There’s never a bad time to revisit The Larry Sanders Show (as we’re wont to do), partly because, despite the ’90s-ness of the guests and outfits and theme song and sensibilities, the comedy and aesthetic just feel pretty timeless. A decade can go by between rewatches of Garry Shandling’s HBO series about the goings on at a fictional late-night talk show, but what made the show work still works remarkably well. Just one of the many ingredients that helped the series pull that off was its comedic timing, both in the writing and performances. So to celebrate the show—it premiered 30 years ago today, on August 15, 1992—here are five moments that nail just that. Let us know your faves and what we missed—there, admittedly, is plenty to choose from—in the comments.
Hank bombing (season 3, episode 6, “Hank’s Night In The Sun”)
Honestly, all of these entries could be centered on Hank (Jeffrey Tambor), Larry’s (Shandling) sidekick, who has a huge ego and and sense of entitlement but, deep down, knows that he deserves none of this success—that he is, to quote Larry, “an untalented fat fuck.” Perhaps no moment captures this more than Hank’s deer-in-the-headlights look while hosting the show for a second night after subbing in (successfully—for Hank, anyway) the night before. When a joke about President Clinton doesn’t land, Hank, feeling like a big shot, calls the monologue’s writer an offensive term, eliciting gasps, and then an audience member yells out, “You suck!” and Hank freezes. Tambor’s pause here and his expression of pure, tongue-tied devastation is priceless, capturing how his character has come face to face with what he’s known all along (that he does, in fact, suck).
Artie breaking down the door (season 1, episode 10, “Party”)
Is drunk Artie (Rip Torn) the best Artie? Or is it dapper, caffeinated, laser-sharp Artie, bullshit detector Artie, or lascivious Artie? For the sake of this entry, let’s say it’s the first one. This episode, which follows what was supposed to be a small dinner at Larry’s home that ballooned into a staff party, has a bunch of great lines delivered by the inebriated, almost growling bulldog of a producer. (“Just because Cheers was a hit, every asshole thinks he can mix a drink” and “Drink it, you pussy” are standouts.) But Torn karate-kicking the door into Larry’s bedroom, where the host’s wife, Jeanie (Megan Gallagher), has holed up, just after he seemingly nods at Larry that he won’t make a scene is a perfect bit of comedic timing.
Paula having a health scare (season 4, episode 11, “I Was A Teenage Lesbian”)
Speaking of Artie, let’s hear it for Artie-in-the-making Paula (Janeane Garofalo), the show’s “sour booker” with producing aspirations. In this outing, she deals with a health scare and an ex fling slotted for that night’s show (Brett Butler) and gets confronted by Artie, her mentor of sorts, who gives the following bit of advice: “You don’t want to be watching a Larry Sanders rerun and have to say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the show I fucked up because of my titty.’” Garofalo doesn’t say much at all in the scene, but, as she does throughout the series, she’s the perfect dry-witted, sarcastic foil for its louder characters (your Arties, your Hanks), in this case blankly nodding after that insensitive pearl of wisdom from her boss and never overselling it.
Larry reading Hank’s wedding vows (season 2, episode 15, “Hank’s Wedding”)
According to Judd Apatow, a writer for Sanders, “Garry said the show is about people who love each other, but show business gets in the way.” That’s never truer than it is in “Hank’s Wedding,” which has some sweet moments mixed in with all the mocking darts you’d expect to be shot at that oft-buffoonish man of the hour. Props to Shandling’s performance when he reads the vows for a verklempt Hank (it happens around the 21:45 mark in the video above), looking back in confusion at just the right moment and giving the next line enough breathing room after reading, “I thought I knew sunshine, but I knew only shade.”
Phil teaching Hank a lesson (season 4, episode 1, “Roseanne’s Return”)
To illustrate how insane it is for Hank to believe O. J. Simpson’s innocence (this episode aired three months before the verdict was announced), head-writer Phil (Wallace Langham) eggs the sidekick’s car and then leaves a trail of evidence in his office (yolk on his fingertips and shoes, and a cracked-open carton of eggs on his desk). Hank, initially incensed, finally gets what’s happening here and holds in his anger, saying he believes he didn’t do it. “Fuck you, Hank, of course I did it,” Phil responds, to which Hank erupts, “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! You clean it up, or I’m gonna tell Artie,” kicking in the door. It’s Tambor’s pre-final-outburst, though, him biting his tongue, voice trembling with frustration and trying to remain calm and stick to his guns, that’s the bigger acting feat.