My good friend Ian Lendler, author of Alcoholica Esoterica, checked out a couple of the shows from the excellent San Francisco Sketchfest for the blog. He’s got two reports from this past weekend. This is his first.
So the San Francisco Sketchfest line-up looked something like this:
- Kids In the Hall re-union
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 on-stage riffing on “Plan 9 From Outer Space”
- an evening with Gene Wilder
- evening with Mort Sahl
- and pretty much every sketch group and comedian you can think of
SFSketchfest is clearly throwing its hat in the ring to make the Aspen and Montreal Comedy Fests look like corporate wussies. Simply put, I love this festival. So the question looms: with a limited amount of money to spend, what show to see?
For Your Dead Frog Correspondent (YDFC), the answer was simple: An Evening with Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (and Patients).
Why? It reminds me of the golden days. When Comedy Central was trying odd shows, intelligent shows, before they devolved into the Daily Show/South Park/and also-lots-of-things-which-suck network.
But mainly, the show had the strangest comedic timing this side of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, courtesy of Dr. Katz and the funniest human being on the planet, Jon Benjamin, playing his son, Ben. Comedy is all about timing and the show’s laconic rhythms made it a unique source of humor. You didn’t hear jokes like it anywhere else on television.
Comedians value anyone who can wring laughs out of people with a unique style, and perhaps that’s why Jonathan Katz became something of a comedian’s comedian. And he returned the favor, giving a spot on his couch to a number of comedians before they hit the big-time.
Witness the quality of the comedians willing to riff with him for Sketchfest: Bob Odenkirk, Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford, Andy Kindler, Eugene Mirman, and of course, Jon Benjamin.
That’s to say nothing of the surprise patients that showed up each night. On Friday, it was Robin Williams sporting a giant horse head… umm… for no particular reason. And on Saturday, The Office’s actor/writer/producer, B.J. Novak.
So the question was: What would Dr. Katz be like on-stage? Two people facing each other in a faux-therapy situation and speaking in quiet tones is a tough sell. Fortunately, the crowd was there to show its love.
To be honest, the show wouldn’t qualify as the funniest event of the festival. But then again, the television show was never guffawingly uproarious. It just charmed you with its quirkiness. And Dr. Katz certainly did that on-stage. He was clearly enjoying playing the straight man as he giggled his way through setting up each comedian for their jokes.
The stand-out patient was Andy Kindler. Though he’s always struck me as a little too reliant on “I’m a Jew” humor, his anguished worrying turned the show into something out of Portnoy’s Complaint.
This highlighted an odd quirk of the television show. The best guests used Dr. Katz’s couch in the intimate confessional style of a real psychiatric office. That was why Ray Romano and Emo Philips’s low self-esteem kvetching made them better guests than, say, Mitch Hedberg, who despite being a far superior stand-up, just delivered his normal one-liners.
So despite the fact that B.J. Novak is a certified genius for his work on The Office, his funny one-liners (“People love Popeye, but he’s a devious guy. He opened a chain of restaurants and he doesn’t serve spinach at any of them…Popeye wants to keep us weak.”) simply came off as funny one-liners and nothing more.
Kudos should also be given to Robin Williams, who seemed on the verge of launching into his standard once-inspired now-tiresome riff-shtick until he veered into panic attack mode (“Dr. Katz, you told me go into rehab. Now my career’s in the toilet. What do I do?”).
Dr. Katz, too, provided the audience with the briefest moment of confession, revealing that he suffers from multiple sclerosis. Although he was just as quick to brush off this bad news with what he openly confessed was the worst joke of the evening: “How do you deal with terminal illness? Some people climb Mount Everest. Some people sleep with lots of women. I’m going to mount Geena Davis.”
Which just goes to show that Dr. Katz may enjoy being the straight man for other comedians, but Fate is the best straight man of all. And in that case, Dr. Katz is more than willing to take his place on the couch and find the punch-line.