By Liam Dacko
Hilarity ensued the moment comedian Jonathan Katz walked into Professor Katie Shannon’s Writing for Digital Media Class on Sept. 29.
Katz, hoping to get a rise out of Shannon, whispered to students “So, what’s she really like?”
Shannon was only a few feet away, preparing for the class.
“I’m right here,” she said. “I can hear you.”
Immediately, students could tell there was a great deal of witty rapport established between Katz and Shannon, who has worked as the comedian’s assistant for over a year.
Katz was invited to speak to students about what goes into making an animated series. He has a great deal of expertise on the subject. From 1995 to 1999, Katz served as one of the creative minds behind the animated Comedy Central series “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.”
Katz also voiced the show’s title character, for which he received a 1995 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance.
In addition, Katz has appeared in a number of television shows and films, including the CBS sitcom “Ink” and the movie “Daddy Day Care.”
“I’m not proud of that one,” he joked to the class, referring to the Eddie Murphy film.
Katz also wrote the 2000 television movie “From Where I Sit,” which featured Marcia Gay Harden and “Masters of Sex” star Lizzy Caplan.
During the class, Katz treated students to anecdotes about working with celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Griffin, and Ray Romano. He discussed how he broke into comedy. He enlightened students with details on the process of developing an idea for a story, getting a network to finance a production, and putting the finished product together.
At Shannon’s request, Katz, along with several students in the class, performed a table read of an episode of “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.”
Throughout the exercise, Katz ad-libbed certain parts and jokingly wondered out-loud what he was thinking when he wrote certain lines.
Once the class was over, the comic sat down with The Summit for an exclusive interview.
Katz said he hopes Shannon’s students were able to take a message away from his visit.
“I hope that the class was able to grasp that you can make a living with your voice, with editing, with an idea, with a song.”
Katz said although the students who choose this path will be met with rejection, it is possible for them to find success in entertainment. First, though, they must learn to “develop a really tough skin.”
“For every time somebody laughs in a comedy club,” he said. “There are maybe, when you’re first starting out, 100 times people don’t even notice you’re on stage.”
His advice to anyone who wants to break into entertainment, specifically comedy, is to write everything down. He learned this lesson from fellow comedian Carol Siskind.
“If I said something funny to her, she would say, ‘you should write that down.’ So, every time you have a funny thought, they’re so fleeting, you need to document them, even if you’re just talking to yourself on your phone.”
Katz also recommends that budding comics recognize that “the best comedy is the most personal.” Even if you have to fictionalize certain elements of your life in your comedy, have that personal element in there, he said.
Young people looking to break into comedy also should not worry about small details. Katz remembers receiving that advice from a fellow comedian with whom he once worked in a club in Baltimore.
At the time, Katz was afraid he made a mistake in his act. He was sure he told the audience that he was at the dentist at the beginning of his act, but somewhere else at the end of the act.
Katz’s colleague told him it did not matter whether or not he made the mistake.
“He said, ‘nobody’s paying attention.’ You don’t have to be literal.”
Katz said this situation shows that in comedy, “you have to be prepared to fail.”
Katz not only doled out advice, but was also quick to share stories about his experiences with fellow celebrities.
He said he once had a star-studded experience while on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard with his family. At the time, “Cheers” and “CSI” actor Ted Danson was also staying there.
One night, Danson invited Katz and his family over for dinner. When Katz arrived, he had an interesting encounter.
“As I came into the room, sitting right there, three feet away from me, was Meg Ryan,” he said. “I was just so excited to meet her.”
Katz had nothing but praise for Danson, his host that night. Katz and Danson both starred on the show Ink from 1996 to 1997.
“Ted was great to me,” he said. “He’s a ballet dancer of an actor. He’s so graceful on stage and on screen.”
Upon realizing that Danson is not a stage actor, Katz quickly corrected himself.
“I made the stage part up,” he said, comically throwing his hands in the air. “I mean TV.”
Despite having many celebrity encounters, appearing on talk shows (he’s been on “Letterman” a whopping nine times), and performing in countless clubs over the years, Katz has remained humble. He admits that “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” did put his work on Hollywood’s radar, but the comedian does not believe he has had what others might call “a big break.”
“I don’t know that I’ve gotten it yet,” he said. “I’m not being glib. I’d like to think that my best work is ahead of me.”
(For more information on Katz’s work, visit his official website http://www.jonathankatz.com/.)