but I didn’t really think Extras was very good at all, and more importantly I didn’t like Gervais himself.
It had always bugged me the way that people here in England talked about the ‘cringe factor’ in The Office as though it was something that had been invented by Ricky Gervais. After all, I had downloaded episodes of Larry David’s new post-Seinfeld show, CYE, and that was exploring social etiquette faux-pas scenarios with style over a year before The Office premiered. The Office was a good show – but it wasn’t a great show. Everyone thinks that it is, and they’re entitled to their opinion, but it really annoys me that since its success Gervais has been cast as the ‘saviour’ of British comedy. Peter Kay was funnier (and cleverer) in Phoenix Nights, but he at least didn’t let it go to his head (although, to be honest, he’s turned into a bit of a wanker over the last few years too.)
Anyway, onto the point. Garry Shandling is not one of my comedy heroes like Larry David is, but I absolutely love The Larry Sanders Show. I remember when it used to be on Channel 4 late on a friday night, but I didn’t get it because I was young. But something about it stuck with me, because a few years ago I decided (probably after hearing it name-dropped in CYE reviews) to buy a ‘best of‘ DVD, which was the only one available at the time. It was frustrating because it only had random episodes selected from all six seasons of the show, but now that I was older I got it. Earlier this year I downloaded every episode when I realised that I could (thank you broadband) and it truly is one of the greatest comedy shows of all time.
So what is important here is that I have a lot of respect for Mr. Shandling, and not so much respect for Mr. Gervais. Part of it is personality, sure – but I really think Gervais is just a flash-in-the-pan who got lucky. Because, remember – American sitcoms are not always good, and indeed a great deal of them are dire, but the ones that are good have the edge over similar British ones for one simple reason: they’re more prolific. Sure Fawlty Towers is consistently hilarious, but at the end of the day there are twelve half-hour episodes – Seinfeld clocked in at over one hundred and fifty episodes, so even though they were only twenty-two minutes long, it’s a greater amount of consistently good comedy. Similarly with CYE – Larry David has given us over fifty episodes, in comparison to Gervais’ twelve episodes of The Office.
But for good or ill, Gervais is now the most famous English comedian in America, and he’s friends with Ben Stiller and David Letterman so he will only continue to be successful there. That is a fact; I accept it, I live with it. But for some reason, he seems to think he’s now the apostle of comedy – he’s ‘enlightened’ us over here in England, and now he wants to rub his American ‘heroes’ in our faces as if we weren’t aware they existed already. So the ‘Ricky Gervais meets…’ concept has been expanded, and now we have ‘… Garry Shandling’ (he also met Christopher Guest but it was such a sickening display of arse-kissing that I turned it off.)
This alone bugs me – the Larry David thing was a one-off, so I could have let it slide; but now he’s meeting a whole troupe of his heroes – on camera? What? If I suddenly became successful as say a film director, I’d definately want to use my success to start meeting people like Luc Besson and Johnny Depp etc., because they’re people I really respect – but I’d want to do it in a very subtle way! I wouldn’t film myself strolling up to Deppo and saying “Hey man! You’re were so fucking amazing as Raoul Duke!”
But maybe that’s just me.
So anyway, (finally) I watch Gervais meet Shandling. And to my complete surprise and absolute joy, Shandling seemed to completely agree with pretty much everything I’ve just said here. It was weird, actually – he came across as frankly rude at times, but it was hilarious watching Gervais try to cope with it. Whilst Gervais merely did his whiny annoying laugh every time Shandling made a joke (and he made several; whilst debatably rude he was certainly witty) and spent a great deal of time singing the praises of Shandling’s comedy, Shandling refused to tread the same path in return. He brought Gervais up on some aspects of Extras and basically said, “Why are you making comedy about this? Why do you think it’s funny to explore these agonising social situations?” Interestingly, Gervais didn’t try to defend his work, even when Shandling suggested it was childish to joke about people with disabilities (they showed a clip from Extras with a lady who had cerebal palsy, where Gervais jokes that she looked drunk or ‘mental’ and then squirmed around as he realised she had a disability.)
Another hilarious moment was when Shandling explained why he had done so many varied things throughout his career – writer for a straight sitcom, standup, his own sitcom, then the subversive Larry Sanders Show – basically, that it was easy to be successful by doing the same thing over and over but it’s only funny so many times. Basically, saying to Gervais: enough with the cringe-comedy already man. Try something new – start proving your worth as the new chairman of English funny.
It just looked to me like Shandling had Gervais and his show; the entire concept, pegged immediately and then refused to play ball. And it’ll probably not do his reputation any favours at all in the English press – but fuck that. Good for him! I respect him more than I did before, and I suspect Gervais will be a little more careful about choosing which ‘hero’ to ‘interview’ next, because I don’t think he could handle another one of them very skillfully saying (without actually saying it) “You’re not as good as me.”
Heh, sorry about the length… I got carried away I guess. Another two cents deposited.