Jeffrey Tambor cannot believe it’s been 25 years since the premiere of The Larry Sanders Show, Garry Shandling’s lovechild and homage to late night television on HBO. “You really threw me. I had no idea it was that long ago,” Tambor remarked to EW on the occasion. “Wasn’t it 3 o’clock yesterday I was on that set?”
It indeed has been a little longer than that, as evidenced by Tambor’s impressive body of work in the ensuing years (most notably on the again-rebooted Arrested Development and Emmy Award-winning Transparent), but the veteran theater and television actor still credits his role on Larry Sanders as the one that made him a star (and a true star he is — Tambor received his gilded place on the Hollywood Walk of Fame just last week). “[The show] took me to school on being in the moment,” says the actor.
Sanders, modeled after the classic late-night talk show that was already a television staple thanks to Johnny Carson, updated the format by going slightly meta — this faux-reality show still welcomed an impressive roster of talent for onstage interviews with host Larry Sanders (Shandling), but the cameras stayed rolling during commercial breaks and after the show wrapped each night to reveal the goings-on behind the scenes.
Tambor’s role, as show announcer and perennial sidekick Hank Kingsley, quickly became a crowd favorite. Whether the audience was laughing at him for his foolishness and unchecked ego, or with him for his earnestness and commitment to the work, the man responsible for “Hey Now!” became an intrinsic part of the show from the first. “Often people call him a buffoon, and I rankle at that,” Tambor says of his character. “Because I think he loved going to work, and I think — except for the time when he took over the show — I think he was a pretty good second man.”
Looking back at it from 2017, The Larry Sanders Show is notable for another reason. With its casual walk-and-talk camera work and cringe-worthy workplace shenanigans, Sanders provided the blueprint for other mockumentary-style hits, from The Office to Veep. “What I loved about what Garry did was that he trusted his audience and said, ‘Here’s what this is, do what you will with it,’” says Tambor. “‘You wanna laugh at it? You wanna muse at it? You wanna think about it?’ And I love that. I think that’s what was very new.”
The show is like a treasure trove of familiar faces, from a young Bob Odenkirk and Jon Stewart to Janeane Garofalo and David Duchovny, who had an ongoing series-long “flirtation” with Garry. (This is back when gay jokes were apparently still deemed edgy enough to stand on their own.)
As for the pilot episode, Tambor remembers one anecdote in particular that illustrates how Shandling — who died last year at the age of 66 — worked and cared for his cast. It was the very first shot, and Tambor remembers feeling his heart beating through his chest as he and his cast mates filmed a walk-and-talk down the hallway to the elevator:
“We get to the elevator… ‘And…cut!‘ And then Garry did this thing. He stopped, and he put his hand out, with his palm up, and he gestured to each one of us, one after the other, and the gesture implied, implicit in that gesture was, ‘Are you OK?‘ I remember saying [to myself], ‘I am safe, this is going to be quite a journey, and this thing is… I’m home.’”
You can read more of Tambor’s recollections on Garry Shandling and The Larry Sanders Show in his memoir, Are You Anybody?, out now. Additionally, The Larry Sanders Show is currently available to stream on HBO Go.