In the early ’90s, before Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and before South Park redefined the way that animated children behaved, Comedy Central was a valuable resource for fans of stand-up comedy. Half-hour shows like Short Attention Span Theater and Stand Up Stand Up introduced viewers to up-and-coming comedians in brief clips, essentially chopping up full routines for the sake of spreading them out over hours of programming. For many people, it was the first time that they’d be introduced to today’s biggest stars, like Stewart and Louis C.K.
That said, when a software developer and former teacher named Tom Snyder (not the late talk show host) met a talented stand-up comic named Jonathan Katz, they decided to develop an animated series together… an unlikely pairing, to say the least. Snyder had already pitched a show about a therapist, and Katz accepted the role of a therapist who treated a variety of hilarious patients, played by popular stand-up comics.
The series became Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and, in 1995, it was one of the first original programs that Comedy Central would air. It didn’t matter that this group of people had very little experience in animation because, when the right people find each other, magic happens. To get the story of how this Emmy and Peabody award-winning series came to be, we spoke to Snyder, Katz, and many of the other key players involved in the show. Enjoy.
Choosing Your Doctor
It is wonderful, just wonderful… when do we get to see the real thing?
Jonathan Katz jokes that we have President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Federal Works Administration program to thank for the creation of “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.” In reality, the man responsible for this simple-yet-wonderful idea was a software developer named Tom Snyder, who had initially developed the idea on his own, providing everything from the voices to the music. While Snyder is undoubtedly talented in his own right, we should all be thankful that someone at Comedy Central pointed out that in order for the series to succeed, he’d need someone with a little more name recognition… a well-known comedian, specifically. Snyder accepted that reality and his decision was quite simple.
Tom Snyder, Creator: I had a software company in Cambridge, Mass., and I created an animated short where I played a psychiatrist, and I had one of my illustrators do this illustration. I made a three or five-minute show about a doctor and his son called Shrink Wrapped, and I hadn’t known Jonathan at this point. I took it out to L.A. where I had a friend. I had no connection with the TV business at all. I was more of a geek, but I had always loved comedy… I showed it to (industry people his friend introduced him to) and they were like, “Let’s do it, but you’re going to need talent.” And I said, “Hey, f*ck you,” [laughs]. I didn’t realize they meant the industry term for talent. They said, “We’re going to need well-known people.” So, they gave me a list of well-known people and one of the people on the list was my favorite stand-up comedian in the universe, Jonathan Katz. So, I went to him at his home and showed him the piece and said, “How would you like to be the doctor? I’ll even call it Dr. Katz because it’s a nice Jewish name.” He said, “Cool.”
Jonathan Katz, “Dr. Katz”: Tom and I had a small business where, you know, at one point, the U.S. Government was paying farmers not to grow wheat. There was too much wheat available in the world. It had to do with the marketplace. It made sense for Americans not to grow wheat. Tom and I were actually being paid not to grow wheat when we first met, both of us. We never actually grew wheat, we just realized you could get paid not to grow wheat. So, it just seemed like a good business opportunity. Then, we moved on to not doing other things after that. That was our biggest financial success. We made quite a bit of money not growing wheat.
Snyder: He was, and still is, a comic’s comic. Comedians loved him, which was great because, when we decided to have comedians be patients, a lot of comedians were excited about the idea of working with Jonathan because they respected his craft so much. So it was easy. And then the first couple comedians were very well-known guys: Dom Irrera, Ray Romano, Steven Wright. That made it easy, too, because once they had a couple well-known comics on and people saw how well the show worked, they wanted to be on, too. It was not hard lining up patients. Plus, they all enjoyed playing the role of someone who was incredibly f*cked up and needed therapy because they probably were [laughs]. Don’t quote me.