Garry Shandling's unexpected death Thursday was a blow to comedy world. For Peter Tolan, it was personal.
The celebrated writer who got his big break from Dudley Riggs at the Brave New Workshop, had an even more fruitful collaboration with Shandling who hired him for "The Larry Sanders Show." Their script for the series finale won them the 1998 Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy.
"This is unbelievable," said Tolan, reached at his home 10 minutes after learning of his friend's passing. "I last saw him six months ago and we had lunch. He was the really the same Garry. A wonderful spiritual guy."
Tolan had already made a name for himself in Hollywood in the early 90s, earning an Emmy while on the staff of "Murphy Brown." But his value went up considerably after being recruited by Shandling. So did his enthusiasm for the work.
"Every time I saw him, even the last time, I had to thank him for saving my life as a writer," said Tolan who is largely credited for molding the character of Hank "Hey Now" Kingsley. "After I met him, I learned not to be so dependent on getting a certain amount of laughs per page. That was a great gift."
Tolan, who would go on to write "Analyze This" and co-create "Rescue Me," said an entire generation of young comedians would go out of their way to tell him how much they adored "Sanders," a series that dissected late-night TV without mercy. Then they would ask what Shandling was up to these days.
The usual answer: Vacationing in Hawaii and playing with his dogs.
"When you create two game-changing series, what else do you have to do?" said Tolan, referencing the earlier cult favorite, "It's Garry Shandling's Show." "He had already done it."
Tolan believes Shandling was just starting to appreciate his role as a "grand old man" of comedy, someone more than willing to advise and mentor others.
"He did it happily," Tolan said. "Probably because ultimately the responsibility wasn't on him."
Check out the two riffing off each other at the 1998 Emmys. It would be the only major award Shandling would ever receive.