The granddaddy of all cringe comedies was Garry Shandling’s classic HBO series that presented a backstage look at a late-night talk show. Shandling, whose entire career has been based on wincing, was ideal as the insecure, narcissistic host who spends a lot of time reacting in stunned, pained silence to his quirky underlings and to the even more egotistical real-life celebrities who cozy up to his desk.The notion that real-life A-listers – and B- and C- listers – would show up to poke fun at themselves, and to acknowledge their place on the Hollywood food chain, seems practically de rigueur in the age of Funny or Die, but it appeared shocking and brave 20 years ago. So did the single-camera filming style and the absence of a laugh track.
Ricky Gervais has cited Sanders as a touchstone for The Office and Extras. It was also a career launch pad for writer/director Judd Apatow, who would go on to mine the comedy of awkward interaction on such shows as Freaks and Geeks and Girls,,as well as in movies from The 40-Year-Old Virgin to This Is 40.
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