Irony Man: Garry Shandling

Photo: Patrick McMullan

One of our nation’s comic treasures has been missing in action. Aside from releasing the DVD boxed set for his groundbreaking It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (which, shockingly, ended twenty years ago), he’s been out of the entertainment bubble for four years. So thank you, Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau, for bringing him back. Shandling spoke with Logan Hill.

You haven’t been around much. So I’d like to think that your role in Iron Man 2 is kind of like a comedic superhero being called back to fight.
It was like that, actually. I’d just finished wrapping up the Garry Shandling’s boxed set. It was like a grueling mid-eighties flashback. I’d just finished getting rid of all the stuff I did in my past when Jon approached me in a human way. I was hanging around in Hawaii, which I do a lot of—sometimes I just disappear. And he told me, “This is not the time to withdraw.”

You play a bad senator named Stern.
Yes. And Senator Stern doesn’t need to be a Republican or Democrat. He’s just happy that he is on TV, grilling Tony Stark. You shouldn’t forget that Senator Al Franken exists. So it’s not such a leap for a funny person to play a senator in a movie.

How did you get along with Robert Downey Jr.?
He has an enormously self-deprecating sense of humor. I think I have a good self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s a beautiful standoff to see. Like, This is how much I hate myself. Then, No, this is how much I hate myself.

This is your first big blockbuster action movie. Were you nervous?
I’m at the beginning of the movie and at the end of the movie, so my fear was that the other actors would screw up the middle part and the audience would forget who I was. That’s what a lot of people try to do: Wrap the work around me so that it starts strong and ends strong. And the last scene is the power position. Without me, the closing credits can’t start.

True. I suppose you could filibuster.
I could filibuster—and then no one would see their name at the end, so I had a lot of leverage.

So what’s next?
Well, Jon involved me in all aspects of the movie, even the special effects. Now I’m learning how to make a romantic comedy with special effects during all the sex scenes.

Like aliens? Or explosions?
I think maybe an orgasm creates a circumstance that threatens the existence of the universe. Or they get sucked down a black hole.

What do you think of Hugh Hefner’s donating $900,000 to save the Hollywood sign?
Before we speculate on Hefner’s intention, we need to find out exactly which letters he bought—and then try to see what he’s spelling out.

I’m just guessing, but maybe he was attracted to those two huge O’s?
You know, I’m sure it was those two O’s. Or maybe just the wood part.

Iron Man 2
May 7.
Paramount Pictures.

Irony Man: Garry Shandling