Turning an animated TV series into live theater has become relatively common over the last few years, with Bob’s Burgers, The Simpsons, and Metalocalypse all revealing the real-life faces behind these well-known cartoons as part of concert tours and stage shows.
Some shows, like Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, make the transition better than most. Back in 2007, star of that squiggly animated series Jonathan Katz recorded an event in Los Angeles that brought the core of each episode—a stand-up comic performing bits of their act to a therapist, who then analyzes the material—to a live audience. And with the caliber of talent he brought out (Maria Bamford, Kathy Griffin, and Paul F. Tompkins among them), the evening, at least from what I saw of filmed version, was like watching a perfectly timed fireworks display, with little sparkles of banter between “doctor” and “client” giving way to huge explosions of hilarity.
Katz has been doing similar shows around the country this year, this time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Dr. Katz, and helped kick off the 2015 edition of Bridgetown Comedy Fest with an event at Revolution Hall. With him, he brought out a batch of stand-ups, almost all of whom were featured on the original TV series during its six-season run: Andy Kindler, Janeane Garofalo, Ron Lynch, and Dana Gould. The only outlier was Brendon Small, but he shared the connection of having helped create Home Movies, a show animated in the same jerky “Squigglevision” style as Katz.
As Katz explained to me when I interviewed him recently, the beauty of the TV show was that he had editors at his disposal who could slice down the often discursive conversations he would have with his stand-up friends to nice useable chunks, easily digestible in broadcast form. The live show, of course, had no net and no way to tidy things up, which led to conversations that felt much more natural but also opened the door for unformed ideas and jokes to fizzle out in real time.
The opening pair of clients, Andy Kindler and Ron Lynch, stumbled the most with the freeform quality of the live show, but managed to stick their landings comfortably enough. Kindler had fun with how befuddled he was feeling, responding to a question about the death of his father, by letting Katz know that, at the end, his dad encouraged him to “please turn this into a bit that goes nowhere.” Lynch played up the awkwardness, as well, by employing a few props, including a voice modulator that made him sound like a mystery whistleblower in an episode of 60 Minutes (“I find that I can’t get close to people,” he said after turning his words into a Bane-like growl).
The rest of the comics dove in head first. Small stuck to the heart of the TV series by using some stand-up material that included a brilliant bit about making the first eco-friendly mumblecore movie, filmed entirely using the vehicle backup camera in his Prius (“It’s about a couple slowly getting run over”) and his struggles with watching his recently divorced parents dating. Garofalo enjoyed dashing all over the place, discussing how she deals with aging (Spanx tights, in part), her reticence to leave her apartment even when she’s the one who has made the plans, and her frustration with meaningless aphorisms. “Like, ‘Don’t give up,’” she said. “That’s the kind of thing that only works for stalkers and dictators. ‘You know who didn’t give up? Pol Pot.’”
The knockout punches for the night, though, were delivered by Gould. I have to imagine the majority of his comments were culled from his stand-up act, but knowing how well he thinks on his feet, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was spilling out of him for the first time. He spared himself few punches, talking about his divorce (or as he described it, “a long, slow withering that ended in a chainsaw massacre”), his new bachelor pad ("'The Falcon’s Lair.' Or 'The Masturbatorium.'"), and his realization this birthday landed nine months and two days after the assassination of JFK ("So, now you know how my father processes grief. That was a day of lucky shots").
As you and I read here soon, there were plenty of great shows last night to kick off this year’s festivities, and there are likely to be a bunch that I’m sorry I missed out on. But for right now, I’m just going to rest in the knowledge that my 2015 Bridgetown experience got off to a great start.