Digging Through the Comedy and Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

Garry Shandling. Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Late last year, a new Garry Shandling website launched, serving as a loving tribute to the comedian’s life, work, and continuing legacy. In addition to the usual content, the website features several fully scanned journals that span his entire life. We rounded up the best quotes from the first four that were uploaded in September, and now that the website has been updated with more journals, we’re updating our collection of highlights as well.

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.

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.

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.

1998 Journal

The Larry Sanders Show had just ended, and Garry was in the midst of a massive lawsuit with his former manager Brad Grey. Most of Garry’s 1998 entries seemed to be about re-centering himself, moving forward, and becoming spiritually healthier.

Create your own culture. Live your life and surround yourself with those who support that culture.

There is no truth or false. There are obstructions.

All good news? Good news would be joy. I was happy two months ago when I finished the show. Stay in the moment. You will never have the sickness and pressure of the show.

Called Brad [Grey] and asked him NOT to produce my movie. He said “Fuck you.” Let it all roll off like it’s written in water. I said it great to know that’s who he is and to be reminded of it?

Where is the joy? The joy is feeling the joy of emptiness.

Keep the mind pure.

In acting you sometimes just start to “act” an emotion to then begin feeling it. So begin “acting” joyful. You will then feel it. … Then there will be the lucky tests: 1) rejection 2) disappointments 3) etc. If it weren’t for these, you could not be joyful and be sure.

Ask yourself: “Is there joy there, or is this the repetition of an old pattern which is to martyr yourself because you think that will make you stronger?”

By trying to please others too much, you failed to take your own power which can make you happy and do good for others. You have learned to put up a boundary so that you can have your own life. You have worked hard and been very disciplined.

You moved to L.A. twenty-five years ago – you were twenty-three! You never thought about joy. You thought about finding yourself – organically – and becoming a success. Perhaps, you subconsciously thought, this would lead to wine, women and song. You moved to L.A. hoping to land a job as a comedy writer – if you even had the talent. Last week you won an Emmy for writing your own show which you created. And you act in it and received an Emmy nomination as did the show itself. You guest hosted The Tonight Show and just sold your own movie. All as part of your organic search and discipline. Give yourself credit. Allow yourself to feel joy for this. … I give you permission to be happy.

If your feelings get hurt. Someone walks away because they don’t like you or your energy … good… not bad. If you are left alone … good … not bad. Make your own joy. Feel the joy in the emptiness. It can’t go like this:

It has to be like this:

Because it is always there.

Age appropriate means that your 48. Not 28 or 18. So … act your age.

Finding joy in bad events is possible. That’s partly what a sense of humor is.

48. 49 the end of November. Double it: 98. So you’re at the ½ way mark. Were you happy at 13? (I was happy till my brother died – ask Jack)
23 (moving to LA)
33 (Tonite Show - hosting
35 - (own series)
40 - (series over - 2 year break)
42 (own series)
48 (series over)
The happiest years were the hosting years except when they ran into my series. That was the dark stuff…

Do I have regret that I turned down the Tonite Show? Would I have been happier?

I feel like my life with women is over. But it doesn’t have to be if I don’t want it to be. ????? Help.

Tell the truth. Be truth.

I like you: You have worked to let go. You have worked to not hurt others. You stayed on the path of the way. Now you can let go of all of it and be free.

The way to not let those other guys win – or beat you – is to: live your life with joy and fulfillment and do your work.

You’re watching an interview on T.V. with Bobby Knight. He’s opinionated and says what’s wrong in college sports. He attacked NIke and officials. Is he crazy – or just telling the truth?

Fame and all appearances are meaningless. The most famous, richest, most handsome person dies.

2000 Journal

2000 sees Garry dealing with a breakup, reflecting on his unhealthy relationship with his mother, and preparing for a big gig: hosting the 52nd Primetime Emmy Awards.

When I’m behind a school bus I panic because it reminds me of getting beaten up in the back of it. By the girls. Then the guys would jump in. Then the driver would pull over and come back and take a couple of whacks at me himself.

…Go to a party. Can’t I just have fun?

Joke (I’m such an optimist that [crossed out]

More sex does not bring happiness.

Commit to Emmy’s – become one with it – be yourself … Prepare. Work hard on material and prepare. Be ready. Do more than the best you can do.

You can have it all because you can be it all.

I tape my act and I tape my shrink and when I play it back all I hear is my shrink laughing.

I’ve had such a difficult time making the transition from modeling to comedy.

Do not want to deal with inauthenticity of any kind.

You’re not inadequate because you can’t be shallow like [REDACTED]. They are inadequate because they can’t be authentic like you.

Five weeks or so till Emmy’s. In 2 weeks I can have monologue. Work every night. … Write every day. Try new stuff every night.

TV is great. TV is great. TV is great. Isn’t that what that Egypt Air pilot was yelling as he took that plane down? (They translated what he was saying.)

There’s nothing I find more sexually exciting than watching that big ball drop in Times Square as Dick Clark celebrates. This actually is Dick Clark’s 2000th New Year. And I say that with love, respect and sarcasm.

I could stay home and watch how everyone around the world celebrates – but that’s sort of what I do on a daily basis anyway.

I asked my shrink what she was doing on New Year’s and she said, “Don’t pull me into this.”

Safe sex is no sex. Starts to sound like guns. I’m in favor of putting all genitals in a locked box or cabinet.

We wouldn’t exist without sex. Our parents had to have sex for us to be. No wonder sex is a touchy subject. It’s too big.

There’s nothing funny about the year 2000. [It’s] … something that I can’t put into perspective, and that makes me uneasy and fluish … Numbering it and trying to order it is simply a human dysfunction.

What did people do 2000 years ago when there was no T.V.? I mean that seriously. No T.V., movies, books, lights. Were they happier? Does it matter? Here we are.

2004 Journal

In 2004, Garry is once again hosting the Emmys. This time his journal is dominated by jokes, fragments of jokes, and set lists as he practiced behind the microphone before the big event.

Hello. Before I get started, how many people are running for Gov. of Cal.?

From a motivational email Garry writes to a friend, when they accept a role in a horror movie:

You should take a look at House of the Dead Number one……I’m in it. It’s actually more of a reality show, shot here at my home, and I triumph at the end by putting my house on the market and getting quite a good price. A simple solution that most of these movies never consider as a way out. Quite an exciting ending, because the first two realtors get killed. One of them, just a day before escrow closes. Really has you on the edge of your seat. You have to see it.

Who Wants To Be a Millionaire … What up? That’s a million dollar question, for a million dollars, What up? That would throw everyone.

If you’re not on TV with all the channels and the reality shows – something is wrong. Something is wrong with your life.

I’m so afraid in the dark. In the middle of the night my girlfriend starts to make out with me, I get startled and yell “Take everything, just don’t hurt me.”

Till death do us part sounds like some kind of Mafia contract.

I had a death experience. Voice said “Do you want to continue leading G.S.’s life?” I had an agent who said that also. I didn’t ask what my options were.

For Emmies: This is the only reality show I’ll do. I like being on TV 2 minutes a year.

HBO – 109 Nominations – almost approaching their position on the dial

Still one word you can’t say on Fox. It starts with F. And yet, network is called Fox. So … okay when it’s plural?

It’s a delight to be performing the opening monologue. That’s all I’m doing. I’m not hosting. I hosted 3 years ago and I enjoyed the first 6 hours – the last 2 hours tired me out.

Is it soulmate or cellmate?

Girls Gone Wild got no nominations

American Idol – We’ll vote if we don’t have to get up.

For me, “the road” conjures up a strange blur of images that are memories strewn together in my consciousness … how a soldier must have flashbacks of Vietnam. At the very least a bad night of nightmares where you wake up and … remember what it was that woke you, but know that they are going to still be there when you go back to sleep. So imagine a night you’ve had like that, and I describe the images of “the road.” First, I see myself working a club in Cleveland. Third show Saturday…

Boxing Notes

This journal doesn’t have a date, but is predominantly notes from Shandling’s boxing. David Duchovny introduced Shandling to boxing, and by 2007 Shandling was in the ring four times a week at the gym he co-owned with Friday Night Lights creator Peter Berg. Included here are the funniest and most universal notes from it.

Don’t try to make something happen – let it happen

I wear a head protector and a crotch protector but not in that order.

When Ray Leonard dances around, he’s making the other guy buy it. You have to make the other guy (like an audience) buy it. And you have to commit to playing your game and not following him around (like audience)

You gotta be able to read what the other person does before they do it. IN RING AND LIFE.

Pros practice at not telegraphing the punch.

Did I say break up – fired.

I had a first date last night. You know what I said after I ordered? “I can’t see you anymore…” I know someone’s going to say it.

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