Cary Okmin Asks Dr. Sophie Keller on What it Was Like to Date Garry Shandling
A few days ago, the TV writer Cary Okmin, asked if he could interview me, Dr Sophie Keller, about my time with Garry Shandling. I’m not really one to talk about my past relationships in general, but Cary is a huge fan and so I agreed to share a little about our time together.
Cary: Thank you so much Sophie Keller for agreeing to chat with me. I was a huge fan of Garry Shandling and from what I understand, he was incredibly spiritual and was always in search of himself. And I’m hoping you can maybe shine a little light and tell me about him as a person, rather than as a comedian.
Sophie: Yes, of course. I was with Garry for about six months, in 2002 to 2003.
Cary: How did you guys originally meet?
Sophie: We originally met through David Duchovny. Garry and David were really good friends and David got Garry into boxing. I used to write at a coffee shop that was by the boxing gym. And I originally met David because we used to practice yoga together and chat quite a bit after.
On the day that I met Garry, he and David had just finished boxing. My one-woman show was transferring to another theater and the producers were looking for a new director, before taking it to Edinburgh. So, I was chatting with David, and asked him if he wanted to direct it, almost as a joke.
Garry was there and said, “Can I read it?”.
I looked at David, like – Who is this geezer? I genuinely had no idea who he was.
And David, said “You might want him to read it.”
I asked Garry what he did, and he said he was a writer. So, I sent it to him. We met up, chatted about it and we happened to hit it off.
Cary: Was it during the Larry Sanders era?
Sophie Keller: No, it was later. He was taking some time off, and I met him during that period. Although, he still would do some stand up. and we used to go down to a comedy club so he could practice.
Cary: Oh, the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach? The one where Jay Leno went to?
Dr. Sophie Keller on Dating Garry While on a Media Fast!
Sophie: Yes. The interesting thing is that when we met, I was genuinely on a media fast. As a result, it was a while into our relationship and I still hadn’t really seen any of his past television work. Then, one day, I was over at his house and he said, “Sophie Keller, I bought you a gift.” And I thought it must be a box set of his TV series, and thought “Oh no, now I have to get a TV!” But he actually bought me a CD player!
Cary: That’s funny.
Sophie: Garry and I got on extremely well. He could be dark, he could be moody, and he could be just so, so funny. We also really connected on a spiritual level. I had started Transcendental Meditation at 14 years old and practiced twice a day until I was twenty-eight, when I discovered yoga. I had already trained as a therapist and some other mind, body techniques when I met him. It was years later that I wrote my four books on happiness, and did a PhD on wellbeing and how to reach your optimum flow at work.
Cary: It was probably the first time he was with somebody who had no idea who he was.
Sophie: I was an actress at the time and had recently arrived in the US from London, England, to do a TV series and was not aware of his work.
Cary: That was probably refreshing for him.
Sophie: Yes. Initially. Then after about a month, he just couldn’t take it anymore, and just had to get me the CD player! It was then, that I saw his body of work. Seriously, I could have gone on longer, for fun! But he just couldn’t wait any longer. And then of course I let him immerse me in it.
Cary: But you didn’t know anything about who he was? He probably really liked that?
Sophie: He did. It genuinely didn’t play into our relationship. I had just come off being a series regular on a TV show called ‘Gideon’s Crossing’.
Cary: He didn’t end up directing your show?
Sophie: No. But Garry would come and watch me perform most nights. In fact, in the show I had some male voice over’s and he decided he was going to prerecord them for me. Often, when I was performing, he would surprise me and be in the audience.
Garry Shandling’s Healing Comedy and Letting Go
Garry and I had something interesting in common. For me, a good night on stage, was how much time disappeared while I was in this state of absorbed focus. It was nice if there was a packed audience. But acting for me was always about being in the flow, and that’s how I would judge how well I had done that night. Garry was similar in that way.
Cary: And now, you’ve spent the last decade studying flow theory.
Sophie Keller: Yes. You can see how important the idea of ‘flow’ is to me as my doctorate focus is on flow and design inside of workspaces. Which is why you have such a strong ‘creative vibe’ as you put it Cary, and why so many other people and companies have done so well in Village Workspaces, because it is a living example of my PhD research.
I think that Garry, if he was alive, would not be surprised by how I pivoted to help others to create spaces that enhance the flow state. Members that have flourished at Village Workspaces have included Soundcloud, Shopify, Vox Media, Billie Eilish’s Management etc. The list is endless and many of our members have won Oscars, Emmys, Webbys, Golden Globes, People’s Choice awards, while in our space.
Cary: So having a focus of being in ‘the moment’ and being on stage is something you guys bonded over.
Sophie: Yes. We also got on extremely well. I am pretty calm as a person and he was less calm, so it was a good match at the time.
Cary: What do you mean by that? Was he stressed out or moody, like so many brilliant comedians?
Sophie: Offstage, Garry would vacillate between letting go of his thinking and overthinking. His goal was to be in tune with himself as much as he could. And he managed to do it on stage and with his work much of the time. He struggled more with it off stage. He was so intelligent, so funny, so bright, and, at the same time, he could be very self-critical and struggled internally quite a bit.
However, the other half of the time he was warm, loving and open. His way of finding out who he was, was through his work as a performer. He was trying to come home, so to speak, and he thought the way to do that was on stage and when he wrote.
How Garry Played Himself to Explore How He Was Feeling
Cary: Yeah, it’s interesting because I think every role he played, it was some form of himself – Garry Shandling. A cartoon version of who he was, for the most part. But for someone who was always looking inward, to put all that out there, always fascinated me. I’ve heard that he was very serious about acting as a craft.
Sophie: Yes, he was consistently in search of material as a writer and comedian. However, the craft of acting, the kind of acting that I trained in at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, is very different to his work as a comedian. As an actor, I was taught to immerse into other characters, and to almost disappear, but Garry’s work was as himself. He was himself when he was working, and when he wasn’t. Your right, he was always himself. I never played myself.
Garry Shandling, His Friendships, Love and Family
He had a crew of really good friends. He had a really amazing friendship with Gavin De Becker. Jerry Seinfeld and Garry used to speak on the phone a lot, sharing jokes and helping each other. We spent time with Steve Martin, Jim Carey, Judd Apatow, Jeff Goldblum, Sean Penn, Steve Martin, Jack Nicholson. Really, he had loads of friends. David Duchovny and Garry were fantastic friends. He was deeply loved by so many people.
Cary: Did he have a dark side?
Sophie Keller: He could be hard on himself for sure. I remember one day we were driving up towards Malibu and then he turned to me, I think I’d said three positive things in succession, and he said, “If you say one more positive thing, I’m kicking you out the car.” Which was funny.
When I first went to his house, I had just finished my second training in feng shui design, so my brain was full of it, and I walked into his house, and I said to him, “Have you been ill in this house?” He had a beautiful house, but the center was missing. it was a courtyard, so you could only walk around the outside of it.
He said that he had been sick, and he then he opened a cupboard door and multiple architectural plans fell out, and said, “I’ve been trying to fix it.” He loved his house and hated it. But never moved!
Anyway, he died way too young. I think it’s about 5 years ago now. I wasn’t in touch with him at that time, and I feel sad about that. He was the last man I dated before my husband.
I didn’t think at the time that he was my life partner, because I felt that he wouldn’t have been an easy choice for me personally. But I knew that he would have done well to have been with someone who created calm for him. We were out with Jack Nicolson for dinner and Jack noted to Garry that he seemed very relaxed and happy with me. And I definitely felt that was the case, and I felt very relaxed around him.
it’s a shame he didn’t have a family. He would have been such a kind father. It would have been a stretch initially, but I think it would have added a dimension that he would have loved, after a bit of kicking and screaming!
Some of his fear in having a child was that his brother died of Cystic Fibrosis and, he might have been concerned that he could potentially pass it on. If he had been a father, it would have provided him the opportunity for enormous growth and enormous love. He was extremely caring with those he loved.
Strangely enough, I met my husband, Oli Barry, who is a documentary director about 6 months after finishing with Garry Shandling. And not long after being with Oli, he was nominated and won a BAFTA for his film ‘The Nine Lives of Alice Martineau’ which was about a girl who had Cystic Fibrosis.
I think that Conan O’Brien summed up Garry extremely well when he said Garry was “obviously hysterically funny, pretty much all of the time, but he was also extremely sensitive, he was complicated, and he had a ton of empathy for other people.”
Cary: Sophie Keller, thank you for being willing to talk about him, I know it’s a very personal subject, so thank you for letting me persuade you. He just seemed like an amazing person. And you were fortunate to spend that time with him.
Sophie: Yes, I have so many memories of that time with him. It was a real shock when he passed. Because it was way too young. Thank you, Cary. It was nice to chat about him. And of course Judd Apataw, did the most amazing, brilliantly directed and put together series on him. The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling