Garry Shandling: Alone in Vegas (1984)

Starring: Garry Shandling
Grade: A-

You ever go to bed with a woman and the next morning she looks like Ed Sullivan?

You’re in for a treat with Garry Shandling: Alone in Vegas.


Garry Shandling opens the special in a very Garry Shandling-like way, talking over the credits of the “Fast City” montage and explaining how he didn’t know what else to do. If you are familiar with Shandling’s style of breaking the fourth wall and subverting regular comedic tropes, this is sort of the thing you’ve come to expect from him.

From there, we go through this overly long skit that takes up fourteen minutes of the special, which is just barely over fifty minutes in total to begin with. It starts with Garry talking about his trip to Las Vegas for the show and he tries to convince his girlfriend to go with hm over the phone. Instead, she breaks up with him. He considers paying her, but he realizes it’s too much. Next, he asks the silent camera guy filming everything to go with him, and we head to the airport. While there, he tells the camera guy about how paranoid he is when it comes to flying. Once he pulls out the safety procedure paper detailing what to do in case of an emergency, he sees his own face in each picture. Following this, he loses his bag because the carousel is turned into a giant roulette game, and he loses. He gets to the hotel, loses at the Wheel of Fortune game, goes to his room, and talks about his wake-up call hack. The phone is too loud when it rings, so he puts it by someone else’s door. This allows him to hear it faintly enough to wake up without the annoyance of the noise. Then, the other hotel guest flips out and answers the phone for him. Next, Shandling talks about not wanting to have sex before a stand-up show and compares it to boxing, as you lose too much energy trying to get her into bed. With this being said, Shandling admits that the four minutes of sex doesn’t bother him, as long as they say “Yes” right away.

Trying to avoid thinking about sex, Shandling heads to the pool, but the two guys next to him can’t stop talking about the subject, so he moves his chair. As he lounges, a model comes up to him and tries to sell him clothes, but he tells her he doesn’t have anyone to buy it for. When she namedrops his ex-girlfriend Patty, Shandling falls through his chair. Right after, he talks about how the whole thing with Patty isn’t a big deal but when he’s alerted of a phone call from her, he runs across the water of the pool like Jesus to answer the phone. She says she might be able to come to the show but only if her new boyfriend Dave can get off work. Shandling invites a masseuse to his room, but she turns out to be a hooker who wants $100 even if Shandling doesn’t want to have sex. He offers tickets to his show to knock the price down, but she tells him he’s the 4th person to offer tickets for his show. Later, he tours around Vegas for a bit and does some gambling. On roulette, his friend Chuck gave him $10 to put on “7” and he wins $350. However, he pockets it and decides to go again to use Chuck’s $10 this time around. After this, a girl compliments Garry as she’s familiar with his work, though she admits she will miss the show to fuck her boyfriend “The Slammer”. Down in the dumps, Shandling goes to talk with his friend Joan Rivers to feel better. She cheers him up but also makes it clear that she is not attracted to him whatsoever. Feeling better, Shandling goes back to his hotel room and calls the hooker. While ranting about how horny he is, he hangs up after realizing it’s the front desk. Since he’s now 20 minutes from show time and that doesn’t leave him enough time for begging, he heads out to perform.

Again, this is 14 minutes in before the stand-up actually begins.

After greeting the crowd, he asks right away if they have seen him before. Following some cheering, he jokingly admits, “There goes that material”. Of course, he’s kidding and says he writes everyday, though right after he hilariously asks what everyone thinks about Watergate. Following this, he goes on a bit about stealing newspapers, pens from the bank, clothes from the laundry mat, and salami. Next, he transitions into talking about Las Vegas, the buffets, restaurants getting reservation names wrong and how they should just describe them instead, Denny’s and how they hire ugly waitresses to make the food taste better and going to Jack in the Box when no one was there and a worker going through her procedure to a “T”. After talking about eating healthy, he segues into talking about a woman breastfeeding in public and how it bothers him because he doesn’t like “…seeing a kid getting something I’m not”. This leads to one of the best jokes of the night when he asks the audience if “nursing” is a nicer term. He then describes the lady as having “huge nurses” to rightful laughter from the crowd. Shandling goes on about babies crying and how everything they do is considered adorable including shitting in a diaper. This is where he talks about a girl that he knew describing this moment as the child giving a “Gift to Daddy”, prompting Shandling to quip “This guy must be really easy to shop for on Father’s Day”. Next, Shandling talks about being a part of group called “Sex Without Partners”, owning a 13-year-old sheep dog, what a dog is thinking when the owner disposes of their waste back inside the house when they’re told they can’t, giving downers to his dog, the act of mooing at a cow when you’re driving and feeling good about it, camping, fishing, his dad catching a seagull and everyone making fun of him, and how his dad doesn’t have a gun and would just use his car if someone broke in the house.

Then, he talks about the age-old myth of digging a hole to China and sex education in high school. After some crowd interaction, Shandling jumps into divorce and how they had a party for his friend who got divorced. At the party, they watched his wedding video in reverse. Next, he relays this to his recent break-up, and it gives us the best line of the night.

“I just broke up with my girlfriend Patty because she moved in with another guy, and I said, “That’s where I draw the line”. Though he starts to act a little prideful, he then admits, “I called her”.

Shandling moves onto jokes about how women should approach men because we’re easy, getting turned down for every excuse imaginable, how he was told he looks like a cross between David Brenner and Jimmy Carter (which is actually kind of true), a disastrous date with a girl named Debbie where he slapped her because he thought she had something on her face but it was just a birthmark, and having the date at a Chinese restaurant. Then, he has some hilarious bits about spending time in Chinatown before going back to the date with Debbie. He talks about taking her to Disneyland and how it’s impossible to look macho in the situation, not having chest hair, Italians, and a joke about his pants pockets that he hasn’t done in two years. The latter being the only real joke that doesn’t hit. His approach and admittance to the difficulty of pulling it off for the crowd kind of kills any momentum it had. Following this, Shandling does bits on the hospital, more stuff on Disneyland, selling his house (which his landlord was very angry about), finding out the time by calling anyone in the middle of the night, and being in your 30s and how awful you look in the morning no matter what you do, and he doesn’t fucking miss. He continues to weave in and out of topics with each joke and it’s hysterical. It goes from the dentist, sex, how you don’t give a fuck when you become a dad, talking to his parents on long distance, dads using the bathroom, girls going in groups to use the bathroom, and how uncomfortable partners are with gas and how it led to his friend finally getting married after four years of dating (“I just can’t hold my gas in any longer”). The last joke furthers this point of being uncomfortable regarding the subject after he realizes the girl he was with farted and even the dog tells him she needs to leave.

To end the show, we go back to the sketch comedy stuff of Shandling back on the plane, the pilot walking on and telling him he feels lucky, and how Shandling is sad because he has to go back home alone. Once he tries to convince the cameraman to come with him, the camera guy jumps off the plane via stock footage and everyone follows. A final caption is shown stating that Shandling met a girl two weeks later and spent the night with her, “…according to Garry”.

My Thoughts:

Garry Shandling: Alone in Vegas is slightly different from other comedy specials. Obviously, the actual stand-up is the majority of the special, but there is a bit of sketch comedy taking up a solid chunk of time. It’s not just an opening skit that a lot of stand-up specials have. As noted in the summary, Shandling’s journey from home to Las Vegas to his series of activities before the show, takes up fourteen minutes of the special, leaving only around thirty-five or so minutes for the actual stand-up portion. This is something to keep in mind when viewing Alone in Vegas, as I found myself wondering, “When is this thing going to start?”. Though it aligns with Shandling’s style of comedy of messing with the format, it’s amusing at best. He plays aloof to his situations, deals with a breakup with a smile on his face, and enjoys Las Vegas for everything it’s worth in a short, semi-awkward timespan. I guess the Joan Rivers cameo was humorous, but the whole thing wasn’t funny enough to warrant that type of time dedicated to it. It’s decent, but it would fit more as its own thing or a bumper in-between music videos on MTV. It does do its job at setting the stage for Garry Shandling’s onstage persona, but it’s not needed because the comedian is loose with this “persona” when he’s on stage compared to his later work and tends to break character or laugh at his own jokes here and there.

For reference, you’ll notice this stark contrast between Garry Shandling’s onstage style in Alone in Vegas compared to almost a decade later in Garry Shandling: Stand-Up. He carries himself much differently compared to here.

Once we actually get to the stand-up portion of the special, the star comedian fires on all cylinders. It may be a bit shorter in length, but it’s absolutely fantastic. Shandling keeps the momentum throughout the entire show, adds layers upon layers to his jokes, seamlessly transitions in and out of anecdotes with hilarious observations and personal opinions while looking at a situation from an observer’s perspective, and has so many phenomenal one-liners in the span of this half-hour, you’ll be laughing too hard to write them down to tell your friends later. Eventually, you just sit there and enjoy the master at work, an expert of the craft. An incredible writer, an underrated stage presence, and a remarkable delivery (accompanied by that big toothy grin of his), Garry Shandling shines in every aspect while somehow being able to be consistently funny when speaking about normal everyday topics, dating and sex, and the disgusting and uncomfortable subjects that are usually only reserved for a single type of comedian. Then, when you’re thinking he’s going the normal route, he throws in a hysterical “switcheroo” type of quip that you almost never see coming. For example, the expert storyteller talks about going home with his date one night, as the audience is listening in complete silence. To reel us in, Shandling lets out the simple line of, “I’m really getting into it…”. Thinking we are going into one direction, he hits everyone with “…Then, she walks into the room”. It’s gold, and he does this on many occasions throughout Alone in Vegas, with my favorite being his bit about how they shaved everything in the hospital when he was there, but he found it weird because he was only there to visit a friend of his. Also, the bit about selling his house but forgetting about his landlord and his “I’m great in bed-I never fall out” was sidesplitting as well.

With ease, Garry Shandling is able to balance it all while retaining his clean image, just looking like a normal guy pointing out the hilarity of the human psyche and how we tend to react to things as a society. When pulling out his thick glasses and talks about how people ask to try them on to say he’s blind, he points out how no one ever grabs someone’s hearing aid and says, “Let me listen…You’re deaf man!”. Hey, he’s got a point. You know what? He’s probably right about the dog watching you use the bathroom and thinking, “Hey, I drink out of that thing!” too. In addition, he has some laugh-out-loud bits about being in Chinatown and I was cackling when he went on about the Italians and subsequently giving them credit because they need “two or three vasectomies”. This is just a sliver of the comic’s genius. It’s so well-written and performed by the comedic mastermind that is Garry Shandling, that I don’t want to spoil it more than I already have.

Besides some obvious editing tricks and cuts on crowd responses to certain jokes, the stand-up portion is near-perfect. The lone exception is the joke about his pants pockets, and his penchant for setting up his jokes with the monologue-like “You ever notice…” line, as he tends to overuse this. With that being said, it’s pretty obvious why he was asked to be the host of Late Night and The Late Late Show so many times as this is the staple for a talk show monologue joke.

Going along with my aforementioned problem with the sketch-related stuff in the opening of the special, the ending following the stand-up was even worse than the beginning. It does make sense from a writing perspective to bookend the special in this manner, but it bordered on the groan-inducing, as it was all used to play up Shandling’s neurotic and “unlikable” persona. What they don’t take into account is that Garry Shandling is too likable for us to think that people jumping off a plane to avoid talking to him was uproariously funny. Instead, this conclusion was just cheesy. The final caption was overkill and completely cooled off the white-hot stand-up that preceded it, even more so than the plane bit.

Garry Shandling: Alone in Vegas is a great stand-up special. If you take out the unnecessary sketch portions, it would have a higher rating because the actual stand-up is that phenomenal. Unfortunately, we’re reviewing the special as a whole, and the other stuff needs to be taken into account. It’s not bad, but it’s so painfully average that it takes away from the magnificence of the onstage stuff.

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