“Larry’s Partner” (season 2, episode 10; originally aired 7/28/93)
Behind every person who has “made it”—particularly in comedy, it seems—seethes a friend or acquaintance who resents that success. (And that person’s name is Marc Maron. Zing!) Mix in some guilt and manipulation, and powerful, famous people can become surprisingly easy to push around.
Larry’s already a wimp, so when his caustic former comedy partner, Stan Paxton (Eric Bogosian), shows up out of the blue one day—they haven’t seen each other since Larry broke up the duo for indeterminate reasons 15 years prior—it understandably trips Artie’s alarm. His old bouncer instinct kicks in to politely give Stan the bum’s rush. “That’s the way I started in showbiz. Sometimes I revert, okay?”
Stan has ostensibly appeared to catch up and repay $127 he stole from Larry in 1978 (he used it to buy coke and bang the hotel maid), but from the beginning, the way he alludes to his hard times makes it obvious he wants some kind of handout. Larry has Artie there to protect him from this kind of thing, and he does his best, constantly referring to an imminent Chrysler meeting. (“Who are we trying to avoid?” Hank cluelessly asks.) These types of “old friends” are the bane of managers and agents everywhere, because those pre-fame connections have a way of sneaking past their defenses. In Larry’s case, he can’t see Stan for what he is because he feels guilty for leaving him behind.
That’s how an awkward conversation at the office leads to an excruciating dinner at Larry’s house, then to a full-time staff writing job for Stan on the show, then an actual appearance on the show. Larry’s bad ideas have a way of snowballing. “What do you say to a guy who just said you ruined his life?” Larry tells an exasperated Francine after dinner when Stan goes to the bathroom. “Why’d you invite him here to dinner?” “Because I ruined his life!” Francine tells him he can’t feel guilty, and Larry says he doesn’t—then immediately adds, “I feel so fucking guilty!” Cue Stan walking in remarking how Larry has “a big house… a big house,” and suddenly Larry gives him a job. The look on Larry’s face says he realizes it’s a terrible idea, and the look on Francine’s face says “What the hell are you doing?” Stan just says “What would it pay?”
Stan may be grateful, but mostly he feels entitled, as if Larry is only doing what he owes him. He’s immediately a prick to the staff, pissed that Larry skips one of his jokes or doesn’t tell one of them just right, asks for special treatment, and perhaps worst of all, drinks. Stan’s appearance to repay an old debt looks like he’s on step nine of a 12-step program—making amends—but he never says he’s in treatment. Artie sniffs out some “cheap, domestic, plain-wrapped vodka” in Stan’s coffee—“I won’t tolerate alcohol in my office!” “You have alcohol in your office.” “That’s for weekends.”—and the next thing you know, he’s taking down several cans of beer while Hank proudly shows him the model of the Lookaround Café.
“You’ve just stepped in a huge pile of shit named Stan Paxton, and you’re tracking all over my office!” Artie yells when he hears Larry gave Stan a job, and he couldn’t be more right. Because not only does Larry give him a job, but he quickly acquiesces to special treatment—letting Stan take his jokes to him directly, instead of pitching them with the writers. “You don’t help alcoholics by giving them everything that they want!” Francine tells him, and that’s when we learn that Stan’s drinking killed their old partnership. (Stan tells the Phil and Jerry it was because Larry was jealous that he was “ballin’ the chicks everywhere we went.”) Why didn’t Larry say something to him?
“Maybe if you’d told him that back then, then maybe today Stan would be… Hank.”
“That’s a horrible thing to say! I wouldn’t wish that on anybody!”
Larry vows to fire him, but he can’t do it because Stan butters him up with gratitude. He manages to get out that Stan’s jokes are great—though, tellingly, we never actually hear any jokes he writes for Larry—but he’s not doing well with the staff. So Stan makes an even more preposterous proposition: He can perform his jokes on the show. Larry tries to pass the buck to the booking staff, saying Stan will need to give them a tape, but Stan doesn’t blink—he has tapes coming out of his ass. The one he gives is, predictably, terrible. “Well my guess is that tape did come out of his ass,” says Artie. At first Larry just plans to bury the segment at 12:25 (“Who the fuck is watching then anyway?” says Artie), but he almost immediately changes his mind. The spineless Larry is growing a backbone.
As great as The Larry Sanders Show is, it never seemed terribly demanding on Garry Shandling as an actor, at least not this far into the series. Shandling plays a version of himself, and it’s not as if the show required some dramatic heavy lifting. But he shows real acting muscle in his final confrontation with Stan in the bathroom—even a wuss like Larry has his breaking point, and no amount of “You owe me” from Stan can change things after that point has been reached.
Being right doesn’t make him feel any better when he learns the next day that Stan shot himself. A suicide would have been far too dark for The Larry Sanders Show, so we learn Stan only managed to shoot of the top of his ear (which is fitting for Stan). It’s a rock-bottom moment, and though no one says it outright, Larry’s conversation with Stan on the phone seems to indicate his going into treatment. But he’s still Stan—he wants to know if the show’s health insurance will cover it.
Stan’s suicide attempt has a sad coincidence with the life of episode writer Drake Sather, who killed himself by gunshot in 2004. Sather, a comedian, is best known as the co-writer of Zoolander, based on a character he created with Ben Stiller. He wrote “Larry’s Partner” not long before he became a writer on Saturday Night Live during one of that show’s infamous eras in 1994 and 1995. He wrote several episodes of NewsRadio as well, though sadly his last credit was writing and executive producing a reboot of Mr. Ed for Fox starring Sherilyn Fenn and, uh, Sherman Helmsley. What a horrible epitaph.
After his death, Margaret Cho wrote a sweet elegy for him on her website, and a lot of people posted comments about him on the unfortunately named Blog Of Death. Though I have to say—I kind of wonder what Mr. Ed would be like with Audrey Horne and George Jefferson. Fox didn’t pick up the pilot.
- All is not lost, Mr. Ed fans! Slashfilm reported in October that a big-screen adaptation is in development. IMDB shows it coming out in 2014.
- Of course Hank is a huge fan of Stan Paxton. Watching him play the adoring fanboy here is awesome. “I really like you, Stan Paxton.” “You still got it, Stan Paxton!”
- Also hilarious: Hank’s fervent belief that Stan succeeded in killing himself, because that’s what he heard from “friends.” When Stan calls, Hank says, “Uh, I don’t think so… This is a horrible trick.”
Larry: “Hello, Stan?”
Hank: “I don’t think so.”
Artie: “He’s talking to him, Hank!”
Hank: “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
- Another great exchange:
Larry: “Did you see the monologue?”
Beverly: “Yeah I did, and I laughed out loud three times.”
Larry: “Well I did 12 jokes.”
Artie: “I laughed at all 12 of them.”
Larry: “Well that means she didn’t laugh nine times.”