Confessions of a Late Night Talk Show Host

Joyce Millman reviews 'Confessions of a Late Night Talk Show Host: The Autobiography Of Larry Sanders' by Garry Shandling.

Published December 2, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

Garry Shandling's great comedy series "The Larry Sanders Show," which ended its six-season run on HBO this past May, was a fun house-mirror reflection of the late-night talk show wars, with reality and satire warping together to make a fiction truer than the truth. Larry Sanders was Shandling's celebrimonster, stitched together from pieces of Carson, Letterman, Leno and Shandling himself. Self-centered, paranoid, attention-craving and socially inept, Larry used his talk show as a substitute for meaningful human contact; in the words of his salty old dog of a producer, Artie (played in the series by Rip Torn), Larry was "half-man, half-desk."

A Larry Sanders autobiography would, by nature, be shallow, superficial and lazy. So why am I, a loyal "Sanders" fan, so surprised at how shallow, superficial and lazy "Confessions" is? Eighty-three of the book's white-space-laden 237 pages are taken up by publicity shots of Larry/Garry with Jerry Seinfeld, David Duchovny, Sharon Stone and many of the other celebrities who've appeared on "Sanders" as themselves. And this despite the fact that Shandling had extra time to write it, since he delivered the book too late for its original May 1998 publication date. But, then, maybe this is all part of Shandling's grand scheme -- Larry would miss his deadline and then turn in a padded piece of crap. Maybe "Confessions of a Talk Show Host" isn't supposed to be viewed as a book, so much as a piece of interactive performance art that you can experience while riding the train to work. You'd better bring something else to read on the trip home, though.

Actually, Shandling has done a good job of writing in Larry's ironic, "I'm such a putz" public voice (he has no private voice), and at his best, his rim-shot surrealism reminds you of Woody Allen's old humor pieces. In the chapter "Celebrity Sex," Shandling-as-Sanders writes, "I began using the date rape drug Rohypnol. I took it twenty times. I didn't know you were supposed to give it to the woman." In a chapter about Artie, he reveals that their relationship is "more than producer-star, it's been father-daughter, particularly in the sense that after a bad show he'd spank me. He stopped doing that shortly after the Menendez trial."

Shandling also gives his alter ego that requisite for all memoirs, the abused childhood, and provides us with a list of all the female guests Larry says he's slept with, from Paula Abdul to Renie Zellweger. Not surprisingly, Artie, sidekick Hank Kingsley, head writer Phil and all of the other unfortunate members of Larry's staff rate scant mention because, of course, this is a book about Larry. He does, however, devote a touching two paragraphs to "the most important person in my life," his personal assistant Beverly ("I don't really know anything about her").

As an extension of a joke, "Confessions" serves its purpose; Larry's conceited, meandering, insight-free "tell all" makes you feel ripped off and used, and when you're through with it, all you can think is, "What a jerk!" Which is what Shandling intended. I hope.

By Joyce Millman

Joyce Millman is a writer living in the Bay Area.

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