You’re On The Air with Jonathan Katz

Jonathan Katz

Intro from Jay Allison: Okay, this work is IN PROCESS. The cuts here on Transom are excerpts. This is not a finished thing. That's all you need to know for now. When you listen, just pretend that you are hearing something like this on the radio. Then we can talk about how it might be framed, what could be added, how much or little introduction it needs, how the concept can be firmed up or if it needs to be. You can read more background here on this page about how things got this far. You can also hear what "The Next Big Thing" is doing with the idea. We hope that various participants/producers/talent will be along to talk about it all, even though they know that talking about comedy is a stupid thing to do.

These excerpts are pretty much uncut, samples of raw material that will be edited nicely and broadcast on WNYC’s “The Next Big Thing.” If you want more detail on the background of what’s happening here, scroll down. If you just want to hear these bits, unanalyzed (wise of you) then do that.

Audio Excerpts

With Tom Leopold

Download
Listen to “Smelling Through Your Mouth”
Download
Listen to “National Middle Name Day”
Download
Listen to “Pope Calling Collect”
Download
Listen to “An Invention”

With Ahna Tessler

Download
Listen to “Time Delay Sink”

With H. Jon Benjamin

Download
Listen to “Squirrel in a Hat”
Download
Listen to “Immortality of the Brain”

With Laura Silverman

Download
Listen to “Dog Love”

With Al Franken

Download
Listen to “Pope Calling Collect 2”
Download
Listen to “Victor Borge Cloud”

Background Notes

From Jay Allison

This is the wrong way to do this. You shouldn’t be reading this first; it will ruin the effect. And we cut the audio excerpts wrong too. We left in some preamble between the improvisers which destroys the illusion and we sometimes left in Jonathan laughing, which is out of character. We’re doing all this to honor Transom’s purpose of exposing and discussing process.

So, here’s what you do. Stop reading now and turn on the radio. Then, quickly turn off the radio and click on one of the RealAudio links from this page. Somehow convince yourself that these little fragments (without the setups and laughing) are coming over the air, unheralded. “Hello…you’re on the air with Jonathan Katz.”

From Jonathan Katz

As a “child of the sixties,” I see things from a slightly skewed vantage point. But recently I realized that people fall into one of two camps: those people who believe that history repeats itself and those people who believe that it’s the people who say that, who repeat themselves.

I have always had a burning desire to have a radio show and on that show I will take this stance:

HONESTY MAY NOT BE THE BEST POLICY, BUT IT’S THE ONLY ONE WITH IT’S OWN PROVERB

Process Notes

Even MORE Background Notes from Jay Allison

Still reading before listening? Shame on you. Okay. You were warned. Here’s all the ruinous-to-comedy process talk.

This started when Valerie Velardi and Davia Nelson began bugging Jonathan to think about getting on public radio. Jonathan was a tape recorder geek as a kid and had lots of old reels lying around — preserved fragments of himself, his sister, his parents and relatives. We began to make a piece out of this for Lost & Found Sound, which was later finished up by This American Life.

That was fun, but we still wanted to find ways to feature Jonathan’s uncanny timing in a more freeform way. The telephone. That’s where his quipping and timing are best. So, we figured we’d try some kind of phone thing. These were some of the ideas:

– A guy who calls operators and other phone workers and pesters them. “Do you have a listing in Miami for a hospice under the name ‘Jokers’?” “Do you have a listing for Bob Wilson in Canterbury…that’s ‘C’ as in ‘Canterbury,’ ‘A’ as in ‘anterbury,’ ‘N’ as in “nterbury”, etc.” The only states which legally permit this kind of immaturity are New York and Nevada. Next idea.

– A guy who *thinks* he has a call-in show, who answers his home phone, “Is the caller there?”

– A call screener for a call-in show. Maybe a crazy or irritating one. Jonathan even called some call screeners to find out more about this job. He irritated them.

– The host of a call-in show of undetermined nature. Maybe on sports, lovelife, technology, home and garden care, or all of it. Its title might be “Anything Goes.” Or maybe it’s a show about unexplainable phenomenon, “Seeing is Believing.” Or “Food for Thought.” Wait, that’s taken. Okay, something else. Who knows?

So we sort of went with this last idea and Jonathan sent out an email to various of his improvisatory friends and we set up a time for Jonathan to sit in our Cape & Islands radio stations and make the calls, one after the other. That’s what you will hear. Sometimes the imaginary show had the title “Seeing is Believing.” Sometimes it had no title at all and Jonathan surrendered his host identity to giggling.

Now we think the show is called “You’re On The Air With Jonathan Katz.” Dean Olsher and Amanda Aronczyk are pulling it together to fit in their show, “The Next Big Thing.” We’re putting it here at Transom (where Jonathan had a short piece a year ago, made in his attic) to deconstruct and analyze, because that’s what we do.


Email sent by Jonathan to his improvisation partners

On Monday, with your help, I'm recording a segment for a show on WNYC called "The Next Big Thing." The host of the show is Dean Olsher, pronounced Dean Olsher, will be helping us from his studio in NYC and Jay Allison, producer extraordinaire for public radio, will be helping from his studio in Woods Hole, Ma. We'll be pretending that you are the caller even though we will be generating the calls. These are some of the ideas I'd like to mess around with and because it will be edited, we can stop and start as much as you like.

Segments

#1
The first segment is called “FOOD FOR THOUGHT”, in which I play a call screener for a radio show called “Food for Thought”. Today’s topic might be “What would you do if you got a collect call from the Pope? Would you accept the charges? If not, why? Before I can “put you on the air” I’ll have to ask you a few quick questions. Thank you for your patience.

Another subject might be: how do you feel about our government spending your tax dollars on a “National Middle Name Day?”

#2
You’re on the air talking to the host of a radio show called: “SEEING IS BELIEVING” You’ve called in to describe something for which there is no scientific explanation.

#3
In a third segment, I will be happy to answer any questions revolving around professional sports, up to, and including three cushion billiards.

#4
Segment #4 is you calling me as the host of a show called: “YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE”. On this show, I’m an expert on any subject you want to talk about.

#5
The final segment is advice to people who are unlucky in love but good at cards.

Other possible areas: parenting, parenting your parents, health and nutrition, spirituality (I pretty much know it all). Thank you all in advance for your help and your continuing support of my pet cause, “The Nervous Tick.”

Love,
jonathan


Additional support for this work provided by
Open Studio Project
with funding from the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
and
The National Endowment for the Arts
NEA

Jonathan Katz

About
Jonathan Katz

Jonathan Katz, an author, producer, actor, comedian and musician, is one of the entertainment industry's most original and versatile creative personalities. He co-created and starred in the hit pop culture animated series "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist," which aired on Comedy Central for six seasons, a show that has been credited with branding that network as the home for sophisticated, smartly stupid humor. For his work on the series Katz received Comedy Central's first-ever Emmy Award (for Outstanding Primetime Voiceover Performance), the prestigious Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, and two Cable Ace Awards. As an actor, Jonathan has been praised for his roles in such recent movies as "Daddy Day Care" with Eddie Murphy ("excruciatingly funny") as well as in the David Mamet films "State and Main," "Things Change" and "The Spanish Prisoner," and opposite Janeane Garofalo in the 2002 release "The Independent." He also co-wrote the story for Mamet's critically acclaimed "House of Games." For the past several years, he has focused on creating innovative programming across different media platforms.  He created and produced "Raising Dad" for the WB, and more recently a television pilot, "Say Uncle" starring Lisa Kudrow and Katz, for Disney and Fox.  Jonathan is a regular contributor to public radio's "The Next Big Thing" and can be heard on the web at transom.org. His additional television credits include his own HBO special, a recurring role on CBS' "Ink," and an appearance as himself in the last season of HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show." Katz has made numerous guest appearances on "The Late Show with David Letterman," "The Tonight Show," "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher," for which he also served as creative consultant. Jonathan's first book To Do Lists of the Dead was published in 2000 by Andrews McMeel, and he is currently working on his new book, tentatively titled Humility:  What Is It and Where Can I Get Some? Originally a musician and songwriter, Katz fronted a rhythm and blues group called "Katz and Jammers" before serving as the musical director for Robin Williams' 1979 stand-up tour.  In 1981 he started working solo, doing a cabaret act that was mostly musical, and in between songs he began to lay the groundwork for his stand-up act. A native New Yorker, Jonathan moved to Boston twenty years ago and currently resides in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters. In 1997 Jonathan was diagnosed with MS.  A few weeks later he found out what those two letters represent (multiple sclerosis). For the last few years he has talked publicly about how this illness has impacted his life, and finds sharing his situation with others very enriching.  "Life goes on with the disease.  I use comedy to cope.  In fact I teach a course called ‘Coping with Comedians who use Comedy to Cope.'"

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  • Jay Allison

    6.27.02

    Reply
    On The Air With Jonathan Katz

    Okay, this work is IN PROCESS. The cuts here on Transom are excerpts. This is not a finished thing. That’s all you need to know for now. When you listen, just pretend that you are hearing something like this on the radio. Then we can talk about how it might be framed, what could be added, how much or little introduction it needs, how the concept can be firmed up or if it needs to be.

    You can read more background here on this page about how things got this far.

    You can also hear what WNYC’s The Next Big Thingis doing with the idea.

    We hope that various participants/producers/talent will be along to talk about it all, even though they know that talking about comedy is a stupid thing to do.

  • Andy Knight

    6.27.02

    Reply
    Hilarious!

    Jay, shouldn’t you be using your considerable power within the industry to turn this into a real show? Seriously, with shows like this, we could finally attain world domination!

  • Jay Allison

    6.28.02

    Reply
    a really real show

    turn this into a real show

    such a thought has occurred to us, yes.

  • Rich Alcott

    6.29.02

    Reply
    But who says it’s supposed to be funny? Cheeky, yes!

    Didn’t I hear that Tom Leopold guy doing his thing as John Walker Lindt on Harry Shearer’s "Le Show" some months ago? He’s got this droll, hyper-ironic thing going on. This answers the question, "Why isn’t there more comedy at transom.com?"

  • Rich Alcott

    6.29.02

    Reply
    The Ultimate Gift

    Also Laura Silverman is wonderful in "Dog Love." I love her. She is, however, missing the point that were her dog to eat her after she’d died, that dog would be showing the ultimate love. Laura’s DNA would be incorporated into the dog, nourish the tissue of the dog, and Laura’s consciousness would be absorbed up into the dog and her death therefore would be of great consequence to the dog. You’ve got to put yourself in the dog’s place and have a little understanding of how things really work in the animal kingdom.

    No? Oh, okay.

  • Rich Alcott

    6.29.02

    Reply
    Hello? Hello?

    Hey, I’m talking to myself here.

  • Andy Knight

    6.30.02

    Reply

    I’m talking to yourself as well. This needs to be a real show and I need to be the one who screens the callers. Specifically, I will screen them for Depression, Dyslexia and Alzheimers.

  • Jeremy Hobson

    6.30.02

    Reply
    A piece of my mind

    Dr. Katz…

    Couple of questions. When you were recording this, I assume it was improvised. Do you find that you get funnier stuff when you record off the cuff or when you write your jokes down, practice them, and then record? How much improv was in your comedy central show?

    Also…sometimes I find that public radio shows achieve the humor they’re aiming for….and without naming any names, sometimes they don’t. So what do you think these shows could do to get me laughing like I did when I listened to you and Tom Leopold or Al Franken? Do you think a show like "Seeing is Believing" fits with the mission of public radio?

    Finally, I used to record stuff like this all the time when I was growing up…hey, I still do….did you used to record shows, sketches, etc. before you decided to make a living out of it? Thanks…glad to have you on the transom.

  • Mary McGrath

    7.01.02

    Reply

    I think hands down the worst public radio talk shows I’ve ever produced were ones that were meant to be funny. Counting on people to be funny – LIVE – is not funny. It’s deadly and painful. Having a comedian for a host would help and having call-outs to comedians would help and not doing it live would help…But here’s a deep question: Can regular people be funny on public radio? Does Dr. K like talking to the hoi poloi on the phone?

  • J.S. Van Buskirk

    7.01.02

    Reply

    Gold star for Mr. Leopold’s use of "bonhomie"

    The "squirel in a hat" gets top honors.

  • Mary McGrath

    7.02.02

    Reply

    This is great stuff. What happens after it hits the airwaves at ‘NYC? Will he do more and is the idea to figure out what works best and then develop a regular show?

  • Jeremy Hobson

    7.02.02

    Reply
    Mega dittos from Macon, Georgia

    It would be a GREAT show…and best without unfunny listeners calling in. Just comedians. But wouldn’t listeners be unhappy if they were listening to a call-in show that they couldn’t call into? Mary – did you get a lot of angry Connection listeners who couldn’t call in when the program was re-aired at night?

  • Amanda

    7.02.02

    Reply
    Hi Mary!

    Yup – "You’re on the air with Jonathan Katz" has hit the airwaves… it’s a collaboration with Transom and the Next Big Thing, a show out of WNYC hosted by Dean Olsher. We’re hoping to have the segment on every month or so.

  • Sydney Lewis

    7.02.02

    Reply
    forget leopold and loeb

    As long as the callers are funny, doesn’t seem like this would need much framing — host of a call-in show, caller, it doesn’t matter what the topic is, what the name is — though I’m kinda fond of "seeing is believing" ….Nothing matters as long as you have Leopold and Franken as regular callers! I nearly peed myself…
    Plus, I liked hearing Katz crack up, it made it "feel" live.

  • Andy Knight

    7.03.02

    Reply

    I liked the laughing, too. It wasn’t overdone like a few commercial morning shows I could mention. Bob and Tom being one and Howard Stern being another.

    While I agree with Mary about the dangers of call in shows and unfunny wannabe comics (they get them all the time on Whad’ya Know?), I also think that they could be screened out, to a degree. I’d like to see what Katz can do with a Joe or Jane Average who isn’t trying to be funny. Consider Letterman with his mom or Biff Henderson. Perhaps with the help of a panel of experts comprised of various joke components (Bartender, Nun, Psychic, Lawyer, Hillbilly) he could attempt to answer any question someone may ask.

  • Jay Allison

    7.03.02

    Reply
    The Phone

    The call-in thing with real callers is something we wanted to try and may still. Actually, Jonathan preferred to call out to random citizens, but there are legal issues with this, except, evidently, in New York and Nevada.

    In the meantime, as above, I’ll happily listen Benjamin, Leopold, Franken, Silverman, Tessler, et. al. rif on any topic.

  • jonathan katz

    7.03.02

    Reply
    true love

    these are things i love in no particular order: the sound of my own voice, listening to public radio, laughing uncontrollably, making other people laugh (controlably?.)

    doing this project with jay allison has brought me closer to finding true love.

    fondly,

    jonathan

  • jonathan katz

    7.03.02

    Reply
    in response to hilarious

    i would say "there is a lot more where that came from" but it seems a little cocky. there is some more where that came from.

    jpk

    thank you

  • jonathan katz

    7.03.02

    Reply
    tom leopold

    is to comedy, what_________is to meat. the man tickles me.

    jpk

    and yes, he has a long hilarious history on the air at le show with harry shearer.

  • jonathan katz

    7.03.02

    Reply
    dog love

    rich, i’ll forward your message to laura. maybe she’ll make an appearance hear herself.

    jpk

  • jonathan katz

    7.03.02

    Reply
    i can’t live lilke this

    hi jeremy,

    i recorded anything that was loud enough to be recorded as a kid. check out the link to ira glass. i used to memorize the material of lenny bruce and a duo called burns a shreiber. i was burns…and schreiber.

    jpk

  • jonathan katz

    7.03.02

    Reply
    hoi poloi

    i love the hoi poloi it’s the riff raff that get on my nerves. i would love to talk to real people but i can’t seem to find any.

    jonathan

  • Jay Allison

    7.03.02

    Reply
    funny

    My favorite part of this was watching Jonathan (one of our nation’s great deadpan artists) giggle. Uncontrollably. In cutting the excerpts, the first thought was to drop the level on his track, so that he would stay in "character" whatever that was. But it was too much fun to hear him giggling, so we left it in.

    What do others think? Does it mess up the illusion, what little there is, to have him laughing? Would it work better deadpan? Or is the giggling as infectious as it seems to me, so-what-the-hell let’s leave it in.

    Are the folks from The Next Big Thing here? Can you talk about the context you created? (note: if you haven’t heard their arrangement of the material, go check it out at TNBT at WNYC. They’ll have more coming out in coming weeks.)

  • J.S. Van Buskirk

    7.03.02

    Reply
    callers being funny

    To have funny callers – pro’s, hoi polloi, or whatever – it is probably necessary to have callers that make Mr. Katz laugh (like the excerpts here). It is the interplay, the mutually "gotten" joke that is really tickling about these. David Letterman with Bif or his Mom- he is usually cracking himself up, and the audience gets to come with.

    Unrelatedly, "Cartoon Therapist Dr. _____" was a clue in my crossword yesterday.

  • Viki Merrick

    7.06.02

    Reply
    Jonathan katz (actual size)

    so – based on the photo caption, I figure life would be ok if we could carry you around with us – in a pocket for example. I think everyone should have one. I am saving up…

    The only worry of a real live show is that you can’t screen for funny so easily and what if you got to laughing …at how unfunny it was … is that ok too? On the other hand, think of the possiblities of Seeing is Believing – it’s gotta inspire some great calls, not pre-conceived.

  • Rich Alcott

    7.06.02

    Reply
    If I may presume

    As process, these pieces are extraordinary. As a show, this is like Jonathan Katz’s breathing into the microphone as a kid: amusing in its self-indulgence. And as much as I appreciate the insight into improvisational technique, indicated by Katz’s lack of self-control hearing the terrific stuff his pals are coming up with, I think in any polished show — if there really is one here — he’d want to cut that stuff out. As good as the stuff is — squirrel in a hat is wonderful, Al Franken giving the pope "a piece of his mind" is brilliant (he sounds drunk here) — there’s a flatness to the bits. These are high-powered drop-ins. How tough is it for comedians to be funny? Isn’t that what they do for a living?

    What makes Letterman’s technique of doing comedy with civilians so masterful is that he is simultaneously mocking and elevating the just-plain-folks he’s working with. Letterman makes us see the comedy in everyday life. By taking people off the street and involving them in comedy bits, he allows regular, not especially funny people to experience the joy of coaxing laughter out of what is an essentially nervous business.

    Katz could easily take phone calls from unsuspecting strangers and set them up to be hapless straight men and women to his comedy. That isn’t what he’s doing here, though. He’s working with hilarious professionals. He’s the straight man. But then he blows the tension by laughing and you see that it’s just a process. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing here, at transom.org. I’m suggesting that to be an effective straight man, he’d have to do what he’s best at and keep a straight face.

    You know as well as I do that Car Talk is at its most irritating when the brothers are blowing character. A little goes a long way. They are essentially civilians who happen to find each other endlessly amusing. Their thing is that they are grown brothers who apparently love each other enough to work together.

    It’s funny when you see Bud Abbott blow it on stage, working with Lou Costello. It shows he’s in on the gag. But he quickly pulls himself together and stays in character.

    Jonathan Katz doesn’t need us to tell him how to do comedy. If he wanted to do "Seeing is Believing" as a bit on somebody’s public radio show, he could work at home, on the phone with his pals and never run out of material. Not a bad gig for a guy who likes nothing better than to listen to the sound of his own voice.

  • Rich Alcott

    7.07.02

    Reply
    Hello? Hello?

    It’s my b.o., isn’t it? Come on, you can tell me.

  • Rich Alcott

    7.07.02

    Reply
    Odd phonics in this room

    Jeez, there really a huge echo in here. Did someone leave the reverb on? Sounds like an old Elvis record. Or is everybody out at the beach?

    And what’s this huge pall of smoke covering the Northeast today? Is something burning? Is it breakfast? Is it God’s bong hit?

  • Jay Allison

    7.08.02

    Reply
    character

    Rich wrote:

    And as much as I appreciate the insight into improvisational technique, indicated by Katz’s lack of self-control hearing the terrific stuff his pals are coming up with, I think in any polished show — if there really is one here — he’d want to cut that stuff out.

    I agree with this. It’s fun for Transom, but might feel too clubby on the air. I think because this was the first time at something none of us had a really clear idea about, Jonathan (and he can correct me, harshly) was busy setting up everyone else and making them feel appreciated, and so wasn’t really concentrating on his own "character." In fact, his identity as host of this theoretical call-in show is one element that could still use some refining.

  • Mary McGrath

    7.17.02

    Reply
    Hoi

    Have you ever randomly called people on the phone for fun? When I was a kid phony phone calls was sport. Remember the "Mishigas" segement on Charles LaQuidera’s morning show on WBCN in Boston? It was uneven but sometimes it could be very funny. The stuff we talk about on the phone is so mundane it’s kind of funny. Maybe you should experiment.

  • Amanda

    7.29.02

    Reply
    Pope Call

    This weekend (August 3rd-4th) on the Next Big Thing we’ll be airing "You’re on the Air with Jonathan Katz". This time, Jonathan is asking listeners: "Would you accept a collect call from… the Pope?".
    For stations and times, visit: http://www.nextbigthing.org

  • Angela Lee

    1.10.04

    Reply
    To John Katz: Reference -videos

    Mr. Katz,

    I am a Dr. Katz fan and would like to inquire about available episodes of your animated TV classic. Do you have a web site that provides VHS tapes of this series available for purchase? If not, then who does? I would like to purchase some tapes.

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