The tributes came pouring in on Twitter after the comedy world learned that one of its all-time greats, Garry Shandling, had passed away at the age of 66. Though he never officially hosted his own late-night talk show, Shandling was an honorary member of the late-night club, thanks to his guest-hosting days on The Tonight Show and the fictional host he played on The Larry Sanders Show.
In 1993, after that show had been on the air for just one year, NBC courted him to replace David Letterman, who was leaving the network to start The Late Show on CBS. Shandling wasn’t ready to leave what would become an iconic satire show and said no. Shortly after, a young Conan O’Brien had his first on-screen gig.
“He was a masterful writer. A performer who went on to create incredibly groundbreaking comedy shows that inspired an entire generation of comedians—myself included,” said O’Brien. “But right now I’m not thinking about that aspect of Garry Shandling. I’m thinking about Garry Shandling the person. He was obviously hysterically funny pretty much all the time, but he was also extremely sensitive, he was complicated, and he had a ton of empathy for other people. And I want to make that point, because that’s something in this business—in comedy—that is very rare. He really did care about other people.”
From there, O’Brien, after sharing the news of Shandling’s death with his audience Thursday night, discussed the time Shandling helped bring him back from the brink. It was 2009 and he had just lost his short-lived job as host of The Tonight Show in “crazy, fucked up, spectacular fashion.” Feeling completely “shell-shocked,” he decided to take his family to Hawaii to decompress. And magically, Shandling was staying in a room nearby.
They ended up spending the entire week together. “I was at a real low point,” O’Brien said. “He counseled me, he cheered me up, he told me jokes, he talked to me about philosophy.” Their last afternoon together, they took a long walk that ended with them lying on the sand and watching the sunset. “I turned to Garry and I said, ‘This is the most romantic moment of my life and it’s with you.’”
Seth Meyers did not know Shandling personally, but instead during his show Thursday talked about the way his work on The Larry Sanders Show changed the way he thought about TV. “Everybody go back and watch that show,” Meyers added. “If there’s any good that can come out of it, it would be the rediscovery of what really, truly was a classic.”
Finally, The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah used his “Moment of Zen” to share a clip of Shandling’s very first Tonight Show stand-up set from 1981.
“I had a great day, I went to the bank today,” Shandling says in the clip. “Have you gotten your free pen yet?” he asks, holding up a pen with the metal chain hanging off of it. “These are free. You just yank the things and they pop right out.”