Dr. Katz Live Album Review: The Classic Animated Comedy Live and on Stage

For my first three years of college I didn’t have a TV. I had a radio but never listened to it, and I stopped subscribing to music magazines. I did watch a lot of movies but for the most part I was living in a pop-culture void. I didn’t really miss it and I can’t say that I missed much. Although I still sometimes find myself wondering what the deal with Friends was.

My senior year I moved into an apartment with three other guys and one of them had a TV. I started trying to catch up with all the stuff I’d missed but it mostly all seemed like junk. Then we discovered Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and I was hooked. It ran on Comedy Central which had not yet become the giant media station it is today. This was pre-South Park, pre-Chappelle’s Show, pre-Daily Show with Jon Stewart. (The Daily Show did exist but it was with Craig Kilborn, but who the frack watched that?)

Religiously, my friends and I watched Dr. Katz every week and laughed our collective arses off. No one else we knew had ever heard of it. We felt like it was our own little secret – as if a cable channel was putting on a private show just for me and my friends. It still does, actually, as I continue to get strange little stares when I quote lines form it (and I regularly quote lines from it nearly 20 years after it went off the air).

The show’s plot was very simple Jonathan Katz played Dr. Katz, a therapist to entertainers and comedians. Additional cast members included his sarcastic secretary Laura (Laura Silverman) and his son Ben (H. Jon Benjamin). The only semblance of a story came from Katz and Ben who interacted between therapy sessions, but mostly it was a showcase for up-and-coming comedians to put their material on television. What it lacked in storytelling, it more than made up for in hilarity.

The show went off the air in 1999 (though it briefly came back with three shelved episodes airing in 2002) but in 2008 the cast did a live show, and now that show is available as an audio digital download. The main three cast members are here as well as Tom Snyder (co-creator and producer of the original series) who here plays Dr. Katz’ therapist. The patients are B.J. Novak, Eugene Mirman, and Andy Kindler.

Though I miss the show’s iconic animated style, squigglevision, this live audio version is just as funny as the show ever was. Though they generally follow the show’s typical guidelines it differs in a few ways. With the inclusion of his own therapist, Dr. Katz, who was usually regulated to straight man, gets ample time to tell his own jokes, which is a lot of fun. Ben shows up at the end and acts more like a patient riffing with Dr. Katz about money and makes no attempt to create any semblance of an actual story. Sadly, Laura only has a few throw-away lines. It would have been nice to let her have at least a short scene or two, but I guess with three patients and Snyder in the mix there just wasn’t enough time.

The three guest patients are all hilarious. There mostly doing there “A” material here like it’s a stand-up act but they also get in some good lines about just how surreal doing an animated show live is. Kindler makes a crack about why his sessions are always miked and Novak wonders what Dr. Katz is talking about when he breaks character noting the sounds coming from back stage.

I don’t know that Dr. Katz Live will make new fans of the old show, but for anybody who remembers it fondly will certainly enjoy this immensely. It really feels like a lost episode though one with a bit more cursing and a casualness that allows several breaks in character and pauses while the comedians are laughing at each other’s jokes.

You might want to keep your hand on the pause button yourself as you won’t want to miss a thing from your own guffawing.

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Mat Brewster

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