“Larry Loses Interest” (season 2, episode 9, originally aired 7/21/93)
As I mentioned in my “Life Behind Larry” novella, Garry Shandling was offered the 12:30 show after Letterman on CBS, but he turned it down because he didn’t think he could handle the daily grind of a late-night talk show. In the featurette on disc one of the Larry Sanders Show collection, he says, “The only thing odder than being on TV every night is wanting to be on TV every night.”
Shandling’s feelings toward late night regularly play out on The Larry Sanders Show. In “Life Behind Larry,” Richard Lewis served as his stand-in, and in “Larry Loses Interest,” fatigue takes its toll on Larry. Making his debut as a writer for the series, Judd Apatow brilliantly sets up Larry’s malaise in the opening scene, as he glumly sits in a meeting with Artie and Jerry to select clips for yet another anniversary show. Artie’s pushing for the well-worn clip of a chimpanzee grabbing Larry’s balls, but Jerry wants the “classic” one koala bear peeing on him, which they apparently used last year. Larry couldn’t look more bored.
Jerry: “It’s an anniversary show, and you want to give the people what they want.”
Artie: “And what they want to see is Larry Sanders getting hit in the nuts by a monkey, right Lar?”
Larry: “What’s the difference?”
Artie: “Right, so we’ll go with monkey in the clip package, and we’ll use the koala bear as a bumper. Good thinking, Larry.”
Jerry: “I totally agree with you. We’ll use monkey as a bumper, and the koala bear in the clip package!”
No matter what order the clips go in, or if they’re used as a bumper or in the clip segment, it’s basically the same anniversary show as always. Worse, the show feels the same to Larry night after night. He’s just walking through the same blue curtain—so Artie suggests changing the curtain color. But never fear, because an “old friend” is on the show tonight!
It’s the same chimp from the clip, and of course it grabs Larry’s balls. To Larry, it might as well be the show grabbing them, because he feels trapped in a deadening routine. (Granted, it’s one where he gets to be rich and famous and cavort with celebrities on television, but it’s A ROUTINE NEVERTHELESS.) As he tells Francine, “I’m wasting my life doing that show.”
But he has an escape plan: the big screen. Tapping at Francine’s now ancient-looking laptop, he vows to call in sick so he can stay home and write his movie. And he’s so close! When Francine tells him she needs the computer for work, he says, “I need it—I only have 100 pages left.”
It’s an unprecedented move for a late-night host. Larry’s hero, Johnny Carson, appeared in exactly one film, as himself: 1964’s Looking For Love. Nor did any of Larry’s contemporaries, really. Leno did that awful Pat Morita movie before he was on The Tonight Show, but that’s really it (aside from a cameo basically as himself in The Flintstones and some voice work), and Conan never did any films either. When the networks came courting David Letterman as he plotted his next move after the Tonight Show fiasco, they dangled the possibility of movies, but to date, the man has made only two credited appearances in one: former Late Night writer Chris Elliott’s 1994 flop, Cabin Boy, and apparently in 1997’s Private Parts, but I don’t remember that. More noteworthy, none of them have written movies, either—because, seriously, considering the writing grind of a daily show, who wants to go home and write more?
Larry does, only he doesn’t even want to go in. His attempt to call in sick—how can a TV host just call in sick?—backfires when Artie just gives him the silent treatment over the phone. But even before he talks to Artie, the message is received: Larry is unhappy. “It’s that damn Francine,” Artie grouses. “She hates the show. I suppose the prefers cinema and the BAL-let.” He follows that gold up with “I’m afraid our boy is getting pussy-whipped,” before ordering Beverly to track him down. “If he’s not at his house, try Yoko’s place.” (Yoko Ono: now celebrating 41 years of being a scapegoat/punchline.)
That night’s show only deepens Larry’s malaise. Perfectly cast for this episode is Suzanne Somers, who shows off the ThighMaster during her interview. When Artie later compliments Larry on the segment, he says, “Oh yeah, her boobs were falling out of her blouse, and all I did was make lewd innuendos about having sex with her. I'm very, very proud.” (“You should be, my boy. Leno couldn’t do that flirting thing. It would make people sick.”)
The only person more sensitive to Larry’s mood is Hank, who fails on two fronts, first by trying to motivate Phil and Jerry to write some “boffo” material, and second by trying to enliven the show with his light-up tie. Operating by the Yoko theory, he counsels Larry, “This show is like a family of sorts… Francine, your new lady. But you can't forget your old lady, the show. There's gotta be room in your life for both of these lovely ladies."
Hank’s a good sounding board for Larry, even though he couldn’t be happier. Hank is the kind of guy who goes home every night and looks in the mirror thinking, “Well, we kept the ruse going for another day.” Because Hank fully understands how tenuous his connection to the sweet life is—and while he may get bored with the show every now and then, he never gets bored with show business.
The unease transfers to Phil and Jerry, who ask Larry if he’s happy with the writing. But when he asks for a typewriter for his office, panic sets in. That leads to an impromptu meeting with Francine, where Hank—clearly coached by Artie, who sits next to him—awkwardly repeats that he’s “very concerned about Larry’s lack of interest in the show.” “Larry’s lack of interest on the show has nothing to do with me. I think he’s just tired of getting hit in the nuts by a bunch of monkeys,” she says. But the accidentally spills that Larry’s working on a movie, which only makes the situation worse.
The problem with going into movies? Well, take a look at the IMDB pages for Leno, Letterman, and Carson. If they’ve appeared in movies, it’s been as themselves. Would anyone buy Conan as an actor? People didn’t buy Fallon as one, and that’s why he’s in late night! That point hits home when Larry takes a meeting with some movie folks to talk about his treatment. (Prepare for the early ’90s reference barrage! Ghost! Green Card! Gerard Depardieu! Mike Myers! Um, Harrison Ford!)
They love the treatment, though it needs a different ending and more character development. And they don’t see Larry in the lead, but they have the “perfect” project for him: the true story of a steel worker hit by a freight train who develops psychic powers, goes crazy, and ends his life in a hail of bullets with the police.
Even Larry thinks that role would be a stretch for him, but he doesn’t have to worry—they were only thinking of him to be himself, because this guy would appear on his talk show in the movie.
Wounded, Larry pouts through his anniversary show, and Artie makes a surprisingly heartfelt appeal to him: “Mr. Sanders, please. Don't take this show for granted. You insult me and everyone who works on this show… For decades I've heard people talk about how shitty TV is and how great movies are. Fuck 'em. You do what you're best at—that's what makes you a success.”
Larry can’t quite see that right now, but it’s okay. He knows he’ll never be a TV star, and that next year, and the year after, and the year after that, he’ll be sitting right there again, grinning through the same clips—maybe peppered with a couple new ones—in a different order. The chimp has him by the balls—maybe he’ll understand eventually that’s not a bad place to be.
- This episode would’ve been better if it ended sooner. The “Why don’t you do movies?” question is so on-the-nose.
- I really loved the way Rip Torn performed his “Mr. Sanders” line—deferential, respectful, humble. Artie spends so much time shouting and delivering golden zingers, but this quiet little moment is actually moving.
- But the shouting returns quickly: “Fine, well just go ahead and see how you like spending 14 hours days in a trailer playing gin rummy with your hair dresser!”
- This episode is like a museum of early ’90s laptops: Francine’s and the one in the writers’ room that has the practically shoebox-sized power adaptor.
- Artie, World Champion Gladhander: "My friend, you've got to stop hiding this lovely little light under a bushel. Your Francine is a true delight."
- I love how Hank tries to get chummy with the writers, and double points for his Get Smart reference.
- “Hey Phil? Remember, you can’t smell ‘smartass’ without a-s-s.”
- “Is that a curtsy? Did you just curtsy to me?”
- That's it for the holidays, everyone. Larry Sanders recaps will resume Tuesday, Jan. 3, not Jan. 10, as I think I mentioned before, with Larry's deadbeat former partner appearing out of nowhere. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, all that stuff, to one and all.