I don’t remember discovering Dr. Katz in any special way – pretty sure it was just late-night TV, often you’d find such great things in that way (remember Herman’s Head anyone?) Those shows that don’t quite play right – but are fantastic to all who find them. Dr. Katz was one of those.
It’s become far too easy to follow the South Park/Family Guy type of animated show – where you’re essentially getting away with saying it because it’s from the mouths of animated figures. Hold up, it’s not really fair to compare South Park with Family Guy. One is fantastic satire, sharp and scatological all at once. The other is Family Guy.
Back before the ADHD-generation got behind the wheels of animation – I’m talking back in 1995…a great time for late-night TV, it was all part of my student-daze – there was Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. The show ran from 1995-2002 and was based around the comedy/writing of Jonathan Katz.
I’d seen his stand-up, thought he was smart – funny. I recognised his voice as soon as I saw the then-new cartoon show. In it, Dr. Katz (voiced by the comic) has therapy sessions with his patients. They’re all actor and stand-up comedians.
It was essentially a chance for comics to serve up bite-sized routines.
The monologues were then animated in purposely-shitty shaky-vision. Crude drawings that wiggled and wobbled and played seasick with the screen. Dr. Katz lived in an apartment with his slacker/Gen-Y son, Ben. They’d serve up wonderfully droll one-liners to each other as they struggled to genuinely connect. There was one episode where Ben is preparing coffee beans, in his underpants. His dad walks in and says, “I love to watch you grind”. Stuff like that.
Katz’s receptionist was voiced by Laura Silverman (older sister of comedian Sarah Silverman). She was bored too. Unimpressed by nearly everything.
One week you’d have Jim Gaffigan on – his manatee bit is priceless (YouTube it, whenever I’m feeling low or bored or for that matter happy I watch it. I watch it once a week on average). Then there’d be Louis CK (pre-Louie). Jon Stewart was on and Rodney Dangerfield, Andy Kindler, Joan Rivers, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Cross, Dave Chappelle, Al Franken, Steven Wright – think of an American comic who even got close to making a dent in the last 20 years and you’ll find them (almost guaranteed) on at least one episode of Dr. Katz.
What made the show was the improvisation – “retro-scripting” the episodes, they’d roll tape around a framework, a bit of a sketch, basic set-up. Then the voices would do their things, the guest-comic and Katz riffing, finding a groove, always in character as patient/therapist. Then the animations were completed to serve it up as finished show obviously.
There were some bloody good rants.
So many of the very best bits are available for you to find of course – YouTube is the obvious and immediate go-to for this; just a 30-60 slice is enough. Or you can watch whole sections, or even whole episodes.
It’s a fun wormhole to disappear down.
But for a while there I was sure I was the only one even watching the show. It was great introducing friends and flatmates to it, finding out that the show – for a while, anyway – really did have a life, had fans, a following.
It must have been a great outlet for those comics – a gift. So easy. Just roll up with the material mostly ready-made and ramble.
There are some great, great episodes of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.
Jonathan Katz was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1996, at first he hid this – voice over work being helpful in that regard. And then he couldn’t. He has returned to the stage occasionally, has continued acting – sporadically. But for the most part he teaches, does public speaking with regard to his condition and carries on with voice over work, some podcasting now and then.
His comedy appealed to me – left-of-centre, dry, sardonic – sometimes downright smug. And it wasn’t for everyone. That was the most important factor – particularly with Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. And it was that great taste in choosing the guests too – a bunch of comics (Marc Maron, Dom Irrera, Dave Attell, Robert Schimmel, Mitch Hedberg, Richard Lewis) that would never – ever – be for everyone. The best sort of comedians. The best sort of comedy.
TV Shows That Meant The World To Me started life as a weekly series on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page