Garry Shandling’s legendary pickup basketball games almost derailed Borat, helped found Funny or Die, and other memories

There’s a fun new oral history piece out from ESPN The Magazine today about the late great Garry Shandling and his longtime Sunday basketball games that brought together so many funny people to his home over a couple of decades.

“It was ‘Fight Club’ with better jokes,” said Shandling’s writing partner, Suli McCullough.

Among the tidbits I learned reading this…

Wayne Federman chose the teams as the de facto commissioner of the Sunday pickup hoops:

FEDERMAN: It was a very delicate job. Sometimes there’d be 10 people, so somebody would have to sit out two games in a row. My goal was to assess everyone’s playing ability to try to make all the games as even as possible. It would give me a lot of satisfaction when it was like, “It’s 6-6, and the next shot wins.” But my mission statement in that whole time was: Make sure Garry got in as much games as possible.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s iconic film, Borat, almost got derailed due to a hoops injury suffered during a game there.

ADAM McKAY, DIRECTOR, “ANCHORMAN,” “THE BIG SHORT”; PLAYED FROM 2002 TO THE END: Sacha Baron Cohen rolled his ankle. I’m just so used to seeing that, so I’m like, “Sacha, it just hurts a lot.” Then I saw his ankle. It was bigger than a softball.

JAY ROACH (ALSO EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF “BORAT”): Todd Phillips was the first director on “Borat,” and we shut down for a few months until Larry Charles came on. Because Sacha hurt his ankle at Garry’s basketball game, he got protection from an insurance plan that allowed us to, uh, account for our hiatus.

GREG KINNEAR, CO-STAR OF “WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM?”; PLAYED FROM 1998 UNTIL THE FILMING OF “BORAT”: I was increasingly worried about a wonky ankle getting me dragged off in an ambulance. I’d heard that Billy Crystal got injured there, and Sacha’s injury was around the time I said, “Check, please.”

And Chris Henchy ended up co-founding Funny or Die only because he met McKay and Will Ferrell at the hoops games.

HENCHY: Adam McKay and I knew each other from the basketball game, where I also met Will Ferrell. And we then founded Funny or Die.


Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →