By Edward Copeland
Forgive my tardiness. So many projects and real-life issues injected themselves in the way that now, nearly a year later, I'm finally getting around to recapping the second half of the third season of The Larry Sanders Show. I've set a deadline for myself, so I WILL finish this and the remaining three seasons before August. It's been such a long time since I recapped a Larry Sanders season, I can't remember if I made this point before: How can anyone who watched this show then go on and on about the pale imitation that's called 30 Rock? Since it has been a long time, you can read Part I of Season 3 by clicking here. Also, I'm shaking things up a bit. Instead of trying to cover an entire season in one post, I may cover a single episode or just a few episodes, as I'm doing with this first one back, the memorable "Like No Business I Know" that plays off the then-recent incident of comedian Bobcat Goldthwait setting the guest chair on fire on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno at the same time that Hank's wife Margaret pushes him to look toward greener pastures when Regis Philbin tries to steal him to be his sidekick on a late night talk show that Philbin has been offered. It's yet another great third season showcase for Jeffrey Tambor with a lot of classic Artie moments for Rip Torn to bite into as well. That way, for the particularly great episodes — which we see with increasing frequency as the show goes on (something rare for most series) — I can go into more detail instead of the paragraph or two summaries I had to make do with in the recaps of Season 1 and Season 2 but which I'd moved away from in the first half of Season 3. It won't take me any longer (as when I do a detailed Boardwalk Empire or Treme recap or what I could have done with Luck recaps if the behind-the-scenes situation wasn't such a chaotic mess that I lacked the necessary support to do them the way I like) and probably will encourage me to conclude them faster.
We open with the TV in Larry's office playing the May 1994 Tonight Show With Jay Leno incident when Bobcat Goldthwait (once Larry's choice to host the talk show that follows him, if you recall) set the guest chair on fire and Leno tries to force him to sit in it. Larry comments with a smile on how pissed off Leno seems to be. (The YouTube clip above covers most of this.) "That Bobcat has serious mental problems," Artie says. "I think he's got incredible balls," Paula adds. "He's got something," Artie replies as he stops the tape and turns to Paula and urges her not to say "balls." "Men find that off-putting," he advises. (YouTube clip ends here.) Larry posits that what happened was that Goldthwait went on Arsenio, ransacked the set and the show received lots of press and that's why Leno booked him. Paula begins as each of the trio refers to the NBC show's staff as "whores" winding up with Artie asking, "Is Bobcat here yet?"
It's that rhythm, timing and straight-faced hypocrisy that continues to make this series my favorite comedy of all time. Certainly some of the specific references might have grown dated, but because the actors develop actual characters, if you don't know the incident in question, it doesn't matter. As Rex Reed tells Larry King on the radio at the opening of Albert Brooks' Lost in America, "If it's really funny, I'll laugh." This episode was co-written by Peter Tolan, executive producer and writer or co-writer of many of the classic episodes, and Mike Martineau, writing only his second teleplay ever, the first being the episode "You're Having My Baby" from earlier in the season. The show's most frequent director, Todd Holland, handled the helming duties.
Continuing the conversation, Paula informs Artie that Goldthwait has arrived as well as the night's other guests — Michael Bolton and Regis Philbin. Artie sternly wants to make sure that Paula emphasizes to Bobcat to behave himself and she tells him the comic promised he'll be zany and wacky but the sets will remain intact. "Well, I like pranky stunts — you know that — but if I wanted to see furniture destroyed or our set ablaze, I'd go over to Jimmy Caan's place," Artie declares, prompting a quizzical look from Larry.
What would an episode of Larry Sanders be without at least one classic Hank Kingsley line delivered by the masterful Jeffrey Tambor. Hank has enlisted some of the crew to inspect the couch on the set because, according to Kingsley, last night during the middle of the Helen Hunt segment a spring "went straight up my ass." Hank finds it and asks the men to fix it for him before the night's show. "Thank you. My ass is my fortune," he tells them. Hank then goes to complain about the microphone he uses to warm up the audience before the show starts, claiming there's a lot of treble, but no bass. Before he can go off on the sound guy, Regis Philbin wanders onto the stage to greet him. Regis asks if he can speak with Hank somewhere privately. Once the two get behind the seats, Philbin inquires as to how things have been going for Hank on the show. "Well, I'm the luckiest man in show business. Everyone says so and I have to agree," Hank responds. Regis informs Hank that he's been offered his own late-night talk show because his demographics rank better than any of these "young punks" such as Leno and Letterman and it would be a network show covering 85% of the country in three weeks. Hank congratulates him, but Philbin hasn't finished — he wants Hank to be his sidekick. Hank reluctantly declines, telling him that he's honored even when Philbin tells him that he can top whatever he makes with Larry. Hank gets nervous and tells Regis that he's running late for lunch with his better half. "Larry?" Regis assumes. Hank corrects that he meant his wife, Margaret, who gets mad, which he quickly amends to disappointed. Philbin asks him to keep thinking about his offer.
Larry and Artie take turns coming in to kiss Bobcat's ass in his dressing room. Sanders wants to know all the gritty details about The Tonight Show incident and Goldthwait shares them, including some slight burns he got on his ass. "I don't want to toot my own horn, but I was pretty proud that I could get some jokes off while all this was going on," Goldthwait admits. Larry asks if he'll want to talk about The Tonight Show incident on the show and Bobcat tells him that his lawyers have advised him that he shouldn't say anymore about it. Larry claims that he understands and doesn't get what the big deal was anyway, though he can't help but ask how pissed Leno got. "He fuckin' snapped," Goldthwait tells him. Rip Torn does his best twirling Artie, buttering the comic up one minute about how he loved his movie about the clown. "I'm just a sucker for drunk clowns" before switching emotional gears and threatening him because the fabric on the guest chairs isn't manufactured any longer, those giant letters that spell out LARRY cost more than you'd think and "Don't get near my fuckin' plants. They're my babies." Then, in a split-second, glad-handing Artie returns to exit the room with a cherry, "See you on television," leaving the comic on the couch stunned and muttering, "Jesus Christ."
Hank, of course, dances his way to his office thinking he could be king of the world and we get another great appearance by the late longtime character actor Phil Leeds (78 when this episode aired) as Hank's agent Sid Bessell. Hank sings his way to his agent and kisses him. "Hank, please, I'm your agent, not your mother," Sid protests. "You're my mother," Hank responds. "OK, I'm your mother," Sid relents. Hank asks why Sid has made an appearance and the agent tells him that Kingsley's wife Margaret called and said that he wanted to see him. Hank pauses before unconvincingly claiming that he asked her to do that. He then fills Sid in on Regis' job offer, but Hank isn't considering taking that. He suggests to Sid that if Regis leaves his morning show maybe it could become Live With Hank and Kathie Lee. Sid tells him that wouldn't be a smart move since The Larry Sanders Show is his base. "Where did you come up with such a farkuckt idea?" Sid asks. Hank tells Sid he came up with it over lunch and Sid guesses correctly that Hank's wife was present. "The last time I had lunch with my wife we ended up redoing the living room in a pattern that I'm not allowed to sit down on," Sid tells him. Hank insists that the decision comes from him when his phone beeps and Darlene announces that Margaret is on the line. Hank tries to whisper to her, but then asks Sid for privacy. "You realize I'll have to get up," the old man complains, but Hank makes Sid go and the agent slowly treks to the office door.
Artie briefs Larry before the show with some classic Artie lines. "If he touches my plants, he dies. I will move swiftly. He will be dead," Artie tells Larry. "Good. So you gave him just the normal welcoming speech," Larry says. Artie then lets Larry know that he has Hank news to share. "What's wrong with him?" Larry asks. "Not enough oxygen to the brain as a fetus. That's my first guess," Artie replies before telling him the real story about Regis trying to steal him away because of Margaret's meddling. Larry, always content to stay out of the loop, tells Artie just to handle it. "You don't want to know how I handle it?" Artie asks the host. "No — just handle it," Larry replies as he steps into the makeup chair, having finished one of the show's almost-patented
(for TV at least at that time) tracking shots. Larry wonders aloud what happened to Margaret — he thought she was quiet and sweet. "She was," Artie agrees. "What changed?" Larry asks. "He married her," the producer answers. Artie then calls Hank into Larry's office (without Larry) and demonstrates his amazing ability to know everything that's going on with Hank, much to Hank's amazement. Kingsley keeps trying to leave, but Artie continues to order him to sit back down. Anytime you get one-on-one scenes between Torn and Tambor, the viewer knows that hilarity, often painful hilarity, awaits. I imagine writers on the show felt blessed anytime they could put these two actors in a room together alone. "If I was pussy-whipped, you'd be talking to me the way I'm talking to you now," Artie tells Hank, setting Kingsley off. Artie doesn't relent, admitting he never liked Margaret. "She looks at you like you she has X-ray vision. Gives me the creeps," he tells Hank. Hank defends Margaret, saying she loves him very much and thinks he deserves more than he's getting and he thinks she's right. "And that thing with her eyes — that is a severe astigmatism, OK?" Hank proclaims. "I'm sorry. Don't get me wrong. She's a lovely girl — but I can't allow her to lift her skirt for every other show that comes along!" Artie shouts. Hank quits. He says he'll do that night's show because he's a pro but then he's gone. "And let me tell you another thing. You do not apply the term pussy-whipped to Hank Kingsley. He has never been nor never will be whipped by anything — let alone a pussy," Hank declares just as Beverly hands Kingsley a note from Margaret that she says is urgent. Artie grins widely. Hank crumples the note and throws it on the floor. "See that? I'm really pussy whipped," Hank says to Artie before quietly asking Beverly if Margaret called from home or the car then saying loudly, "Like I give a shit."
Of course, the funniest recurring gag of the episode turns out to be making Bobcat Goldthwait appear to be the most normal person in the Larry Sanders studio and offices. As Hank storms back to his office, Phil and Bobcat walk in and Goldthwait innocently asks Hank how it's going and how his wife is. Hank stops. "You're the one who plays a real kooky guy, right? In your act? Now, you wanna see something really kooky? Ask me about my lady again," Kingsley snarls at him and stares for a moment before walking off. Bobcat whispers to Phil, "Guy's a fuckin' wingnut." In his office, Sid gives Hank the bad news that he phoned Kathie Lee and she doesn't think their pairing would work because she hates Hank and she made reference to a 1979 auto show in Buffalo where Kingsley locked her in the trunk of a Camaro "for laughs." Hank melts down because he thought that was Cathy Lee Crosby. Hank tells Sid he already quit, so his agent suggests that he go to Regis and take the sidekick job. "Can you live with that? More importantly, can your wife live with that?" Sid asks his client.
Backstage, preparing for the show, Bobcat entertains Beverly and Darlene informing them that he may face community service such as visiting children in a burn ward to warn them about the dangers of fire. Wouldn't I be the last person you'd want to see coming down the hall if you are in a burn ward, the comic suggests when Larry drops in on the gathering, sending the female staffers scattering. Goldthwait notices that Regis also will be a guest and mentions that he really wants to do his show. Larry asks why. First, Bobcat claims it's because he's a morning person. "No. Actually I want to do the show because I have this idea. What I want to do is I'm gonna have a big meal — a big Denny's Grand Slam — eat as much as I can. Eat some pork and everything 'cause I'm a vegetarian. And then the idea is I'm gonna have some ipecac in a coffee mug — that's the stuff that induces vomiting, So the first time, you know, I hear 'Cody,' I'm just gonna take a big fuckin' swig off it and boom! I'm gonna projectile-vomit all over Kathie Lee," he explains to Larry. "Hilarious," Larry says nervously. Aside from the basic thrill it would be to see that happen, Garry Shandling actually rules this scene by his reactions which begin as polite listening then slowly turn to a horror that he tries to mask behind his smile. Shandling's wordless acting makes me laugh almost as much as Bobcat's proposed prank. Goldthwait adds that he wants to hit Regis as well so he isn't perceived as sexist and Larry suggests trying to get Gelman while he's at it. "No, I don't have that kind of range," Bobcat admits.
Sanders wanders over to the other Sid, his cue card guy, to go over the monologue and again touches base with Artie on how things seem to be going. "Michael Bolton has a slight head cold. He's going to sing anyway," Arthur informs him. You really had to endure the awfulness of Bolton's songs to get the subtlety of that joke. Imagine if American Idol had existed when Bolton tried to leap from songwriting to performer. How fast do you think his ass would have been kicked out? William Hung would have lasted longer. Larry asks about the Hank situation and Artie cryptically tells him the situation has been resolved. "He offered a solution. I accepted," Artie says. Larry inquires about anything else and Artie informs him that his fly is open. Larry thanks him as he zips up. "Don't mention it. Part of my job," Artie declares. "Looking at my crotch?" Larry responds. "I consider it a perk," Artie replies before disappearing behind the curtain. Hank comes skipping by and lets Larry know that what has transpired has nothing to do with the two of them and he will go out there and give it his all. Larry, clueless as to what's really going on, tells Hank that he knows that there was a problem but a solution was found and he couldn't be happier with the outcome. "You are cold, baby," Hank declares before heading through the curtains.
Larry finishes his segment with Regis and makes a beeline to Artie at his monitor. He tells his producer that Philbin made him really uncomfortable and he doesn't want to have him on anymore if he's going to come and try to steal Hank. Artie seems more concerned that Bobcat is up next and could be "a loose cannon." He seeks permission to "get my baby elephant palm off the set. I raised it from a mere nut." On the couch, Hank tells Regis he's been thinking about it and he's in. Regis is thrilled. Hank asks when he's signing the contract and Regis says next week as Artie appears behind them half-listening, half-arriving to secure his plant. Once Artie exits again, Hank says he's ready to start as soon as Philbin wants him. "That's great. We're going to start in fall of '97," Regis informs him as Hank gets a stricken look on his face (this was taking place in 1994). Hank asks when he's leaving the morning show and Regis answers when his contract expires — in the fall of '97. Regis wouldn't leave now — that's his base. Hank, looking sicker and sicker, inquires if Regis' wife ever gives him advice and Philbin replies, "No, never. Why?" Hank wanders off the set looking as if he's about to vomit — which he does — right in Artie's precious elephant palm.
They return from commercial and Bobcat has taken his place in the guest chair. Of course, despite what they agreed upon earlier, the first thing Larry brings up is The Tonight Show. "Well, to be honest, I'm facing a year in jail and I didn't really think you were going to bring it up," Goldthwait responds. "Well, we don't have to if you don't want to," Larry says. "No — I distinctly said I didn't want to," Bobcat declares, sounding angrier — or is it an act? Larry smiles and suggests they talk about something else then but still adds, "I was just curious why you did that thing on The Tonight Show." Goldthwait starts rolling his eyes. "Well, it worked.…That's why you have me here now," he says. Larry swears that's not true and that they are big fans of his. "Oh, that's bullBLEEP," Bobcat replies. You gotta love it. The show's language has no boundaries but since this takes place during the mock talk show part, they do censor the shit. Goldthwait starts knocking a plate off Sanders' desk. "See that's why you had me on. Here go crazy. Go nuts," he yells as he overturns Larry's desk. "Dance for us, monkey boy, dance!" he sings as he bounces around sending Larry to the edge of the set and getting Regis to his feet. Bobcat then throws Larry's chair through the set's backdrop, but when he grabs one of the plants, Artie appears like a lightning bolt and tackles the comic to the couch. "This is usually when they go to a commercial," Goldthwait declares as Artie glares down at him. "We'll be right back with Michael Bolton. Right after this break, Michael Bolton," Larry announces.
Backstage, Larry lectures Bobcat, telling him that Leno was right. He thought he would stick to the questions. Someone could have been hurt. Goldthwait apologizes, saying he thought it would be funny. "Here's the man you should be apologizing to," Artie tells Bobcat as Hank brings Sid up in a wheelchair. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were there," Goldthwait admits to Sid. "One minute I'm standing behind the curtain eating a mint. The next thing I know I've got a cardboard mountain up my ass. You young people don't know what funny is. Eddie Cantor was funny. If I didn't have arthritis, I'd knock you right on your ass," Hank's agent declares, pointing a judgmental finger at Bobcat. Artie decides to escort Bobcat to his dressing room "in case you get the urge to push a Coke machine over on Michael Bolton." Goldthwait, still shy and regretful, admits, "I wouldn't do it if it wasn't televised." After they leave, Sid tells Larry that Hank has something to say. He tries to get words out about being a mess and about his marriage but Larry tells him everything is fine and he'll see him tomorrow night, still completely in the dark as to what has transpired. Hank asks Larry to tell Artie for him.
When Larry gets to his office, Artie awaits. "So you know Hank is staying. Does that mean something to you?" Larry asks. "I'll bet he is. He found out Regis' show doesn't go for three years. What did you do — hire him back?" Artie inquires. Larry stops for clarification and Artie explains that Hank quit earlier that morning. Larry complains that he didn't know that. Artie reminds him that he didn't want to know about things like that, though Larry amends that to people quitting. When Artie starts to give the pussy-whipped play-by-play, Larry doesn't want to know anymore as long as Artie handled it. Regis pops his head in and comes in to tell the two what a great time he had on the show. "Hey, that Bobcat is wild. You know what I did? I asked him to come on our show in New York next week," Regis shares. "Oh good. You're gonna have fun," Larry says with a devilish grin. Philbin adds that he can't do the same kind of stuff since they are a morning show, but he's promised to be a good boy. "Well, if he promised you, I don't think you have anything to worry about, but I'd tell Kathie Lee to stay about 10 feet back," Larry suggests. As Regis leaves, Paula comes in swearing that Goldthwait promised he wouldn't do anything, but Artie tells her that they'll talk about it in the morning. Larry shuts the door. "This is going to be all over the press in the morning. How is that going to make us look?" Larry asks. Pause. Artie grins and laughs and the producer and the host shake hands over the success of a job well done. Another keeper from the third season.