The starter guide to The Larry Sanders Show

Clueless about classic comedy The Larry Sanders Show? Here’s Jack’s handy guide to Garry Shandling’s underrated series…

The Larry Sanders Show, which originally ran for six seasons, from 1992 through 1998 in the US, failed to make a very big splash when it was first broadcast in the UK (on BBC 2, late at night, after the equally brilliant Seinfeld), and even to this day, the series seems to have stayed relatively obscure, despite its influence on modern comedy.

Created, written and starring Garry Shandling, The Larry Sanders Show sardonically depicted the entertainment industry as shallow, self-obsessed and desperate. Opting not to use a laugh track, The Larry Sanders Show moved away from the traditional sitcom approach to create a character-driven, reality-based satire, which subsequently paved the way for shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office and 30 Rock.

Up until recently, however, apart from a good, but somewhat underwhelming “Best of” DVD, The Larry Sanders Show hasn’t been readily available for fans to watch. Watching it on ITV 4 in the early hours of the morning, like an insomniac or a confused, drunk man searching for BabeCast, was pretty much the only option for fans. Either way, you were bound to find that some of the episodes had been hacked apart, with jokes missing in favour of ad breaks and annoying pop-ups.

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Needless to say, the recent release of Season 1 and 2 has got a lot of people very excited. Finally, after all these years, one of the sharpest, most innovative comedies is available to own on DVD, and it’s long overdue.

The Premise

The show centres around a fictional late night talk show called The Larry Sanders Show, hosted by neurotic comedian, Larry Sanders. It’s essentially a show-within-a-show, where we, the viewers, watch the everyday workings of the production of the talk show (shot with a single camera on tape) as well as highlights from the fictional broadcast of the talk show (video-taped and shot with multiple cameras, like The Late Show With David Letterman).

Backstage, Larry, his guests and his co-workers aren’t aware of the presence of cameras, and viewers subsequently get to see two very different sides of the people who appear on Larry’s show, the act they put on for the cameras and their true colours.

Celebrities appear on The Larry Sanders Show, usually portraying exaggerated, often unflattering, versions of themselves.

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The Characters

Larry Sanders Larry is a neurotic, narcissistic comic and the host of The Larry Sanders Show. He’s constantly bothered by ratings and the success of rivals shows. Throughout the show, he dates many women, including Mimi Rogers, Sharon Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, and Dana Delany, whom he sometimes watches his own show with. He’s insecure and very concerned by the size of his ass, a constant source of paranoia for Larry.

X-Files star, David Duchovny, is particularly fond of Larry and regularly invites him to stay at his beach house.

Hank Kingsley Hank Kingsley, played by Jeffrey Tambor, is Larry’s sycophantic, deep-voiced, moustachioed sidekick, as well as the show’s announcer. He frequently uses the catchphrase “Hey now!”, which Larry believes to be an affectation. When questioned on his frequent use of the phrase (clearly a take-off of Ed McMahon’s “Hi-yooo!”), Hank explains that he grew up using both the words “hey” and “now”, admitting that he put the two together later in life.

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Hank happily endorses products and often lends his name to things that he later regrets (the Hankerciser 200, for example). He’s incredibly shameless and things generally tend to blow up in his face. He’s a source of constant ridicule around the office, much to his disdain.

Hank once chipped his back tooth on a urinal.


Arthur or “Artie” is Larry’s hard-nosed, gruff-voiced producer. Artie’s been in the industry for years and regularly quotes the wisdom of the people he’s worked with throughout his career, including Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason.

Artie works hard to make sure the show runs smoothly and spends much of his time reassuring Larry when his neurosis gets the better of him. He’s less kind to Hank, describing his as someone whose “heart’s in the right place, but he keeps his brain at home in a box”.

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He regularly uses the word “crapper” when referring to the toilet.

Beverly Beverly (Penny Johnson) is Larry’s unfortunate, over-worked assistant.

Darlene Hank’s attractive, emotional and devoted assistant Darlene (Linda Doucett), takes care of all Hanks concerns in life. Hank tends to take advantage of her kindness and she generally ends up running seemingly pointless errands for him.

Paula Paula (Janeane Garofalo) is the show’s grouchy talent booker. She regularly changes the colour of her hair throughout the series and likes to date musicians. She’s particularly fond of Pavement and Weezer.

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Phil (Wallace Langham) is the cynical, smart-assed head writer at The Larry Sanders Show. He regularly makes fun of Hank, generally without Hank realising. He had a brief relationship with Darlene, who believed he could speak French. She eventually found out that Phil was just making up French-sounding words.

Jerry Jerry, played by Jeremy Piven, was the original head writer of The Larry Sanders Show. Jerry was fired after he repeatedly had sex with a co-worker (once on the set of the show). He was discovered by Larry at legendary comedy club Catch a Rising Star later and was replaced as head writer by Phil.

Mary Lou Played by Mary Lynn Rajskub, Mary Lou is a flustered, often incompetent assistant talent booker and a friend of Paula’s.

After The Larry Sanders Show

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After the show ended, Shandling produced, wrote and starred in the film What Planet Are You From?, but stayed largely inactive throughout the ’00s, occasional making guest appearances on talk shows and in films. He also appeared as himself in an episode of The X-Files (Hollywood A.D., season 7) and recently in Iron Man 2.

In 2006, Shandling was interviewed by comedian Ricky Gervais. Critics have since described the interview as “awkward” and “uncomfortable”, drawing comparisons to the similarities between the meeting and two men’s comedic styles.

Jeffrey Tambor went on to play the part of George Bluth in Arrested Development and Rip Torn starred in the film Men In Black as well as being nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance in The Larry Sanders-inspired 30 Rock.

Wallace Langham appeared in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Jeremy Piven found success portraying Ari Gold in the HBO series Entourage and Janeane Garofalo, Penny Johnson and Mary Lynn Rajskub all appeared in 24.

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Arguably, the biggest success story, though, comes from ex-Larry Sanders writer Judd Apatow, who went on to develop the excellent Freaks And Geeks and Undeclared before producing a series of popular comedy films, including Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, Superbad, Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which he also wrote and directed.

Some shows influenced by The Larry Sanders Show

Curb Your Enthusiasm Very heavily influenced by Larry Sanders, both stylistically and in terms of humour. Both shows are centred around wealthy comedians with the same camera setup and celebrities playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Not to mention the frequent use of foul language.

30 Rock

Starring ex-guest Larry Sanders guest star, Alec Baldwin (he slept with Larry’s wife), 30 Rock takes place behind the scenes of a live comedy sketch show. From first impressions, it’s easy to draw comparisons between 30 Rock and The Larry Sanders Show. But whereas Sanders tended to be dark, sardonic and wry, 30 Rock tends to be much more upbeat and light-hearted. However, that’s not to say that 30 Rock can’t pack a punch when it wants to.


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Extras charts the life of Andy Millman, a struggling writer and actor. There’s plenty of Larry Sanders influence to be found here, including the strikingly similar opening credits and the way in which celebrities play exaggerated parodies of their public personas.

The Office

Not as heavily influenced by The Larry Sanders Show as Extras, but there’s still a notable influence here. The show largely used character-driven humour and featured similarly cringe-worthy, toe-curling moments to Sanders.

Ricky Gervais has mentioned that the scene where David Brent pleads to his superiors not to fire him is based on a scene in a Larry Sanders episode called The Party. In the scene, Hank begs Larry for an invite to his party by first pretending to have tickets to a sporting event.

The Thick Of It

Once described by creator Armando Iannucci as “Yes Minister meets Larry Sanders,” The Thick Of It employs similar ideas to The Larry Sanders Show to create a hilarious and realistic satire of the inner workings of British politics.

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Starring Sanders alumni, Jeremy Piven, Entourage chronicles the acting career of an A-list movie star and his childhood friends. The show’s heavily influenced by the behind-the-scenes segments of The Larry Sanders Show, and often deals with similar themes.

Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

One of the most directly influenced shows on the list, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip takes place behind the scenes of a fictional live sketch comedy show. While the show is undeniably inspired by The Larry Sanders Show, comparisons between Studio 60 and 30 Rock were drawn after both shows first debuted around the same time.

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