At the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles tonight, a vast array of humans gathered for a memorial for Garry Shandling. The evening was put together by Judd Apatow. There were a great many people of power and influence there, iconic performers, legendary producers and executive producers and – well – it was a huge-ass Hollywood shindig of a memorial in a big theater and it was followed by a cocktail party. My purpose is not to turn this into an exercise in name-droppery.
I seek here to live up to the example Garry set, the example of which I was reminded so movingly – and so hilariously – tonight. I seek to express authentically and honestly a subjective experience through my craft and to do it in as generous a spirit as possible.
Garry’s recalled words about his meditative practice and his attitude toward his exploration of Buddhism as well as the words of others at the memorial about Garry’s practice and attitude struck me as tremendously important. The quest for egolessness, and the struggle to remain present and open were his two-fold path to self-improvement. For all his prickliness, his neurosis, his difficult humanity, he tried to come from a place of love and acceptance.
My reasons for going to the memorial were complex. I did not know Garry well. I should say that up front. I recently commented to a comedic friend in a Facebook message exchange that I felt more affected by his death than I felt by him as a person when he was alive. The extent to which his death threw me emotionally came as something of a surprise.
I only met Shandling a couple of times. We met at an event at The Actor’s Gang once and had a light cocktail party conversation. I don’t think that really counts. Then, a year or two later, he sent me a private message through twitter when I was spewing out jokes at an alarming rate. He typed at me, “I hope you don’t mind me saying that you are on fire tonight.” I did not mind.
I asked him if we could have a lunch sometime and he said yes, but it kept not getting scheduled. We stayed twitter-acquaintances, exchanging jokes and topping one-another’s lines in public back-and-forth intermittently. He began referring to himself as Uncle Garry, so I took it up as well. He gave me his e-mail address. I pushed for the lunch from time to time. At long last he said we should do it. We set a date and a place and a time. I was giddy.
In the morning, after I put on all my clothes – well, not ALL my clothes. That would just be uncomfortably binding. As I got ready to leave, I tweeted off-handedly, “Meeting at Universal and then lunch with @GarryShandling. Some days it doesn’t suck to be me.” My then social media manager (whom I later realized was an alcoholic with all the erratic behavior and poor judgement that comes along with that disease when it is active) saw that e-mail and, thinking it a good way of helping to promote an upcoming show, posted on my timeline the time and date of the show and followed it with “How about a RT, @GarryShandling?” I did not know about that one until a bit later.
When I got out of my car for lunch, I received a private message from Garry. It said, “I’m on my way now. Get your shit together before I get there, Brody.”
I sent back a note saying that I did not know what that meant. He told me to look at my twitter feed. That’s when I saw the promotional tweet and realized that it must have felt as though on my way to meet with him properly for the first time, I had decided to trade on his name. I felt awful.
He met me at lunch and scolded me for twenty minutes. “Containment, man! Don’t tweet that you’re having lunch with me. You don’t know who I might’ve lied to and said I couldn’t meet them today ‘cause I’m sick or whatever.” He seemed genuinely angry, but mostly I think there was a deep layer of hurt at work. Other things he said in the course of his scolding included, "We're not going to be friends now." and "So, no more of the Uncle Garry stuff." He had just started to open to me, just enough to meet with me, and I had treated him as an opportunity. I apologized a lot. Eventually he was done scolding me.
Then we talked about comedy and meditation, his boxing, my martial arts. We talked for well over an hour, then he insisted on paying for lunch and we left.
I next saw him at a work-shopping premiere of Kelly Carlin’s solo show, A Carlin Home Companion. He smiled when he saw me and reached to shake my hand, but the smile seemed a bit forced; perhaps I projected that from the depths of my shame over our previous meeting. We chatted for a brief moment and then a photographer friend of mine asked Garry if she could get a photo of us together and he said sure. By the time I left the party she had e-mailed me the photo.
From my car I e-mailed Garry. I said that ordinarily I post such photos on my website, in my blog, on FB and so on, but that I wanted to respect his sensitivity to containment and would not do so if he preferred.
He responded a few minutes later with, “Go ahead and post it. Thanks for checking, pal.” I sent back a quick ‘thank you’ and posted the photo.
photo credit Cat Gwynn
Two days passed and then I received another e-mail from him. It said, “I feel like you should have my phone number.” Then his phone number. Then, “Don’t ever call it.”
I didn’t know quite what to make of that, so I sent a note with my phone number and said, “You are allowed to use that number if you have reason.”
I never used his number. He never used my number. A couple of years passed. Then he died.
I heard about the memorial and wanted to be there. I didn’t realize quite how big an event it would be, how Hollywood, how high-powered. I just knew that his death weighed on me enough to take up an entire therapy session. The fact of it troubled me deeply. I wanted to be in a room with people who might be sharing some version of that experience.
Also, to some degree, I felt a desire to be part of the crowd of people that would be at such an event. I wanted to be an insider or at the very least be perceived as an insider. I didn’t know quite how big and Hollywood and high-powered the event would be, but I knew it would be big and Hollywood and high-powered to some extent.
I showed up with impure motives and layered ambivalence.
By the end of the evening I was reminded of important truths. The quest for fame, for recognition, for image improvement means nothing in the long run. The work that matters is the work on the self. The meditation, the reflection, receptivity and self-examination, these actions aimed at self-improvement not self-advancement are the ones that lead to better art, to a more valuable and valued contribution to the basic cause of human advancement.
A lot of big names gathered in that theater tonight and a lot of lesser-known ones as well. By the time the speakers were finished and the crowd had moved largely out to the lobby, we were all aware that it was a room full of grieving, loving hearts. The names mattered less than the shared sense of loss, the equality of spirit.
Then it turned into a party with catered platters of salmon on cucumber slices and a milling, pressing crowd. People who had been friends for years sniffed at one another for indications of change in status. I greeted some people I knew, hugged some people I knew well enough to feel inordinately close to and then left quickly before I succumbed to my own worst impulses.
I didn’t want to turn it into a networking event. I felt so connected to everyone there, it would have been a betrayal of the highest order had I taken advantage of that moment to turn those human connections into professional contacts.
I strive to be better. I strive to do better.