It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was the pre-Seinfeld version of Seinfeld. And no, I don’t just mean because both programs starred popular stand- up comics. I mean basically Shandling’s program, which aired on cable via Showtime and later on network tv via Fox, seems like the blueprint that Seinfeld followed almost slavishly. That’s my opinion, anyway. Consider the following points: episodes of Seinfeld started with Jerry on-stage doing a few bits for a nightclub audience – episodes of IGSS started with Garry on his sitcom set doing a few bits for the studio audience … Seinfeld dealt with life as a stand-up comic trying to juggle his career and romantic life – ditto for IGSS … Jerry had a wry and sardonic gal pal, a portly, balding and bespectacled close friend plus a lanky, eccentric buddy adding bits of madness to the show – Garry had the exact same supporting characters, but I grant you his show’s proto- George was married with a son. There was even a proto- Newman in the form of Garry’s jerky nemesis, the chubby and eyeglass-wearing Leonard Smith. Seriously, watching Shandling’s program on DVD now it feels like you’re watching a succession of pilot episodes for Seinfeld where they simply recast all the roles before committing to the series. When you consider the fact that the woman who played Shandling’s mother on his show is the same actress who went on to play Seinfeld’s mother you’re into some very weird territory.
I’m not complaining about any of this, by the way, because if anything it adds to the fun since most people will be more familiar with Seinfeld, even though IGSS came first. Spouting “Hello, Newman” and other Seinfeld catch- phrases when their IGSS forerunners show up on the screen adds a small something to the enjoyment since the non-stop parallels are inescapable. Watching IGSS and seeing Garry’s gal pal Molly Cheek stroll into his kitchen and help herself to something from the fridge while the two chat about their dating lives you expect her to say “No WAAAAAAY” and shove Garry at any moment.
The biggest (some might say “only”) difference in the two shows comes from their stylistic approach. While Jerry’s show was notorious for the way it labored to be about “nothing” Garry’s program made its mark by being incessantly “meta”, breaking the fourth wall by always including the studio audience in the story and making no bones about the fact that all the players knew they were characters on a sitcom. As I’m fond of pointing out to anyone who will listen this concept of “breaking the fourth wall” is not some post- modern development like many people seem to think. The world’s oldest surviving comedies are the plays of Aristophanes from the 400’s and 300’s B.C. and those works are littered with comic bits where the actors know they’re in a play. They also have plenty of jokes poking fun at rival comedians, audience members, or commenting on how the previous work by the same author either bombed or succeeded or landed him in legal trouble.
Anyway, since the “meta” approach is what people always remember about IGSS, especially Garry’s wry asides to the audience, I think the notion of new viewers to the show talking back to the screen by throwing out jokes commenting on the Proto- Seinfeld nature of the proceedings takes us into “meta- squared” territory.
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