“Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” started as a low-budget, low-key animated show on Comedy Central show just a few years before “South Park” would become the animated show the network would become known for. It featured stand-up comics doing some of their material playing against the bone-dry wit of comedian Jonathan Katz, who played a put-upon therapist with a passive-aggressive secretary (Laura Silverman) and a dopey, lovable, layabout son (the brilliant H. Jon Benjamin, who’s become a voiceover star with “Bob’s Burgers” and “Archer”).
Despite rosters of impressive comedic talent and a cleverly home-brewed animated style that became easy to love the more you watched it, the show was never a gigantic hit. At a live performance Thursday night as part of the Moontower Comedy Festival, I heard more people before the show explaining what the show was to others than recollections of bits from the show. “Dr. What?” one older gentleman asked his companion, who was about 25 years younger. The show was explained.
Another guy, sitting behind me at the show, explained to his friends, “I used to watch it, but I was too young to understand it when it was on in the early ’90s. I was 14.”
On stage, the energy was a little different, sometimes flailing, other times absolutely matching perfectly in tone what those of us who remember the show fondly came to see. Jonathan Katz, who moves slowly with a cane due to multiple sclerosis, did a few minutes of stand-up comedy at a microphone before the main set and it began with a rape joke. As horrible as date rape is, Katz suggested, even worse would be “Double-date rape.”
Improbably, the joke earned laughs, as did the rest of Katz’s short set, which mostly consisted of well-crafted wordplay and, memorably, short musical performances of Beatles, Rolling Stones and Eagles songs performed Bar Mitzvah-style. Who knew Dr. Katz (not a real therapist) could sing?
But the meat of the show was mock-therapy sessions featuring comedians Dana Gould, Andy Kindler, Maria Bamford, Dom Irrera and Emo Philps, all of whom had appeared on the original show except Bamford. On the stage, two chairs and a fern were set up, though Irrera complained multiple times that he missed the couch and was hoping for some cuddling.
Gould went topic with material about Bruce Jenner, joking that he’s confused about respecting Jenner’s privacy now as a transgender individual given the distinct complete opposite of privacy we’ve come to expect from the Kardashian clan.
Bamford turned out to fit right in and got some of the biggest laughs with material about her new marriage and a ridiculous song about her couples’ therapist.
Andy Kindler appeared with a non-working wireless microphone and, as Kindler does, turned the awkwardness into its own hilarious bit. “This is the story of my life, Dr. Katz,” he whined, as the microphone was swapped out. Kindler went trademark-meta, asking if he’s using humor as a defense mechanism (“No,” Katz said definitively, to huge laughs) and exclaiming, “even my psychiatrist has better material!”
As on the original show, Irrera got weird and overly affectionate quickly, having left a voice mail for Katz and asking for some snuggle time.
But it was Emo Philips who perhaps captured the original spirit of the show best with his quirky timing. While much of the show had the awkward pauses (completely appropriate for “Dr. Katz) that came with mixing improv with prepared bits, Philips’s felt most like the the animated series, with Katz serving as more of a straight man than a fellow comic breaking the fourth wall.
Apart from the Kindler microphone gaffe, there were other timing issues. It took a while for the show to begin after an introductory Moontower Fest video was shown and sometimes the lengthy pauses and fits-and-starts pacing of the therapy sessions felt less than intentional. But it was a delight to hear Laura Silverman’s familiar, grumpy voice played as an intro to each comic. And the play-off music meant to signal the end of a therapy session turned out to be its own comedic highlight as it always seemed to happen just as a comic was making a point or on the edge of a revelation. It was all about timing and the joy of getting a large dose of Katz’s absurdist, punchline-driven humor, which still kills.
On the matter of an aunt’s death, Katz revealed to Kindler that she was cremated. “We think that’s what did it,” he said.
Never caught the original show? Here’s some classic bits: