Meet Fellow Mark Katz

Mark Katz, for the eight years of the Clinton presidency, had a job the founding fathers could not have fathomed: the White House in-house humor speechwriter. Working directly with the president and his communications team, Mark helped prepare the president’s annual remarks to the Gridiron, Alfalfa and White House Correspondents Association dinners, more than two dozen speeches in all. Today Mark continues to work with CEOs and their companies to create winning presentations for critical audiences. He is the founder/principal of the Soundbite Institute, a self-styled creative think tank for speechwriting and creative content projects whose clients include leading media, finance and hospitality companies and nonprofit organizations. A failed sitcom writer, recovering copywriter and New York Times worst-selling author, he is also a storyteller who frequently takes to the stage of The Moth and other storytelling forums.

I am interested in utilizing my comedic communication skills to help seminal figures in Jewish history who are in search of an audience to whom they might explain themselves to us moderns. And how I might I create a forum where those who lived our Biblical backstory could be heard by a modern audience? Here is the project I propose: A live performance in the format of a TV-talk show where ancient Jews known only to us through lore and texts come alive and sit across the desk from a modern-era comedic host and have a fun and illuminating chat. Working title: The Jewnight Show. What is the purpose of this time-bending scenario? Biblical characters have often fascinating storylines but the Bible often fails to provide insight into their inner lives. The exercise I propose can serve to add a second or third dimension to the sparse accounts of their motives, rationalizations and perspectives. By lending these ancient Jews a modern humor voice, we can understand them as more fully realized and accessible humans. Just as these Jews of yore handed down to us our Jewish culture, we have something to offer them in return: the distinctive humor born of the modern Jewish experience! Which is how I came to the idea of inviting them to the couch adjacent to a TV talk show desk. By putting a handful of these proto pop-stars on a late night comedy set, we can invite them into our world for a visit and a chance to get to know them better. And as humor is the coin of the realm in late night shows, the supernatural premise of ancient Hebrews cracking wise on the personality showcase that is a TV chat show might seem oddly natural.

LABA is a unique fellowship. What drew you to apply?
The opportunity to identify a fertile idea that explores the theme of Jews and humor and engage other fertile comic/Jewish minds to get if off the page and into a room where all can enjoy and learn from it.

What is your favorite East Village spot?
Katz’s Deli (no relation). And before that, Ratners.

What is the worst thing that ever made you laugh?
In retrospect, Bill Cosby comedy albums.