Garry Shandling and Tom Petty: Legends and Friends

It makes sense that Tom Petty and Garry Shandling were longtime friends. They had a lot in common. Both were great craftsman and more influential than it might seem. Shandling pioneered meta comedy with It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in the 80s and The Larry Sanders Show in the 90s (Petty made cameos on both). Petty wrote some of the most elemental, romantically ideal rock and roll of his time over his 40-year career, from “American Girl” right up to the end with “Forgotten Man.”

The unfortunate commonality they share is they both died suddenly at 66 while still vital artists. Both of their deaths prompted tributes from every corner of their respective arts. Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin, Conan O’Brien, Amy Schumer, and Judd Apatow all had kind words for Shandling. Petty himself memorialized Shandling in Billboard. And everyone from metal dudes to country stars to sensitive singer/songwriters covered Petty’s music or cited him as an influence.

So I was somewhat startled to happen upon this conversation between Shandling and Petty while stumbling down a YouTube hole. It’s remarkable. Shandling is self-deprecating, Petty is sly. They make good mutual foils. They both like to laugh, and they both play the “yes, and” game well. That’s probably they worked so well in ensembles, Shandling with his castmates and Petty with the Heartbreakers and Mudcrutch. They can communicate from the standpoint of legends. They know the worry that goes into doing your best work, and doing it consistently, and they know how fame can isolate an artist.

At one point, Shandling says all kidding aside, “This is the most fun I’ve had in a couple of years.” Petty agrees and adds, “The sad thing is it takes three cameras for us to feel good.” There’s a handwritten note, presumably written by Shandling because it’s in first person, talking about how Petty had invited him up to his house after Shandling’s first stand-up gig in a while.

There’s some gallows humor, some halfway serious talk about meditation and Buddhism, and how they stoke their creativity. Divorce and lawsuits. And Petty’s mixing board. And Shandling’s ass. It’s weird. It’s wonderful. And there’s no reason it should exist. But if there had been a Shandling-Petty reality show on TV somewhere, I would have watched it every week.

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