Several years ago, I was about to fly from LAX to Hawaii’s Big Island. The flight attendant came over and asked me, “Mr. Shandling, would you care for water, juice, or champagne?” I laughed. In high school, kids used to call me Garry Shandling, presumably because our names have some similarities and because I was always trying to be funny. I was about to tell the flight attendant, “Just call me Gary,” which is what I say whenever anyone is about to mangle my last name. And then I looked at the empty seat next to me and it dawned on me. My seatmate for the next six hours was going to be the man whose hair style I had tried to copy through most of high school, with much hair mousse and little success. The man I wanted to be if I ever grew up, because he made people laugh while he told them the truth, which, back in the late eighties and early nineties, was still a novelty.
Shandling plopped into the window seat. He was, like most male celebrities I’ve met, perfectly muscular and trim. He had three books with him, whose titles I now forget, and I think he intended to read all of them during the long flight. I mentioned the similarities in our names, and for the next six hours we couldn’t stop talking. I can’t even remember about what. I drank nervously, trying to time my jokes along with his. My jokes were straining and full of strategies; his were effortless—not jokes at all but bulletins from a complicated man travelling through a particularly funny band of the space-time continuum. We were staying at different resorts, and he invited my then-fiancée and me to dinner at his place.