Dr. Katz Prescribes Laughter at Punch Line

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Jonathan Katz. Photo by Michael Fein

If you’re in need of a new therapist, Dr. Katz has an opening on his couch May 7.

The main character of Comedy Central’s ’90s animated series Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist will be at Punch Line Philly for Dr. Katz Live, starring the man behind the voice and show, Jonathan Katz.

The youth arts education nonprofit ArtWell will put on the show, formally titled LaughWell with Dr. Katz Live.

The TV show Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, which was created by Katz and Tom Snyder, showed Katz analyzing the psyches of his clients, who were voiced by fellow comedians like Louis C.K. and Ray Romano. It was known for its dizzying Squigglevision animation.

Katz has since voiced characters on Home Movies and Bob’s Burgers (alongside Dr. Katz alum H. Jon Benjamin). He hosts a podcast, Hey We’re Back!, and travels the country performing Dr. Katz Live, in which Dr. Katz is joined onstage by famous comedians for a “therapy session.”

Katz, 70, said coming to Philadelphia means a lot to him.

Both of his daughters and their children live here, so Katz and his wife, Suzan, left Newton, Mass., to rent an apartment in Rittenhouse Square for the next few months to be closer to them.

“We’re surrounded by great restaurants, homeless people, dogs,” he joked. “But being so close to our grandchildren is wonderful.”

One of his daughters, Julia Terry, is the program director of ArtWell, and she said she hopes the event will introduce ArtWell to a new audience.

The money raised from ticket sales will go toward the organization’s free arts education programs. ArtWell is still looking for event sponsors, too.

Terry said it’s a blessing to have both her parents in Philadelphia and seeing her children grow closer to them.

“There’s something about [my father’s] very playful, humorous personality that connects very well with young children — as well as adults, in different ways — so it’s really fun to see them talk about how silly he is,” she said.

For Terry, she said seeing her father more often gives her a new appreciation for how hardworking he is, especially because Katz was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late ’90s.

“His life is not easy, and he doesn’t complain a lot about having multiple sclerosis,” she said. “As a family, we cope and bring a lot of joy into our lives with laughter and humor.”

Bringing her father and the character Dr. Katz to Philadelphia has combined Terry’s two loves, arts education and comedy.

Although the show may seem “off mission” from regular ArtWell programming, Terry said it’s “bringing positive celebration and acknowledgement to all the milestones and experiences in young people’s lives.”

Humor is clearly embedded in Katz’s veins — he can’t go a minute without turning ordinary conversation into a one-liner.

“He still makes my mom laugh very hard all the time, which is a testament to their love and marriage,” Terry noted of their 35 years together.

That’s probably why the TV show still holds up.

“It’s the relationship between Dr. Katz and his son, Ben, that’s so universally appealing,” Katz said. “I still get letters from people telling [me] what a difference the show made in their lives [through] difficult times; people who have been in different kinds of crises. And then there are people who are not in crises who also loved the show. But it has a really strong fan base, and it’s weird that my likeness is more popular than my actual face.”

Katz said even walking through Rittenhouse Square he’s been recognized by his voice as opposed to his appearance.

“I kvelled,” he joked when a fan approached him.

He described his humor as dry and occasionally dark.

“Guys like Louis C.K., who was on Dr. Katz, Dave Chappelle, also a patient on Dr. Katz — their comedy’s not that different,” he explained. “I guess it’s younger comedians whose work I don’t really know that well. There’s more of a tendency to be unnecessarily blue or dirty.”

Katz draws that dark humor from his youth; his mother died when he was 16.

“Comedians don’t see things the way civilians do. Like if you saw a sign that said ‘Turkish baths,’ I would read that as ‘ethnic cleansing,’” he joked. “I sort of take things out of context.”

When he’s not touring for Dr. Katz Live, Katz does other shows for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He’s also working on a show for Audible.com called Dr. Katz, The Audiofiles.

“Imagine Dr. Katz with nothing to look at,” he said.

The show at Punch Line will start with some of Katz’s standup, followed by a semi-improvised therapy session with other comedians — David Feldman, Janelle James and Bonnie McFarlane — as patients.

It will also feature performances by Johnny Showcase and Rumi Kitchen.

Katz would love to get some other celebrities onstage with him one day, he said, naming Ted Danson, Louis C.K., Eddie Redmayne and George Clooney (who people say he looks like, Katz quipped).

Before Katz did his HBO special, which launched the TV show on Comedy Central, Katz said the most money he ever got paid was from his Bar Mitzvah.

“My dad was, at the time, the executive director of the Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan, and all these Jewish men gave me Israel bonds,” he said, “which, unlike me, have matured.”

For tickets or more information, visit PunchLinePhilly.com or theartwell.org.

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737