Wednesday, February 13, 2008

OC Archive: Jonathan Katz

When I originally interviewed Jonathan Katz for Boston's Stuff@Night for this interview, which appeared in the June 22, 1999 issue, he was still working on his Comedy Central show, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist for what would wind up being the show's final season. Since then, he has gone public with his MS, shied away from the spotlight, and then come back to stand-up. He released his first comedy CD, Caffeinated, last year, and Comedy Central released the complete Dr. Katz on DVD. And you can listen to his podcasts by going to his site,

The career of Newton resident Jonathan Katz has taken some interesting turns since he started out as a musician and songwriter more then twenty years ago, fronting a band called Katz and the Jammers. At some point, Katz noticed that people were talking through the songs and paying more attention when he spoke. So he started to talk more. And it has paid off.

Katz has been all over the map, from his collaborations with David Mamet to appearances on TV Nation and The Larry Sanders Show. He even played Leo, the Angel of Death, in the short-lived sitcom Ink. Now, as Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist begins its sixth season, he is busy developing other ideas for film and television and is hard at work on To-Do Lists of the Dead, his first book under his name (not as Dr. Katz).

So, what's in store for the new season of Dr. Katz?

Can't talk about that. Just teasing. Well, first of all, in terms of story line... my son, Ben -- very troubled kid -- he threatens to join the army.

That has to be traumatic. For Dr. Katz and for Ben.

Traumatic for the army. He also gets his wisdom teeth removed, which is probably the most violent episode we've ever made.

One of my favorite episodes is called "Past Lives"; Ben and Dr. Katz take a past-life regression course together. And Dr. Katz discovers that in a previous life he was a barmaid in the Old West.

Is the show set in Boston?

We're kind of coy about that. We haven't picked a location yet. `Cause it's a cartoon, we haven't had to purchase any real estate. A lot of people speculate about where it is.

Are there any upcoming guests that you're particularly excited about?

Well, Dom Irrera is going to be returning to the show. He's my favorite patient. Jeff Goldblum is wonderful.

How did you decide to focus on comedians as patients, rather than just having celebrity guests?

Because the chances of one of these comedians' saying something extraordinarily funny is greater. You know, you don't go to your psychiatrist to plug something; you go to try out material.

In Newton, I guess, there is a high density of psychiatrists?

It's the highest per capita of anywhere in the country. I'm surrounded by them.

What is their reaction to the show?

Some pride, some resentment. A lot of advice. You know, there's a shrink named Randy Glassman who has helped me more than anyone with the language of therapy. When the show first started I was really intent on being a good therapist. And I do have a lot of empathy for people. And I have a lot of respect for people who are therapists, professionally. Especially if they can stay awake.

What's the difference between you and Dr. Katz?

Dr. Katz does his own stunts.

How do you choose the guests?

It's just like every other show. It's alphabetical.

I never noticed that.

Oh, yeah. Watch all these talk shows. They're almost up to the Zs.

How did you and David Mamet start working together?

The real question is, why did we stop? No, we started working together because we're friends and have been for 35 years.

And you co-wrote House of Games, or the story that became House of Games?

We co-wrote the story over a pool table one day of the movie that became the House of Games.

And you said, "Why did you stop -- "

No, I was just being glib.

You also have To-Do Lists of the Dead coming out.

The new book I'm working on. That's something that I started doing in an airplane at La Guardia. I got stuck on the runway. So I was working on my own to-do list, I got bored, and moved on to Lincoln. I wrote three items on his to-do list: "Free slaves, think of fancy way to say '87 years ago,' and beef up security at Ford's Theatre." And the first two items are checked. Then I moved on to FDR, Eisenhower, George Washington, Kurt Cobain, Charles Darwin, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr. Anybody who's dead is fair game. Gene Siskel.

Do you still perform stand-up?

Well, I did something at Symphony Hall about a week ago with Ray Romano. We did a benefit for Children's Hospital. Every once in a while I'll do something. There's usually a cause involved. I, for the last few years, have been trying, along with my colleagues, to raise money for syphilis.

To help people get their start?

I'm raising money for the actual virus.

Was this always your stage persona, or did you try other personas?

I tried the wacky guy with the banjo, and I had a box full of props. I worked with a puppet for a while. Actually, the puppet's doing very well.

A solo career.

Yeah, he didn't need me. I was bringing him down. No, no, this has always been what I do. Not because of my courage and strength and belief in what I do. It really is more of a limitation. I can't do anything else.

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