There are few things to know about Jonathan Katz, the comedian behind the show Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. First, and perhaps most importantly, is that Katz is not, in fact, a therapist. He just played one on a wildly influential fiercely loved animated series that aired on Comedy Central in the late 1990s. The Katz on the show, an animated amalgam of squiggly lines and low-key delivery, listened patiently as comedians such as Sarah Silverman, Ray Romano, and Louis C.K. poured out their problems to him. He split his time listening to problems professionally with listening to the problems of his son, a man-child named Ben. In real life, Katz is a father of two daughters. The show, which ran for only six seasons, is now back, this time as a series on Audible with new episodes available every Thursday. Recently, Katz, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, took our Fatherly Questionnaire from his home in Boston.
What is your name?
What do you do for money?
Comedian, writer, producer.
How old are you?
Are you sitting down? I’m 70 years old.
How old are your child/children?
One is 25 and the other is 34.
What are their names?
Miranda and Julia.
Are they named after anyone in particular?
Julia’s named after my mother, who died very young. And Miranda’s named after her grandmother who had the letter “M” in her name.
Do you have any cute nicknames for your child?
So many. I’m not sure if I have any that wouldn’t embarrass me or them.
What do they call you?
Pep. At one point my daughter Julia called me Pepparazzi, or Pepperone. Pep is what my grandchildren call me. Both of my daughters have been calling me that for years.
How often do you see them?
Pretty often. I mean, one of them is living in our home right now and the other one lives in Philadelphia, but we also spend a lot of time there to be with her and her family.
Describe yourself as a father in three words.
I’m just going to say something disgusting if you give me three words. How about “More like Mr. Rogers than Wolf Blitzer?”
Describe your father in three words.
I had a great dad. My father was a celebrity in the Labor Movement in the 30s and 40s. His name would appear on the front page of The New York Times and The Baltimore Sun. He was the Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO and my mom was with him–but to hell with my mom. My dad was not a particularly funny guy, but I can tell you some of his best jokes. “Did you hear about the fight at the bakery? Two rolls got fresh.” Or if it was raining, he’d say, “Jon, if the rain keeps up it won’t come down.” It’s not my sense of humor. In fact, he would never laugh at anything I said unless there were other people laughing, unless his contemporaries were laughing. I just don’t think he got my jokes. My comedy was too sophisticated for his sense of humor. He knew so many things I didn’t know, I mean he was a really eloquent guy, but just didn’t get comedy. For many years, he thought I was a Canadian. My parents wouldn’t let me watch Superman because they thought it was too violent, and they wouldn’t let me watch Father Knows Best because they thought it was too loving.
Now I’m just doing my act, I’m sorry.
What are your strengths as a father?
I’m always there for them. I don’t really like to describe myself as warm and compassionate, but I bet they would describe me that way if I paid them.
What are your weaknesses as a father? Relatedly, what is your biggest regret as a father?
“Go to your room at your earliest convenience! Daddy’s gonna count to 1500!” I guess I’m a little too easily manipulated. Also, I tend to fictionalize everyone in my family when I write something. As close as I am to my daughters, I’m equally close if not closer to my cartoon son, Ben. My biggest regret–I know there is nothing I can do about it–is that my daughters are nine years apart. I wish my older daughter had been around more for parts of my life. But that’s just selfish.
What is your favorite activity to do with your children, that is, your special father-kid thing?
Record them. In fact, for one of my birthdays my daughters let me record them singing that song, “Gold Digger.” Oh my God, it was wonderful. And then, for my 70th birthday, everyone in my family sent me a recording of something musical. I’m a musician too. I was the frontman for Katz and Jammers, I was the lead singer. I did record three singles for RCA in the 70s.
What has been the moment you were the most proud as a parent? Why?
So many things come to mind, but one of them is when my daughters got health insurance. That’s gonna be a big deal in your life one day.
What heirloom did your father give to you, if any?
So many of my jokes are about my father. I don’t know if consider that an heirloom. He did leave me a scrapbook full of so many wonderful things that he and my mom did during their lives, that’s the most important thing to me.
What heirloom do you want to leave for your children, if anything?
I don’t think about heirlooms, I think about legacies. Well, I’m gonna leave a 1993 Legacy.
Describe the “Dad Special” for dinner?
I make coffee and breakfast cereal. It tortured me everyday that I don’t cook.
Are you religious and are you raising your children in that tradition?
I’m not, and my children are already raised. We showed them all the Jewish moves, like going to temple on the High Holy days. Both of my daughters were bat mitzvahed. I’m Woody Allen Jewish, except I wouldn’t marry my daughter.
What’s is a mistake you made growing up that you want to ensure your child does not repeat?
You know that Jack Benny joke where someone says to him, “Your money or your life”? Well, there’s a very long pause, and then he says, “I’m thinking….”
Let me say this: I’m glad both my daughters have had their hearts broken. I actually think that’s a good thing in life for a man or a woman to get your heart broken.
How do you make sure you kid knows you love him or her?