He’s not a doctor, but he played one on TV.
Standup comic Jonathan Katz is the brains behind the dearly departed animated series “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,” which ran on Comedy Central from 1995 to 1999.
Using a distinctive squiggly style of animation, the show featured Katz as a New York shrink who treated mostly other standup comedians. Former “patients” included Ray Romano, Dave Chappelle and Dom Irrera. Thus for the entire run of the series, there was never a shortage of laughs.
Katz hopes the same will be true when he headlines this year’s “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy,” the Bay Area Jewish community’s annual answer to reindeer and jingle bells. For the past 17 years, comic-impresario Lisa Geduldig has organized the four-day extravaganza of standup comedy, Chinese food and Jewish audiences.
The eight shows take place Dec. 24 to 27 at the New Asia Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Also on the bill are “science comedian” Brian Malow, “Jewish princess of darkness” Hilary Schwartz and Geduldig.
This is not Katz’s first experience with the December dilemma of what’s a Jew to do on the 25th. He remembers playing the Improv in New York one Christmas night, fully expecting an empty house.
“Then Jews started showing up,” he recalled. “And more Jews.”
He says some of his jokes work only with Jewish audiences. Like the bit about Jewish fans of his old show: The Orthodox among them have two sets of satellite dishes.
Though “Dr. Katz” has been off the air for a decade, it lives on thanks to DVD, YouTube and the occasional rerun. As proud as he is of the series, Katz, 63, doesn’t live in the past. He’s still out there on the comedy circuit, despite living with a decidedly unfunny diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
“It’s better than cancer and worse than a cold,” said Katz in a recent interview. “No two people have the same version [of the disease]. It’s affected my mobility and vision.”
But, thankfully, not his wit.
Katz grew up in Brooklyn in what he called “a typical Jewish home. There was always food on the table. Sometimes it would sit there for weeks. It was disgusting.”
His father served for a term as president of the famous Park Avenue Synagogue. Katz attended Hebrew school and had a bar mitzvah, though not all his memories of his Jewish youth are happy.
He remembers not liking Passover because of his sadistic Uncle Morty, who would “hide the afikomen in South America.”
Though his act is not “particularly Jewish,” Katz still manages to slip his Jewish sensibility into his work. In his early days as a musician, one original song included the lyric “Look what love is doing to us/It seems like every day’s Shavuos.”
Earlier in his standup career Katz was a regular on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “Late Night with David Letterman.” But it was “Dr. Katz” that put him on the map. The show earned him an Emmy, and even 15 years after its first airing it still elicits big laughs.
He said the “magic of ‘Dr. Katz’ happened in the editing. We did 40 hours of audio for every [30-minute] episode.”
That could explain the improvisational quality to the show’s dialogue, which makes “Dr. Katz” sometimes feel like a precursor to “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and may even have influenced that hit HBO show. Larry David, creator of “Curb,” met with Katz in the ’90s to inquire how he nailed such natural-sounding dialogue.
Another fascinating fun fact about Katz: His best friend is the award-winning playwright David Mamet. Katz says Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” was inspired by summer jobs the two had at a Chicago real estate office.
“I made $85,” Katz said, “and he won a Pulitzer.”
Katz has done pretty well since then, too. In addition to his standup, he provided voices on episodes of the Cartoon Network show “Home Movies,” and he has his own podcast called “Hey We’re Back.”
Playing live audiences remains his biggest thrill. And it appears to have gotten even more thrilling over time.
“For the first 15 years I did the same act every night,” he recalled. “I was terrified [that] if a joke didn’t work, I would not get paid. Then someone else pointed out I should enjoy myself.”
The 17th annual “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy” takes place Dec. 24-27 at the New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave., S.F. Two shows nightly. Tickets: $42-$62, which includes seven-course sit-down meal. Information: (925) 275-9005 or www.koshercomedy.com.