Garry Shandling: True Lies

On 'The Larry Sanders Show,' talk-show brouhaha is turned into the funniest thing on TV

Garry Shandling at the Universal Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on January 6th, 1994. Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage/Getty

Ideally, the first sentence of an article about Garry Shandling would set a provocative scene — such as Shandling calling his co-workers "fucking idiots" — before settling down to the more mundane details about the life of a self-referential comedian and sometime talk-show host, the same Garry Shandling who played a self-possessed comedian on the TV show It's Garry Shandling's Show and who now plays a self-absorbed TV talk-show host on the TV show The Larry Sanders Show, the same 44-year-old television auteur who has managed to turn selfness into a new TV form, the narcissitcom, without being self-indulgent and is now taking his act to the movies. But now it's too late, because here it is, the second sentence already, and so far, Shandling hasn't done anything like calling his co-workers "fucking idiots."

"Fucking idiots," Shandling says, looking at the phone messages on the desk in his office next to the Hollywood studio where The Larry Sanders Show is shot. The wall behind him is flecked with ideas for future Sanders shows on 3-by-5 cards: "Larry Dates Whoopi," "Hank in Porno," "Paula Gets Drugs for Larry." Shandling, dressed in basketball sweats and grizzled with a 10 o'clock shadow, is pissed that a production assistant didn't put through a call from his friend and fellow self-conscious comedian Albert Brooks. He suddenly looks across the desk. "You're writing that down, aren't you?" he says, a note of resignation in his voice. "Go ahead. Put it in the article. 'Fucking idiots.' "

Shandling looks deeply pained when he says "fucking idiots," but that's nothing special — Shandling looks deeply pained when he says just about anything, his large lips frozen in a grimace, his smallish, wincing eyes filling with ineffable sadness. It's the face of a perfectionist trapped in an imperfect world.

"Garry's never satisfied — he's always trying to learn more and do better," says Brad Grey, who has managed Shandling for the last 15 years as he has evolved from sitcom writer to stand-up comedian to TV-show star and creator. "He's always scratching to be deeper."

And it's not easy. Shandling appears anguished whether he's telling a dick joke to an audience of appreciative fans or, as host of this year's Grammy awards, apologizing to Frank Sinatra for the show's abruptly cutting to commercial during the chatty Chairman's rambling acceptance speech. ("I didn't see Sinatra before or after," Shandling says, wincing, "though I did cut him off on the freeway a little earlier.") In stand-up mode, Shandling will deliver a line like "I told my doctor my penis was burning, and he says that just means someone's talking about it," and the pain etched on his brow, a hurt that clearly runs deeper than the most insidious case of chlamydia, makes it funnier — it's as if he were constantly apologizing for having nothing better to say. "He's in such pain no matter what he's doing," says writer Alan Zweibel, who created It's Garry Shandling's Show with Shandling. "You always feel like he's about to explode, that there's all this stuff bubbling just below the surface. I sometimes look at him and say, 'He's such a mess.' " 

"He's so full of self-loathing, it's just hilarious," says Janeane Garofalo, who plays Paula the talent booker on Sanders. "He's so full of sheer self-hatred it's a pleasure to work with him." 

"When I was a freshman in high school," Shandling says, "there was a kid — this is absolutely true — who committed suicide the day after the seating plan was announced. I still have this awful, sickening feeling that when he found out he was sitting next to me, he just said, 'I'd rather shoot myself.' " Shandling says this as he says almost everything: in a guarded, halting fashion. "I have a lot of good ideas that I can't articulate," he says. "That should be my motto: In my head, I'm very eloquent."

After Shandling returns Albert Brooks' phone call, which concerns a recent newspaper story about Brooks, he expresses sympathy for anyone who has to write an article about Garry Shandling — like this one, for instance. "I'm really sorry," he says, wincing again. "I think most of what I say is just appropriate for captions, not really for any kind of intelligent dialogue." But it's not just the outside-his-head eloquence problem: Though Shandling has made a lucrative career by plundering his own experiences for laughs, from stand-up bits about bad dates to HBO shows about bad talk-show guests, he is intensely reluctant to reveal anything more about his life. "While I talk about my personal life in my stand-up, when I read about it, it feels like I've exposed myself too much. No one knows what it feels like until they saw it in print, to read something that is very private," says Shandling, who, according to his writers, has a "big penis."

"With anybody, there's a line you draw between your material and your life," says Zweibel. "And you're even more guarded when you're using material that's autobiographical like Garry does, because you want to keep something that's your own."

This proverbial line between life and material is crossed regularly in the making of The Larry Sanders Show, a show about a talk show hosted by Larry Sanders, a somewhat tormented, self-centered comedian who is both a razor-sharp wit and a fan of penis jokes, a character who is different from Shandling in many ways. Like, for instance, well, uh ... for starters, his first name begins with an L. "Larry and I are very different people," says Shandling, whom Dana Carvey calls Ga-Larry. "He's 43, and I'm 44."

Despite these staggering contrasts, Shandling knows the world of The Larry Sanders Show so well that since its premiere, the show has been able to turn his experiences into comedy almost while he's having them. Last year's frantic search by NBC to replace Letterman in its 12:35 a.m. slot — during which the network reportedly offered Shandling $5 million a year before going with Conan "A Bargain" O'Brien — led directly to a Sanders episode about a search for a 12:35 host. In one scene from this episode, David Letterman, playing himself, confides to Larry that he's offering his 12:35 slot to ... Tom Snyder (big laugh line). Larry then proceeds to woo Snyder away from Letterman and CBS. At the time the episode was shot, this was a comic premise. One year later, it's comic reality: Letterman has just persuaded CBS to hire Snyder for the slot.

"The beauty of this show is that the topical stuff fits in so easily because the rest of the show is so grounded in reality," says Paul Simms, a writer and co-executive producer on Sanders. Weeks before Jay Leno's executive producer was axed for competitive booking practices, Larry kicked a comedian off his show because the comedian had done Leno's show the week before. Six months before Madonna needled David Letterman with "You used to be really kind of cool — you just kiss up to everyone on the show now," Roseanne goaded Larry with "If you're so square, I might as well do Leno." It's a testament to Shandling and his writers — or may be to the oddness of late-night television — that Sanders often seems more real than the work it is satirizing.

Which is why Arsenio Hall's recent announcement that he was leaving his show was so galling. "We got caught short," Shandling says. "We've already filmed an episode where Larry is concerned that his show doesn't give gifts to the guests as nice as Arsenio and Leno and Letterman. We're usually up to date, so I haven't figured out how we're going to deal with that yet."

"Garry's very low-key," says Simms. "He's very unfocused until he's pushed to the wall, until the last minute, and that's when he snaps into it." (In one Sanders episode, Larry is asked, "Why do you have such a problem with confrontation?" to which he answers, "I don't want to talk about that now.")

Shandling attributes his deliberate, nonconfrontational nature to growing up in a house in Tucson, Ariz., across the street from the desert. "Once I got into college and met kids from New York," he says, "I realized there was a big difference in the frenetic energy pace that they possessed as opposed to mine, which was this very laid-back, desert-tortoise, I-really-shouldn't-walk-too-fast-because-the-sun-will-get-me attitude."

At the University of Arizona, Shandling studied electrical engineering for three years. Then one day, he was supposed to build circuits in a lab for six hours. After three hours, he walked out to get a drink of water and found himself physically unable to walk back in. He immediately dropped out of engineering, took a degree in marketing and — after a year of graduate creative-writing classes — moved to Los Angeles. After working at an ad agency for a few months, he sold a script to what was then the No.1 TV show in the country, Sanford and Son — the episode in which Ah Chew (Pat Morita) turns Fred Sanford's house into a Chinese restaurant. "My very first script was the No.1 show for the week," says Shandling. "And that's the last time I've ever worked on a No. 1 show. I've been slowly working my way down the ratings ladder ever since."

There's a knock at the door. Producer Simms comes into the office with a list and hands it to Shandling. "What happened to Sonny?" Shandling asks. "He doesn't want to do it," says Simms. They brainstorm ideas for a restaurant-owning celebrity who might be willing to play himself on Sanders. "We asked Sonny Bono," says Simms, "but he's running for Congress and probably felt the material was a little too sensitive or something." (In the script, Sonny talked to sycophantic Sanders sidekick Hank Kingsley about a restaurateur friend who played the worst music possible to "drive away all the undesirables." Hank: "Really? What did he use?" Sonny: "One of my old albums, I think." Hank: "Don't say that, my friend. There are a great many nonsingers out there, myself included, who look at you and say, 'Anything's possible.' ")

Getting the celebrity guests necessary to make the Sanders talk show credible is one of the more difficult aspects of producing the show, though some famous Shandling admirers like Alec Baldwin have called and offered their services, as have such unlikely Shandling fans as Porno for Pyros, Los Lobos and Elvis Costello. Shandling claims to be unimpressed by his own fame. "I don't think of myself as a celebrity," he says. "I see myself as someone on the outside. I don't think of myself as a show-business animal, and that is honestly where Larry and I differ vastly."

Three years after writing the Sanford and Son script, Shandling was one of the busiest comedy writers in television. He was working on the staff of The Harvey Korman Show and writing a script for Three's Company and a pilot for Paramount at the same time. "One day, I looked up at the calendar," he says, "and much like my engineering days when I couldn't go back into the lab, I couldn't go back to the typewriter. I called my agent and said, 'I just can't do this for the rest of my life.' " Around the same time, a near-fatal car accident (which eventually led to a killer five-minute routine on The Tonight Show) steeled his resolve to do something he enjoyed. After a couple of good sets at the Comedy Store on amateur night, Shandling decided to "inflict more pain on myself and learn more about myself by pursuing stand-up," he says, quickly adding, "but I was not a natural performer." Once more, he gave up a relatively secure, lucrative future for a great unknown.

In the beginning, Shandling's stand-up consisted of stories spoken to the audience as conversationally as possible. He talked about his disappointing dating life, his disappointing hair and other vital concerns, sprinkled with some observational comedy, such as a bit in which Shandling talked about people mooing at cows out of the windows of their cars. "What's the cow thinking?" he would say. " 'Oh, there's a cow driving that. How could he afford that?' " "Years later," says Brad Grey, "we used to kid around about how, if he went onstage and the crowd wasn't right, he was going to go back to the cow story."

After years of working on the road in dive nightclubs and discos, Shandling was getting ready to make his first appearance on The Merv Griffin Show when a 20-year-old college student caught his act and persuaded Shandling to let him become his manager. "Even though his face was still occasionally breaking out," says Shandling, "it was the best business decision I ever made." Grey, 36, is now partners with Bernie Brillstein in one of Hollywood's more powerful talent cabals (in fact, a large percentage of the people mentioned in this article are "handled" by Brillstein/Grey, not including the guy who killed himself to avoid sitting next to Shandling in high school).

Shandling arrives on the talk-show set for rehearsal in a suit, his freshly shaven face grimacing slightly. "If I seem a little uptight or nervous today," he tells the cast and crew, "it's because Roseanne just fired me." On the set, Shandling is a combination of insecurity and unshakable resolve. "Was I funny?" he'll ask just about anyone after a take — and he'll listen to what they say — before turning around and retaking a scene based purely on his own convictions. He moves easily among the onlookers, alternately teasing and flattering, effortlessly playing the star. "Hey, we gotta get you on the show again," he tells Saturday Night Live's Chris Farley, who has stopped by to say hello. "I didn't recognize you without your cape," Shandling says to a writer's agent while pantomiming a vampire. As the crew sets up a new shot, he entertains Bridgett Potter, the HBO executive in charge of the show, with the first chapter of Larry Sanders' as-yet-unpublished autobiography, reciting from memory: "Elke Sommer, my first guest, came by my dressing room to wish me luck. She said, 'You're the host who's going to go all the way.' The stage manager said, 'Five minutes,' and that's all it took."

Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor (Hank) and Rip Torn (Arthur, the wily, pit-bullish producer of the Sanders show) rehearse a scene in which Hank has just found out that patrons are selling drugs in his new restaurant. Hank worries that some kid will be found "lying dead in the gutter" in front of it. Simms interrupts the rehearsal. Considering that River Phoenix died in front of a Hollywood bar just a few months before, the line is considered too harsh.

"Change it to 'some kid burning his brains out in the crapper,' " says Torn helpfully.

"We need a lighter line," says Simms, and Shandling agrees, but Torn is adamantly for a harder joke. "My most famous line was 'I thought I shot that woman in Korea,' " he says. "There's so many kids dying out there, blowing their brains out in restaurants, I don't know why we can't talk about it!" The rehearsal continues, but Torn's anger builds through each run-through, and eventually he stalks from the set. Shandling follows him. "Hey, Rip ..." he says, putting one arm on the actor's shoulder. After a few words, Torn returns. "You know, I've been working really hard the last couple days," says Shandling, who is shooting his first scene in a week, "so can we get together here?" The cast and crew laugh, and the tension dissipates, though Torn later growls to no one in particular, "All the good stuff gets thrown out 'cause Garry's so damn protective of his friends."

The Sanders show has liberally made fun of real-life stars in jokes ranging from gentle prods ("No one gets pregnant from kissing someone — unless it's Warren Beatty") to cattle prods (Larry yells at Arthur: "You should call the Conan O'Brien people — see if they need a producer for the farewell special"). Perhaps because Shandling and Letterman are mutual admirers, Leno seems to take more than his share of abuse (in one episode, a network exec says, "I put Cheers reruns on at 11:30, and they're doing quite well — better than Leno, in fact"). Leno played good sport for a while, and possibly because he has demonstrated such an ability to take it in stride, the jokes have come harder and faster (after one interview segment, Artie pumps Larry up by telling him, "Leno couldn't do that flirting thing — it would make people sick"). Leno now declines to speak about The Larry Sanders Show.

Jokes at the expense of Billy Crystal ("Billy Crystal would suck a cock to win a sack race") and Gavin MacLeod ("If my career were in the dumper, I'd find God, too") were cut from scripts, partly out of consideration for the two stars' friendships with, respectively, Shandling and Tambor. "But it rarely happens that we take something out because someone's going to be offended," says Simms. "And Garry, who knows so many people in comedy, doesn't hesitate with anything — the biggest reason being that most people take it and enjoy it."

"I know things about celebrities, and I know things about the late-night situation that I will not put into this show," says Shandling, "because I think it crosses a boundary of confidence you have with your friends."

"It's a fine line," says Grey, whose clients have been both the beneficiary and the brunt of jokes on Sanders. In one episode, Carvey (a Grey client) guest hosted The Larry Sanders Show and got into trouble when Larry heard Carvey was entertaining offers to host his own show — while Carvey was in the midst of actual negotiations about a late-night deal with NBC. "There are certainly things regarding the late-night wars that Garry and I have been through that have been incorporated into the show," says Grey. "And anyone who went through it will recognize it. I don't want to get into who was almost offended and who was offended. But we're in a very small community, and pretty much everyone knows everyone else."

In 1977, Grey was promoting concerts while an undergraduate at the University of Buffalo, in New York. He had just signed his first management client, a stand-up comic named Bob Saget (now the barfing-baby-video king), who recommended Shandling to him. With Grey as his manager, Shandling worked steadily, doing well on TV stand-up showcases like Make Me Laugh. "You had to make people from the audience laugh in 60 seconds," Shandling says, "which is what I call a really bad date." Unlike many comics who use stand-up comedy as a means to get out of stand-up comedy, Shandling still performs. "I still like stand-up," he says. "I seldom feel that I've reached my potential at any particular moment. I'd like to be more conversational than I am now, a little more real."

In 1981, Shandling made his first appearance on Tonight. "It was clearly a format he could do well in, and we worked toward that," says Grey. By '84, Shandling was a regular guest host and one of the names cited as a possible replacement for Carson. "When he's behind that desk, I think he is as good as it gets," says Grey. "He's very fast, very intuitive and very funny." Although it provided ample material for the future, the talk-show grind soon wore on Shandling. "I found myself saying to a guest, 'Gosh, this was great talking to you,' and walking off and saying, 'Please don't make me ever have to talk to that person again.' " (As Larry Sanders has said, "When I go home, I can't even remember what I said to these people.") Once, on CNN's Larry King Live, Shandling told King, "The only thing odder than being on TV every night is wanting to be on TV every night." King didn't get it.

"I think that one of the troubles inherent with doing a nightly talk show is that it's nightly," says Shandling. "Can you pick out three people that you would want to talk to each night, that you find interesting, if you had to? The answer's probably no. It's hard enough to find one person you enjoy talking to."

"Eventually, Garry had to decide between continuing to host The Tonight Show — solely or with Jay — or going ahead in a more fulfilling direction," Grey says. Shandling decided he wanted to do a TV series with his self-referential point of view. Zweibel, a writer on the original SNL and a Grey client, was enlisted to help Shandling create the show. Zweibel first met Shandling when he was flown to Los Angeles from New York City to help with the Showtime special It's Garry Shandling's Show 25th Anniversary. "I flew in on a Sunday, and that night we had dinner," says Zweibel. "I went back to my hotel room and went to sleep. The phone rang at 1 a.m. — 4 a.m. my time. I picked it up and heard, 'Alan, it's Garry. My dog's penis tastes bitter — do you think it's his diet or what?' I called my wife and said, 'I think I found a writing partner.' "

It's Garry Shandling's Show interested many network execs, but none of them was ready to take the leap into an "unconventional" format in which the star talked to the camera (an idea first propagated by TV avant-gardists like Jack Benny and George Burns). Eventually, Showtime made the leap. (The series also spent a couple of seasons on Fox, often as the lowest-rated network show of the week.) Memorable episodes included one in which Garry throws a surprise party for his mother, who is sufficiently surprised to have a heart attack. "Like most artists, Garry's able to distill things down to what the joke is essentially about," says Zweibel. "He'd say, 'Yeah, it'd be fun if Garry goes to Venus, but what is it about?' "

In 1990, after four seasons, Shandling and Zweibel went their own ways. "It became very tense between us," says Zweibel. "I found myself producing and writing a show about a guy who didn't have a life." "The show had stopped growing," says Shandling. "I thought my acting was below what I was capable of and in some cases probably sucked. I was at a crossroads. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, and I was very burnt out." Shandling took a year off, during which he was periodically offered astonishing amounts of money to return to the talk-show arena. He ended up declining the offers. "I felt I had nothing new to bring to the form," he says, "and it angers me that people will go on and do a talk show without having a strong, new point of view."

Instead, Shandling came up with an idea for a show about a talk show modeled on Carson's Tonight Show. He saw the setting as a perfect metaphor for how people behave socially vs. how they really feel. "I think it's a show about human behavior and the hypocrisy we all possess," he says. "My models were King of Comedy, Broadcast News and Network and movies that depicted the underbelly of show business." He balks at the notion that the show-within-a-show aspect is another self-referential device. A recent TV Guide Jeer given to "shows that continue to do shows within shows" — followed by a list that included The Larry Sanders Show — particularly annoyed him. "I thought it was incredibly unfair to say it's a show about a show within a show," says Shandling. "It's a show about people who work on a talk show! ... People think show business is odd. People are odd."

Through a stand-up special he did for HBO, Shandling had become acquainted with HBO head Michael Fuchs. He called Fuchs with the idea for Sanders, and Fuchs immediately offered him a 13-show commitment based on Shandling's description. "Of course, no one knew then that two months later, Carson would be stepping down," says Grey. "No one knew that NBC wouldn't give the show to Dave. No one knew that all this lunacy would happen." Carson's retirement was the talk-show equivalent of the Soviet Union's fall, opening up a plethora of new rivalries and conflicts that had been submerged beneath Carson's dominance and, as a result, creating a wealth of material for The Larry Sanders Show. "It was very fortuitous," says Grey.

Many of Shandling's experiences guest hosting The Tonight Show have found their way into Sanders, from great Carsonian traditions like blaming last night's audience for last night's bad jokes to more specific scenarios. "We wrote an episode where Larry's wife accused him of flirting with a guest that he was interviewing," Shandling says, "and I had that situation arise at the time with a woman I was dating." A constant source of comedy has been how being on camera alters behavior. "You certainly do things you wouldn't do otherwise," he says. "I can remember sitting with Joan Embrey [a San Diego Zoo representative who appeared frequently on The Tonight Show] and her bringing out certain animals that you say, 'Oh, cute,' and you find yourself touching and feeling, when in reality, anyone, were you anywhere else, would be backing off."

"It all goes into the hopper," says co-executive producer Peter Tolan. "Everything goes in," says Simms. "You'll be in the scripts. Don't worry."

In one episode of Sanders, a reporter from Entertainment Weekly hangs around the show and asks obnoxious, intrusive questions like "Has Larry ever had sex with any of the guests?" to which Artie replies, "What the fuck kind of question is that?" Shandling, on the other hand, politely declines to answer the obnoxious, intrusive question posed to him about his fiancee, Sanders co-star and Playboy model Linda Doucett. He is still smarting from a recent newspaper article about his new house.

"It's an invasion of privacy, and there's nothing that somebody like me can do," Shandling says. "I have strangers, such as yourself, coming up to me, talking about my house, knowing where it is, knowing what's in it, knowing who's there [Brentwood, four bedrooms, Linda Doucett], because this architect has to see his name in the paper." He shakes his head in disgust. "And that is something that will end up on The Larry Sanders Show."

"One of the things that make the show good," says Simms, "which I think can be pretty nerve-racking for anyone who works here, is that often something real will happen, and we'll put it in a script." The distracted way Shandling hears pitches from his writers — tearing at a magazine, fiddling with things on his desk — became the way Larry hears pitches from his writers. After Simms suffered an injury and required frequent physical therapy, Shandling suggested that Simms script a show in which the Sanders head writer has an injury requiring frequent physical therapy, causing Larry to wonder if he is just using the excuse to screw off. "Story ideas are a good way to communicate," says Simms.

Once, when Tambor was rehearsing, Shandling, who wasn't in the scene, saw Tambor doing something he didn't like and loudly said, "No." After the resulting turmoil subsided, the writers decided to do an episode in which Hank is doing a sketch and Larry comes down and says, "No, that's all wrong," resulting in turmoil.

Sometimes, the inspiration and the script assume a chicken-or-the-egg relationship. In one episode last season, Hugh Hefner appeared as a guest on The Larry Sanders Show and offered Hank's assistant, Darlene (played by Doucett), the opportunity to be the subject of a nude pictorial in Playboy, which Doucett — apparently less obsessed with privacy than her fiancé — accepted in real life. Contributing further to the Chinese-box-like confusion, Doucett is quoted in her Playboy pictorial — which, incidentally, is very tasteful (as Hank describes it on Sanders, "very low profile; no bush") — as saying, "I considered posing as Darlene to protect my image as a woman who's about to get married. It's strange mixing your private and professional lives the way we do. But I posed as me, Linda, not Darlene." Will the real Linda Doucett nipple please stand up?

On the talk-show set of the Sanders show, a stand-up comic is performing the thankless task of keeping a studio audience entertained during the three hours it takes to tape one week's "live" segments, instructing the audience to cheer for Shandling's entrance in a patronizing tone eerily similar to the way Hank instructs the audience to cheer for Larry. When the comic entertains questions from the audience, one member asks, "When we cheer, are we cheering for Garry or Larry?" "Good question," the comic says after a beat. "Who do you want to cheer for?"

Backstage, Shandling is reviewing a sheet of jokes from the writers for Larry's opening monologue. To make the jokes told by Larry as topical as possible, the talk-show segments are shot weeks after the rest of the show is done. " 'Richard Nixon now joins Ronald Reagan as the second former president in a coma,' " he reads. "That doesn't have very many days. [In fact, Nixon died three days later.] 'You know why Hillary Clinton changed her hairstyle? Because that's how they wear it in prison.' Let's try and get that one in."

"The leap Garry has made in going from Garry to Larry has been more than going from G to L," says Zweibel. "His acting is more confident, and his writing, which has always been great, is just getting better. I hope he's getting enough confidence to move beyond himself."

"I want to do more movies to test myself," says Shandling, "to see what I'm capable of as an actor." In addition to playing the villain in Nora Ephron's movie Lifesavers, which is coming out at Christmas, Shandling plays Warren Beatty's buddy in Love Affair, the remake of An Affair to Remember to be released in the fall. He's also working on a movie script. "I'm writing a movie about an alien that I can't talk about," he says. (In one episode of Sanders, Larry is working on a screenplay and tells his girlfriend, "I'm not telling anyone about the movie — it's none of their business.")

Shandling's main concern about his future projects is that he be able to maintain the same control over his work that he has had in cable. "I would say that creative freedom is my No. 1 requirement in my work," he says. "Bono said 'fuck' on the Grammys, and I actually wanted to come on after him and say, 'I thought you couldn't say "fuck." ' But the producer said, 'Oh, don't say that.' So I guess that would be an example of how I censored myself. When I host a show like the Grammys, it's not my show, and I don't have the creative freedom that I'm used to. I think there's something lost in the performance, you know?"

Shandling comes out to talk to the audience before the taping, and the well-trained crowd cheers wildly. After a short welcome, Shandling brings up the Bobbitts — and the penis jokes are off and running. "I used to think wearing a condom was enough — now I wear the Club," he says, looking like he just ate a dairy product past its expiration date. The audience laughs uproariously, even though a large portion of it is composed of a Christian youth group. Such is Shandling's rapport with a live audience: He could kill Christians with nothing but dick jokes — and that's exactly what he proceeds to do. "I have a tattoo on my penis that says: 'If found, drop in the mailbox, and I guarantee postage,' " he says.

After another scene is shot, Shandling takes questions from the audience. "Do you wear briefs or boxers?" one audience member asks. "Both," replies Shandling. "At the same time. I actually have to have all my underwear custom-made because it's so big. I'd tell you how big, but I'm waiting until we convert to the metric system, when it will sound really impressive. Like 450 millimeters. Like a howitzer shell. I actually have a 'smart penis' — you know, like those smart bombs we used in Iraq." For five minutes, Shandling regales the punch-drunk audience with impromptu tales of his penis flying through desert skies in search of hard targets. "You guys are great," he says, winding up. "Last week, the audience was just a huge piece of shit."