BACK IN 1995, when Comedy Central filled up most of its broadcast day with stand-up specials, one of the network's flagship programs was also one of its most unusual. Unlike most of the brash comedy shown on the channel, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist was a quiet, deadpan addition to the schedule.
Each wigglingly animated half-hour had viewers sitting in on counseling sessions between a comedian and the titular doctor, voiced with charming calm by stand-up/actor Jonathan Katz. In between sessions, we caught a glimpse into the doctor's personal life, through his (largely improvised) interactions with his slacker adult son, Ben (voiced by future Archer star H. Jon Benjamin), and his put-upon assistant, Laura (Laura Silverman).
Dr. Katz became one of Comedy Central's showcase programs, earning critical accolades and, in 1998, a Peabody Award. Two decades later, the fondness that viewers have for the show hasn't diminished, aided by the release of a DVD box set containing every episode of the show's six-season run.
"I was just hoping I wouldn't embarrass my family and that the people who lived on my block might like it," says Katz. "I didn't think it would be a success. I think it was a relatively gentle show that didn't use cartoon voices and there was a sweetness to it that didn't exist elsewhere on TV."
The 68-year-old actor has been feeling a lot of love from fans both new and old thanks to the Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist live events he has been hosting to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show's debut. The performances follow the spirit of the animated program, with Katz sitting down with various comedians, letting them do bits from their act, and then commenting on the material. At the session scheduled to open the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, he'll be joined by Janeane Garofalo, Andy Kindler, Dana Gould, and more.
So far, Katz says, the shows have been a lot of fun, allowing him to flex his improvisational muscles, but he's also quickly realized the challenge he faces with every sitdown.
"It's hard for me not to interrupt my patient and make a joke," he says. "If your actual therapist started making jokes, you'd start resenting them, right? So, here are these people playing my patients, telling me something personal and painful, and I'm making a joke about it. Dr. Katz is not a great therapist."