Now, as a standup comic 23 years later, Katz mines the vagaries of vegans and the dangers of dating for comedy gold and couldn’t be happier with his chosen profession.
“It’s like an addiction,” he said of doing standup. “After a while I just can’t stop.”
Katz, who has done standup on HBO, Comedy Central and shows including “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “Last Call with Carson Daly,” is the headliner today through Sunday at the St. Louis at . A decade into a career making people laugh, he still loves the life of a traveling jokester.
“I got out of college, and I’ve just been doing this,” he said. “So my adult life is this, it’s just what I do now. And what keeps it fresh is I can feel I’m getting better and I’m trying to push myself and move in different ways. I know that I have a long way to go, so there’s always more and more to do. So if it’s not fresh, it’s my own fault. I have to write more, and write differently, and push myself in a new direction.”
Katz, 32, grew up in Los Angeles and started his comedy writing at age nine, when jokes he submitted to “The Tonight Show” as part of a school project were read on the air by Carson.
“They were doing a bit on ‘The Tonight Show’ like ‘kids say the darnedest things.’ They would ask random questions of kids at local elementary schools, and then he would read the answers on TV,” Katz said. “So two of mine, he read them on TV.”
This is mentioned prominently in Katz’s biography, but it’s not quite the whole story.
“A bunch of other kids also got their jokes read on television, but none of them became comedians, so they don’t get to put that in their resume,” he said. “(My jokes) weren’t that funny, but my mom had ‘em on a loop at my bar mitzvah, playing on a TV in the corner.”
The theme for the jokes was Thanksgiving. The question was, “If you were a turkey, what would you say to a farmer to keep him from killing you?” Katz’s joke was “Here’s a check for a million dollars.” So Carson said to
Ed McMahon, “Oh, this must be your kid.” The audience laughed, but Katz wasn’t sure why.
“It was a Publisher’s Clearinghouse joke,” he said. “I didn’t get that. I didn’t know what that was. But he helped me out. He gave it a better set-up, and he closed the whole bit with that one.”
Katz “always knew” he wanted to be funny, and got his first shot as part of an Asian sketch comedy group in college at the University of California, Berkeley.
His most memorable bit was sitting off-stage and providing the intentionally badly dubbed English dialogue for a kung-fu fight acted by other members of the group. The experience gave him confidence, and the location was also a hotbed for comedy.
“It was a really great place to start doing standup,” he said. “The San Francisco bay area has a tradition of it. It’s a wonderful place to start.”
There are plenty of venues for a beginning comic, and it’s both near Los Angeles and far enough away.
“When you’re ready, the (show business) industry can see you,” he said. “But when you’re not, you can just work on your craft, and no one (in the industry) does see you until you’re good to go.”
Katz has been using New York City as home base, but he recently moved back to Los Angeles. It’s TV pilot season in Los Angeles, which makes a good excuse to move.
“I’m going out to LA, not to audition for pilots, but just to escape winter,” he said. “I don’t want to be in winter. So I’m pretending it’s for pilot season, but I’m really trying to not ever be in winter again.”
For a single guy like Katz, moving from New York to Los Angeles has called for a reassessment of dating protocol.
“There are different techniques,” he said. “In LA or almost anywhere else, you go out and there’s a two o’clock last call. So if you can seal the deal and get them home, or some place, earlier, you’re good to go. Whereas in New York, you kind of keep pushing it and pushing it, because you’re just gonna get drunker and drunker. So that’s a different technique. Also, it’s
easier to meet people in New York, because people are around each other and talk to each other more."
Plus, there is the question of logistics, which can play to a guy’s advantage.
“You’re usually hanging out in Manhattan, but people live all over the place. And the trains don’t run as often at night, so what I do,” he said, laughing, “is go, ‘You can either take an hour-and-a-half subway ride, or you can take a cab with me back to my place, and then we’ll be home.’ So that also works out. That’s a nice little New York trick.”
Relationship humor has wide appeal to audiences, but well-crafted jokes are going to connect, regardless of the subject.
“That’s one of the coolest parts about traveling around to all these different places, is seeing people you think might be super different from you, and you go there, and if a joke is a solid joke, it works,” Katz said. “Maybe they don’t all work. Maybe some work better than others. But a well-written joke is a well-written joke.”
Katz discusses adult subjects with occasional use of frank adult language. But he should not be lumped in with comics who use foul language for shock value laughs without having a solid joke behind them.
“I am more sensitive to that, because I am kind of dirtier, but I think it’s done well,” he said. “When it’s done badly, it’s like the worst, because it’s gross and it’s not funny.”
Katz can clean up the language if he feels an audience might be offended.
“Usually what I try to do is write uncensored,” he said. “And then all the stuff I’ve done on TV, I’ve gone back and kind of tweaked it for television. So because the writing is solid, even without the curse words, it still works.”
On a road trip through the South with another comedian just before Thanksgiving, Katz found occasion to test this theory. One night Katz worked in a “weird, redneck, hipster dive bar” for a “drunk and crazy” crowd in Chattanooga, so the act was “down and dirty,” he said.
“The very next day, I’m performing for my friend’s entire extended family,” he said. “Literally, there were like four other people besides 50 of his family members, and then I was going to have Thanksgiving dinner with them the next day. So if I mess up, or I say something really horrible, I’m staying at their house and I’m seeing them all the next day. So it was cool to make my act work for both of those totally different crowds.”
Katz, who hopes to do more TV work before ultimately becoming a filmmaker, still enjoys the excitement of making people laugh wherever he
“It’s the best,” he said. “It’s especially the best when it’s something new. When I’m working on something new, and it works, that’s my favorite feeling. But yeah, I don’t know how to describe it, except it’s awesome. There’s nothing like it.”
The Funny Bone is located at 614 West Port Plaza.
Katz will perform at 8 and 10:30 p.m. today; 7:30, 10 and 11:58 p.m.
Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are $13 and $18 today and Saturday and $10 Sunday and are available at the box office, by calling the box office at 314-469-6692 or online.