Digging Through the Comedy and Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

Garry Shandling. Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Last month, a new Garry Shandling website launched, serving as a loving tribute to the comedian’s life, work, and continuing legacy. Included on the site are videos, photos, and four fully scanned journals that span his entire life. Presented here is a selection of jokes, affirmations, concerns, reflections, and wisdom culled from more than 500 pages of Garry Shandling’s writings. Note that all of the below quotes are transcribed verbatim from Shandling’s journals, so misspellings, grammar mistakes, and formatting have not been changed or edited. It’s pure, unfiltered Shandling.

College Notebook

No date is given on the site, but this notebook presumably dates from the early ’70s while Shandling attended the University of Arizona before moving to Hollywood. Much of Shandling’s college notebook is made of up of quotes copied from textbooks, reminders for upcoming assignments, and doodles, but when Shandling is given the assignment to create a radio ad for a bank, we encounter the first joke written in these journals:

The First Joke
First I went to Las Vegas and lost ten dollars - on a Coke machine.

The ad’s narrator talks about how their gambling days are over and how they’re putting their money in the University Bank going forward … but finishes their pitch by asking:

Oh, by the way who do you think’s going to win the pennant?

Early One-Liners
I didn’t like to go out with Jewish girls because they would never make love to you. They always pledged to make love to you.

I drove through Sun City, Arizona. Right away there’s a tip-off that it’s a retirement community. The road signs are in braille.

I know [I’m] uncoordinated. But I was a star on the track team in high school. Well, actually I wasn’t a running member of the team. I was an obstacle in the steeplechase course.

Let me tell you about [what] my job on the football team was. You know when a player is injured on the field. And the ambulance comes speeding into the stadium. Well, did you ever notice there’s always one player directing the ambulance. That was my job. “A little more this way- a little more that way…”

Hollywood is the only place where if you buy 2 or more bottles of perfume you get a free pack of birth control pills.

1990 Journal

This journal, begun at the tail end of 1990, sees a post–It’s Garry Shandling’s Show Shandling reflecting on life and where to go next.

Opening Line
Work on the relationship with yourself.

Have a good relationship with yourself then have a good relationship with the world.

I can let go of bad energy- of people and events still living inside me: [REDACTED] - gone, [REDACTED] - gone, my mother’s claws - gone, the need to please my mother - gone. Let the walls drop- be open.

Allow space in life. Don’t fill all spaces. That space is where the universe is, truth is.

Rid yourself of the wall that needs to appear rigid to others- the wall that worries what others think- the wall that tries to do it right. Don’t try. Be.

Meditate: Take a break.

In relationships: agency: remember you don’t have to take care of the other person. Keep a boundary. It’s not your job to make their life work.

Albert Brooks showed me that commitment is the number one element to being really funny.

Break away from attachment to body or mind if you are ever to achieve enlightenment.

I never can measure up to my own standards and expectations. How do I like myself more?

Let’s suppose you never even do a movie in your life. At the end of your life are you going to feel: “Shit I never did a movie,” or, “Shit I was never happy and never did what I wanted.”? Pretty clear that it’s the second one, isn’t it?

When you think of writing a movie or TV script, just write. Don’t think of the process, or the result.

And be this now. You don’t have to be something. This is it. Enjoy.

Offer your life up to anyone who wants to use it. Stop protecting. Stop resisting. Give up. No strings attached. Surrender

Instead of trying to figure it out- let go and don’t know.

You have to believe you’re not at an asshole.

Everything in the world functions on a monetary level. Search out the things that don’t.

Everything is going to be okay.

The Talk Show
So I’ve been offered a talk show. It’s my decision. A show could be free like the Tonite Show but with my band. Sketches. Freeway reports. Tips on sleeping… Leave show on while you sleep. Guests do sketches.

I passed on that talk show. Oh brother, I pray I did the right thing… 2.5 million a year and complete freedom. But five days a week- one hour a day for 3 years and doing the same thing I had basically done…

When I was getting ready to host the Tonite Show, I knew that I needed to be myself on the show- to become one with it, to have fun, to be professional. On my show [It’s Garry Shandling’s Show]  I worked on acting. I didn’t know what to work on in this show.

Now what? Write a movie script. Act. Create another project. You’ve made a commitment to yourself. Now be true + do it.

[After Johnny announced his retirement from] The Tonight Show:
Don’t look back. Don’t think about talk show. Or Dennis [Miller]. Or Johnny. Don’t think of that talk show.

Larry Sanders
Concerning the show I’m about to do: …If I can play a real human being in the show… a person who is not “Garry”… then I will be successful to myself….This is the real motivation.

The reason you turned down the talk show is: how could you…continue to learn. I think you’ve got it now. I really do.

The idea is not to get bored with the show. Develop characters. Give Larry more active emotional lines to play. Not just reactive.

The Talk Show Pt. 2
??? I’ve been offered the 12:30 spot on both CBS + NBC.

Comedy Spiral Notebook

Just jokes. It’s undated, but based on a joke about being 32 early in the book, it seems to have been started in 1981.

My parents moved to Chicago when I was 2. They didn’t tell me till I was 8.

You can get good exercise in the car… My radio dial tension was increased so I work out with my wrists.

Batting cage- walked in front of ball cause he thought he could get on base.

[Girls] in high school were ruthless. You’d say want to go make out in the car? And she said “Garry, I’m your English teacher- the answer is still no.”

I didn’t masturbate until I was 14 because up until then I was getting laid.

You know a girl’s ugly when she’s wearing a veil in a singles bar and she tries to pass it off by saying “I’m into bees.”

My manager is 24 years old. Everyone talks about how cool he is on the phone. Then he hangs up and plays with a Slinky for an hour.

Saddie Hawkins Dance. No one’s asking me. So I’m trying to look attractive. I’m starting rumors that I put out on the first date.

Things are going real well for me all I got in it is folding furniture. The other day the toilet collapsed on me.

If my dog sees me licking my balls he won’t kiss me on the face.

I’m not meeting anyone- I’m in a real drought. Actually, a drought’s not so bad- it’s when the locusts come.

[The Bible] says it is a sin to sleep with a woman if you’ve slept with her mother. Now what I want to know is does this occur often? “Hello, Mr. Wilson. Is Linda there? She’s out. Hmmmm… How about Mrs. Wilson?”

You could tell this guy wasn’t going to be real loyal to his wife cause at the reception a nude girl popped out of the cake.

No dates cause of this Faulkland thing.

I went out with this girl who was going through primal scream therapy. Needless to say it was a noisy date. I thought I broke something.

2014 Journal

In the last few years of his life, Garry deals with aging, illness, his past, and his search for enlightenment.

Opening Line
The only reason to work (on anything) is because you want to.

Remember, only watch your lane, not the others in other lanes.

Suffering comes from non-accepting.

Go easy on yourself.

Time to turn and transition in life. Re-invent… Everybody is trying to reinvent themselves every day. What gets in their way- lower back pain!??

Be an adult. Not the emotional child.

You are not your body.

No matter what happens, can you keep your mind on now?

If you feel victimized by trusting someone who turns and says, “I don’t know if you’re committed to doing the work,” you are making a choice to give that person power. And give yours away.

And if you don’t know anything, the one thing you do know is that you have no idea what you don’t know!! So, worry less! Let it be!

Self-confidence comes from authentic self confidence.

The only enemy is ignorance.

The Business
Gee, I think SNL made fun of me tonight. Weekend Update had a bad stand-up comedian: Bruce Chandling… I know how it works: you can’t just invent that name. It’s a conglomerate of real names. Don’t take it personally? Uh… okay.

Twitter followers: only 500,00? Is that so. Paul McCartney - 72 Mic Jagger-70. Is that so? The material things of this world… your material world. No phone messages or emails? Is that so?

Seinfeld’s [Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee] is vehicle to show your authentic self- be (that is the teaching). Relationship, joke/have fun, Let life live through you. Presence. Confession.

I’m a white man trapped in a white man’s world.

What happens in Cuba stays in Cuba was the original version of that phrase.

If I had a child I would name it 3JAY:SHA3NDLING? so it couldn’t get hacked.

Trump is kind of CNN’s new missing Malaysian flight. Every half hour there’s a new update.

Well, the time has come. My pancreatitis requires surgery. Accept this reality as it is situational reality. Pokerface. Accept. Be.

Put mind in eternity, and focus on healing. Patience, patience, patience.

You can not cling to life… It is clinging to a dream.

When given the choice between life and death, choose death: this is the warrior’s way. Accept, accept, accept.

If you live another 3 years, be grateful. Only in this singular, razor-sharp movement do you exist. Learn till the end. Awareness till the end.

Final Entry: February 24, 2016
Stay in vibration of life force. Meditate on rocks-trees. Now. No future. Now. …Stay open. Now. No future. Nothing but absolute reality.

An entry from Shandling’s 2014 journal.
Digging Through the Comedy & Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling