The moment I step into the Newton home/sound studio of comedian Jonathan Katz — who's probably best known for creating and providing the voice of a neurotic psychiatrist on the notably squiggly cartoon Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist — he warns me that he's a show-off and invites me to admire his kitchen. What could be pompous quickly turns playful; I have 30 seconds to find the three refrigerators masked by gorgeous cabinetry, he tells me, looking down at his watch, and I scramble around like an Easter Sunday jellybean hunter on speed. I didn't find all of the refrigerators, but I did find a gentle, sharp-witted soul whose decade-plus battle with multiple sclerosis hasn't done a damned thing to slow down his quick-draw punning and brilliant comic timing. Both of which are evident in the goal he sets for himself: to create something funny every day. He brings that funny to ImprovBoston this Thursday and next with his show One Man, Many Games.
What's your daily routine, both physically and professionally?
Physically, I do the same thing every morning. I get out of bed and I stretch my legs by lying on my back and sort of exercising in a door jamb. I stretch my legs at a 90-degree angle, and then in many different other ways. This has to do with increasing my mobility, with maintaining the level of mobility I have in my legs now. Let me try to put this in a sexier way. You know how sometimes grown-ups . . . no, I don't know what that means. So that's what I do just to feel slightly normal in my legs. And then I'll drink a lot of coffee, which I do every day. I love coffee, I even wrote a song about it, called "Caffeine," which I'll be glad to sing for you. So then I'll keep drinking coffee all day, until my heart tells me I should stop. And it's never told me that, by the way.
I come down to my studio and I mine things I've already done, or from my own life, for comedy. I'll give you my favorite example — and I'm saying this softly because she's upstairs — but my daughter, Mandy, once came into our bedroom when she was about six, and she said, "Dad, am I sexy or gay?" And that became the first line of a sit-com [From Where I Sit] I wrote.
Did you ask her why she couldn't be both?
No, I just wanted to go back to sleep. But that line came out of the mouth of an actress named Daveigh Chase, who's now on Big Love, and the person she was asking, playing the father, was David Paymer, who's this amazing actor, in a million movies. Marcia Gay Harden was the woman playing my fictitious wife, and she called my actual wife one day and said, "Suzi, what would I say? What does a woman like me do in a situation like that?" And my wife said, "I don't know. Learn your lines?"
ImprovBoston is a pretty small theater, and certainly not known for being a stand-up venue. Why choose that, as opposed to a more traditional comedy club in town?
You know, at the risk of sounding anything, it's a good place to fail. It feels very safe. It's a good place to try something for the first time, or the second time. It feels like a safe environment in which to experiment. I did stand-up there once, and my biggest concern about doing stand-up there was that the audience was too eager to laugh. I couldn't really read them. I didn't know if I was funny or if they were just so excited I was there that they were being generous. I've had that experience at places that don't really have — at the risk of sounding immodest — gods. No national acts. I am a national act. I had a TV show and I've been on Letterman — how many times, do you think?
On Letterman? I'm going to go with at least 52 times.
Nine. So close. Nine times. You'd think they'd want to make it an even 10, but for some reason, unless you have something you want to plug, they won't have you on the show. Or unless you're a very sexy young actress, because he's a flirt, Letterman. I once got bumped from the show because he was flirting with Julia Roberts. Another time I got bumped because there was a fly in the studio and he was so preoccupied with this insect, he forgot about me. I would've liked to have been a fly on the wall. I might have gotten on TV.