Internet archives of classic laffs—Spy Magazine & The Larry Sanders Show

If you ever get tired of looking at pictures of funny cats or videos of people being socked in the nuts, check out a couple of sources of “goode, olde-tyme humour,” back when irony was pre-post-modern, instead of post-post-modern. 

Thanks to my pal at Yard Dog for pointing out that Google Books now has the complete archive of Spy Magazine. The blurbs posted there say it all: 

“It was cruel, brilliant, beautifully written and perfectly designed, and feared by all. There’s no magazine I know of that’s so continually referenced, held up as a benchmark, and whose demise is so lamented” - Dave Eggers. “It’s a piece of garbage” -Donald Trump.

For you young ‘uns, a browse through Spy’s 10-year run will reveal the source of a lot cultural touchstones that still resonate today. “Separated at Birth” anyone?

Another trove I’ve been mining lately is “The Larry Sanders Show.” Netflix now has all 6 seasons of the groundbreaking HBO comedy on instant view. Star and creator Garry Shandling was once the presumptive heir to Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Jay Leno got the job instead and toils on there in sub-mediocrity (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Shandling channeled his bitterness and disappointment into this acidly comic roman à clef about the backstage life of a network talk show host. Its single camera, laugh-track free production was way ahead of its time and a direct influence on “Arrested Development,” “The Office” franchise, “Parks & Recreaction” and “30 Rock,” to name a few, not to mention being a key training ground for Judd Apatow—a LSS writer and producer—and his comic posse.

But probably the greatest thing about it was its casting of two incredible but unheralded actors. The brilliant but under-exposed dramatic stage and film actor Rip Torn was Arthur, Larry’s producer (a character repudetly based on Carson’s longtime producer Freddy DeCordova). At the time, Torn was known—if he was known—for heavy dramatic roles. His work on the show was a comic revelation. 

Then there was Jeffrey Tambor as Hank Kingsley, Larry’s on-air sidekick. Tambor portray’s Hank’s clueless, guileless mix of egomania, pomposity and deep insecurity in a way that is often as painful to watch as it is hilarious. As good as we was in “Arrested Development,” he was better here. For fans of the show, these best-of clips of the two characters are like skipping dinner and going straight to dessert.