Following celebrity deaths — regardless of how iconic an artist is or how dear they are to the public — there is, understandably, a surge of interest in revisiting their work and their accomplishments. This isn’t anything negative so much as it’s a pure fact of being monumentalized by people who know your art but don’t know you personally. Last night on Conan, however, the comedian/host paid homage to Garry Shandling — whose death was announced hours prior — and made a point of avoiding the standard obituary rundown of cultural contributions, instead recalling a few personal moments that highlighted who “Shandling the person” was.
Normally, as with any talk show, Conan performs a comedic opening monologue, but his speech yesterday evening was devoted solely to Shandling. He began:
It’s a little unusual today. I’m going to be very honest with you; it’s a strange day today… I have to tell you this is a devastating shock to me and just about everybody I know. I’ve had about three hours now to process that Gary’s gone and this doesn’t seem real, still…He was obviously hysterically funny pretty much all the time, but he as extremely complicated, sensitive, and he had a ton of empathy for other people. I want to make that point…
He then goes into a specific story about a time when they became especially close, following the contentious issues over O’Brien’s Tonight Show slot on NBC, which ultimately — because O’Brien didn’t want to do a version of the show that aired at 12:05 am — led to his dismissal from the show:
During a particularly difficult time in my life, Garry magically appeared and he helped me a lot. It’s seven years ago now when my tonight show ended in this crazy, effed up, spectacular fashion. I woke up this morning and I had no job and I had no idea what I was going to do. I was shellshocked…I was a complete zombie.
He explains that his wife immediately suggested they go to Hawaii, and that she went down to the beach while he just sat alone in hotel room. He says his hotel phone rang, and Garry’s voice was on the other end, saying, “‘Conan, it’s Garry, I’m staying three doors down, we’re on an island, there’s no avoiding me.'”
Basically, Conan says, they spent an entire, therapeutic week together, with Shandling counseling him, talking philosophy with him and putting everything in perspective:
We had an incredible afternoon — the last we spent together on that island. We took this really long walk, we climbed over lava formations, we went through a cave, we went to a far part of the island, and we saw a little stretch of sand and we both laid on it, and the sun started to go down, and we’re both watching the sun go down, and I said to Gary, ‘This is the most romantic moment of my life, and it’s with you.’
Watch Conan’s speech:
Conan also shared an old clip of Shandling being interviewed by him, which he says “shows Garry at work, sitting next to [him],” and in which “you get to see his mind working.” Watch: