“Artie’s Gone” (season 2, episode 8, originally aired 7/14/93)
The fictional talk show on The Larry Sanders Show doesn’t run without Artie; as I’ve mentioned before, Artie is the archetypal “guy behind the guy,” the one who doesn’t get the glory but who really runs the whole operation. Larry needs to know Artie is nearby just to make it through a show—Artie may not say or do anything, but Larry must have him there. Such is cross Artie bears as producer and soothsayer, and without him, the whole operation goes to shit.
Which is why it seems odd he’s so relaxed about handing the reins over to Paula when severe weather-related traffic strands him in Malibu. Artie’s smart enough to know Paula isn’t the most stable person in the world, so entrusting her with the show—and insisting she not tell Larry about it—seems out of character. But then again, who else could possibly do it in his place?
Not Hank, though he attempts to take charge of the situation. “You’re in your 20s!” he says to Paula, baffled. What does this kid know about producing? Like she has the sleight-of-hand skills to do card tricks if they need to stretch a segment! But Paula’s excited for the challenge and confident she can handle it.
It’s worth pausing to note where Janeane Garofalo was, career-wise, in July of 1993. She’d spent most of the previous year as a cast member of The Ben Stiller Show, the beloved but little-watched sketch show that basically launched her career, along with castmates Bob Odenkirk and Andy Dick. (Judd Apatow, David Cross, Dino Stamatopoulous—Star Burns!—also wrote for the show.) In a way, “Artie’s Gone” was Garofalo’s first big chance, just like it was for her character on the show. Soon she’d land a co-starring role in 1994’s Reality Bites, then become a Saturday Night Live cast member in 1995 for one season, then star lead in films like The Truth About Cats & Dogs by 1996. Just as Paula quickly gets in over her head, it seemed like Garofalo would too with her stint on SNL and starring in cheesy romantic comedies.
The show quickly unravels as soon as Paula hangs up with Artie: Ted Danson canceled, so they need a new lead guest, then end up with two; she has to keep coming up with new lies when Larry keeps asking where Artie is; the air conditioner in the studio is broken (and it can’t be fixed without a signature from Artie); Sid the cue-card guy is out sick; Hank’s being an asshole because he resents her; and she forgot about a date with her boyfriend, which means that relationship is likely done. Oh, and Larry’s chair is a half-inch to 5/8 of an inch too low, he’s “positive of it.”
Even if the studio weren’t hot, Paula would be sweating. She freaks out on the phone to Artie, who calmly reassures her with mundane reminders to help her cope with the job: Stand next to Larry as he’s going through the cue cards. Don’t let the weird intern near the guests. And before the show, have a glass of wine. Paula doesn’t really drink, but that’s not the point, Artie says. If the audience sees you with a glass of wine, they’ll know you’re relaxed, and they will relax. “The way I look right now, it’s not going to relax anyone to see me with alcohol,” Paula says in one of several great lines she has in “Artie’s Gone.”
Even though Paula barely keeps it together, you get the sense that this isn’t all that different from a typical Larry Sanders taping. We’ve seen a fair amount of zaniness this far along into the series—remember T. Bone Burnett literally sprinting through the hallway to make it onto the set?—so we know that even with an old pro like Artie at the helm, every taping as a certain “seat of the pants” modus operandi. After bickering with Steven Wright about who is the true lead guest, Bruno Kirby grumbles, “You know, this really isn’t even about us. This fucking show is run so fucking sloppy.” “This would never happen on Letterman,” Wright adds. “Right? It’s amateur night in Dixie.”
How right he is, because anything that involves Darlene and Beverly handling cue cards for Larry can only qualify as amateur. (“Larry, are you going to need the monologue cards anymore?” Darlene asks after the monologue. “The monologue is over. Good job!” Larry says before anxiously asking Paula for the 10th time, “Where the hell is Artie?”) It only gets more amateurish when Kirby and Wright come out together for the first interview, even though Larry didn’t mention Kirby as a guest in his monologue and didn’t know Kirby was there. It’s awkward, but also funny and, in a weird way, magical. Well, maybe not “magical,” but it’s one of those moments that will provide a clip for the following year’s anniversary show. Breaking the show’s routine forces Larry to improvise, and it works out. If web video were around then, it’s one of those clips that would circulate the morning after the show.
So Paula’s biggest screw-up of the night ends up being a high point, and there’s even a hip young band to provide extra buzz! (That’s Porno For Pyros, the post-Jane’s Addiction Perry Farrell project mostly remembered for that annoying song “Pets” and sounding awesome compared to Satellite Party.) Paula, probably drunk and feeling victorious, comes up to the panel during a commercial break—“Steven, excellent, Bruno, best, Hank, fuck you”—and admits to Larry that Artie hasn’t been around this whole time. Larry immediately looks lost, and during the interminable two and a half minutes remaining in the episode, he resorts to letting Hank do his stupid card tricks.
It’s not until Artie shows up at the last moment—“You told him, didn’t you?” he says to Paula. “It was an accident. I shouldn’t drink,” she responds—that Larry finds his footing again and ends the show on a strong note. Paula didn’t quite pull it off. Just like Janeane in The Truth About Cats & Dogs.
• Steven Wright won, obviously. (Too soon?)
• It is sad, though: Kirby was only 57 when he died in 2006 from a short battle with leukemia. And to have an episode of Entourage be his last credit? A goddamn travesty. Dude was in The Godfather II!
• So: Did Hank really have Phil’s card in the writers’ room? Knowing Phil, I’m inclined to think he was just screwing with Hank, making him think he did the trick correctly so he’d fail on the show. Also, I love Larry’s parting shot: “My card was the four of diamonds, asshole.”
• “You know, if I were you, I’d concentrate on the fact that it’s 105 degrees in the studio, but I suppose it’s a dry heat and I’m just an old fuck.” The venom in those last two words from Hank were more poisonous than an irukandji sting.
• My favorite line of the whole episode, and another Artie gem: “The network would like Larry to give a plug for their new Saturday night rock ’n’ roll video fuckfest.”
• Quick programming note: I’ll have another recap posting next Monday, Dec. 19, but nothing the two weeks after it. The recaps will return Monday, Jan. 9, and I’ll try to double up more of the episodes next month.