If you were lucky enough to catch “Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist” on TV in the late ’90s, you probably still remember its squiggly animation and laconic, mostly improvised sense of humor.
It was basically just comedian Jonathan Katz holding therapy sessions with a rotating cast of comedians and actors. But the show’s unique pacing and humor has had a real influence on animated comedy over the years.
“A lot of people still think I’m a therapist, and I stopped denying it, and I just prescribe medication now,” joked Katz, 70, who is currently residing in Philadelphia. “I get emails from people saying how the show changed their life and really got them through a difficult time. … Maybe it was the soothing quality of my voice.”
Katz will be staging a live therapy session for fellow comedians in Philly this weekend as part of a benefit event for Artwell, a nonprofit founded by his daughter that provides art education to kids.
How did he get into this niche of comedy? Experience, Katz said.
“I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was a kid,” he said. “Grade school was the first time I went. I was a depressed kid, and I was in love with this girl there who was also quite depressed, and at recess, we would hand each other suicide notes.”
The oddball jokes may take a minute to hit, but “Dr. Katz” paved the way for later cartoons. “Dr. Katz” creator Tom Snyder gave animator Loren Bouchard his start, and he went on to create the cult classic series “Home Movies” and is currently running the hit “Bob’s Burgers.” All three shows featured the voice of comedian H. Jon Benjamin.
“The people sounded like people. They didn’t sound like cartoon characters. And they laughed at each other’s jokes,” Katz said of the “Dr. Katz” style. “Whatever we wrote, we were up against improv, and improv almost always won. … Every once in a while, a joke we wrote would get into the script.”
As far as Sunday’s therapy session goes, Katz said that in recent months, politics comes up a lot in therapy.
“What’s amazing is Donald Trump can’t pronounce the word ‘Nazi,'” Katz said. “He was visiting the Holocaust Museum in New York, and he pronounced it as ‘Naaaazzzis.’ … He’s a scary guy. I try to deal with it by using Ambien.”
If awkward humor’s not your thing, maybe shy away. But Katz said, like most comedians, he doesn’t need a lot of encouragement to start cracking jokes.
“You can take any comedian,” he said, “from Jack Benny to Jerry Seinfeld to Maria Bamford, put a burlap bag over their head, whack them over the head with a pipe, toss them in the basement, and when you remove the bag, if there’s anyone there, they’ll say, ‘It’s great to be here!'”
See Jonathan Katz perform at the Laughwell benefit on May 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Punch Line Philly, 33 E. Laurel St.