Catching Up with Jonathan Katz

The Comedy Central cult classic animation Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist is returning in a new format on Audible. The show was developed into a 15 episode audio series called Dr. Katz: The Audio Files, which debuts today on Audible Channels. Notable guests in the new series include Sarah Silverman, Ted Danson, Ray Romano, Margaret Cho, Weird Al, Maria Bamford, Pete Holmes, Dana Gould, Emo Philips, Ron Funches, Andy Kindler and more.

Similar to Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, the comedians play themselves as patients every week in 15-minute therapy sessions with Dr. Katz (Jonathan Katz). I talked with Katz about the new audio series and the changing world of comedy.

Why was 2017 the year to bring back Dr. Katz in audio format?

I think part of it has to do with the clamoring of the fan base. Dr. Katz is different than me, but he resembles me in so many ways. He has my name. Like me, he’s Jewish. Unlike me, he has a son. I have two beautiful kids and two kids who are not so attractive. Sorry, I can’t stop making that joke. But he has an ex-wife, I have a real wife. I’ve been married for over 36 years.

Wow, congratulations. What’s your secret?

Our marriage works because we don’t take each other for granted. Every morning, for 36 years, I ask my wife how she takes her coffee. It’s a small thing, but it’s annoying. Sorry, I can’t stop making jokes. But real advice – I think tenderness helps.

More than a decade has passed since Dr. Katz was on Comedy Central. Did playing that character feel any different this time around?

Well, it’s odd because Dr. Katz is still 49 years old. And I’m getting older myself. I used to listen to Dr. Katz before I saw it. I used to drive around and listen to a rough cut of an episode on a cassette. So I’ve always been in love with the audio part of it.

How much of the Audio Files are prepared material and how much is improvised?

Much like the TV show, what we really want is comedy from comedians. I want them to do their material, but that doesn’t always fit into the context of therapy. So we wander all over the place. Also there’s no audience. So when Sarah Silverman was doing it, I was concerned that she thought she was bombing, because there was no laughing. The patient is sort of guessing at how they’re doing. But they know that what they’re doing will be a function of hours of editing before it’s put in front of an audience. I was nervous about what Sarah was thinking when I was recording with her. But playing a shrink is one of the easiest things you could ever do as an actor. I just make guttural sounds every once in awhile. My actual shrink used to say, “What is it we’re not talking about today?” Which I thought was very good.

How much have you learned from your own therapists about how to conduct a session?

I learned a lot of terminology. Hypervigilant thoughts. Was there a history of depression in your family? Just sort of questions that would not occur to me as a civilian to ask patients. If you were my patient, I would ask, “Do you have any intrusive thoughts?” And then you would pay me.

Did anything happen in a session with one of your comic patients that genuinely surprised you?

The thing about the TV show was that I took my role so seriously that I actually made one patient cry and I made another one feel good about himself. But for the most part, playing the therapist too literally got in the way of comedy. The truth is, I care about the way people feel, but it doesn’t serve us well in terms of finding comedy. If I ask Ray Romano what is really the issue he’s not talking about today, we’re not going to find anything too funny there. Am I being to cryptic? Is this pretty understandable?

Very understandable. And yet, I’d say at the same time, even when it’s with a comedic sensibility, you always have the impression that the guests are truly opening up. At least with the audio files.

Well there’s something so built in uncomfortable about therapy. And then I’d have friends who were therapists when I was doing the show, and I had one friend who discouraged me from saying “scooch over” when talking to female patients. There’s all kinds of inappropriate things that therapists can say that I try to avoid saying. If you go into therapy with your spouse, it always feels like two against one, depending on the gender of your spouse. You know, I was a truly depressed kid, but luckily I was in love with this depressed girl and at recess we would pass each other suicide notes.

Were you funny as a kid?

No, I didn’t feel like I was a funny kid. In school I was a blackboard monitor as opposed to a class clown.

What do you think are the biggest changes in the world of comedy since you first began doing standup?

I started in 1981 and what was almost more important than being funny on stage was being funny at the bar. Most of the people who became famous had already left New York. Guys like Richard Louis, Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld – they were living in LA. I think there might have been more room for nuance and subtly than there is now. I think the internet has made it hard to do anything that isn’t too raunchy. And I used to make a lot of really disgusting jokes before I became a father. That’s one things that kids will do, they give you a conscience.

I once heard you describe your MS as something that can make you feel competitive when you are performing with other comedians who have chronic illness. Do you still have that sense of competitive suffering?

I don’t really feel that sense of competition. MS is such a weird disease. They’re finding that the closer you live to the equator, the less likely you are to develop MS. So simply by raising the equator as little by 500 miles, you could reduce the incidence of MS by 25 percent.

What’s coming up next for you?

I’ve been asked to star in the new version of La La Land. I’ll be playing Ryan Gosling. With Charlotte Rampling as Emma Stone. But the music will be the same.

Photo by Michael Fein.

Sydney Parker is a writer living in Seattle. You can read more of her writing on Carnival of Souls or follow her on Twitter @Carnivalosouls.

Catching Up with Jonathan Katz