Garry Shandling, who died at the age of 66 on Thursday, will be mainly remembered as one of the most influential comedians of the past three decades and for his classic HBO series The Larry Sanders Show. But in doing some memorializing YouTube roulette, I rediscovered one of his other great, underappreciated legacies: The theme song to his 1980s Showtime series It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.
While I don’t recall a single episode of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (I watched it as a very small child with my parents), the show is meant to be epochal. The comedy site SplitSider called it “the show that perhaps more than anything else truly exhibited the heart of Garry Shandling’s comedic sensibilities” and his “greatest achievement.” Here’s how the New York Times described it in a 1987 review:
His show, complete with a dopey theme song, is a loose affair, allowing the comedian to slip in and out of his sitcom character, who also happens to be named Garry. He can talk directly to the camera, commenting on the supposed action, and he can even walk into the studio audience, gathering reactions and shaking hands. Yes, I know, George Burns did something similar on his old show with Gracie Allen, but this is far more sophisticated, almost post-modern, if you’re partial to buzz-words.
I’ve listened to the song five times already this afternoon, and at the risk of succumbing to E.B. White’s old maxim that explaining humor is like dissecting a frog, I will briefly attempt to explain what it so, so good.*
First of all, it’s as catchy as a Justin Bieber song, and refreshingly simple. But unlike a Justin Bieber song, it is charmingly self-aware. Here’s how it starts.
This is the theme to Garry’s show/The theme to Garry’s show/Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song.
Pretty easy explanation of what’s going on. But also, there are complexities. For example, the song is interactive and speaks directly to the viewer—like the show itself, which was the forefather of the now-ubiquitous wry single-camera mode of violating the fourth wall. More great lyrics:
I’m almost halfway finished/How do you like it so far?/How do you like the theme to Garry’s Show?
Finally, the theme closes by telling us exactly what it’s going to do and exactly what we’re going to do. Again, simplicity:
We’re almost to the part/Of where I start to whistle/Then we’ll watch It’s Garry Shandling’s Show
Sadly, this classic has gone largely unrecognized in various lists of the greatest TV theme songs of all-time. Perhaps the underappreciated genius of this tune can best be explained by this 2007 interview with the song’s performer Bill Lynch, in which he explains how he came to sing the song.
I went up to this recording studio in a house in the Hollywood Hills. Joey Carbone, who wrote the song, was there. So was producer Brad Grey, who is now the head of Columbia Pictures. … They told me here’s how it goes, here’s what we want. I go into the studio and put these headphones on and they said, “Let’s get a level.” I sang the thing, then sat there about 30 seconds waiting. Then they said, “Thank you. We’ve listened to it a couple times, and this is exactly what we wanted.” Then I walked out of the studio, stopped and turned around and said, “Excuse me, but who is Garry Shandling anyway?”
He was a great comedian, who will be greatly missed for many more reasons than this song. But what a song.
*Correction, March 25, 2016, at 12:25 ET: This post originally misattributed the maxim about frogs and comedy to Mark Twain.