Geoff Katz

I hadn’t heard from Geoff Katz in a long time. A former student of mine, Geoff was an amiable, witty guy who was nuts about improv and was a regular at my Monday night improvisation class. At some point, he took me aside and told me that he had been diagnosed with cancer and that he was about to begin chemotherapy.

He continued to come to class after that, but less regularly. I would, of course, ask him how he was, but – knowing from my own experience with Parkinson’s – I never let the disease or the situation define him. I didn’t think he wanted pity; he wanted respect and he wanted to do improv. But I often thought of him.

At some point, he came to class and told me that the cancer had gone into remission. That was great news. But eventually it came back, and I didn’t see Geoff again.

Then, as I was working on the computer one day, an announcement popped up on my screen that told me I had received an email. I saw that it was from Geoff, and it was the most remarkable letter I had ever received. The subject line was witty: “Checking in before checking out,” and it began simply enough.

“Hi, Tom,” he wrote. “Hope things are going well for you and SNI [Sunday Night Improv]. I know you’re dealing with Parkinson’s, and I hope it’s progressing slowly. Can’t say the same for me.  I have gone through a couple of immunotherapy trials because chemotherapy no longer works. Unfortunately, the trials have not been successful and have made my body unable to handle other trials. So, I just started home hospice for the weeks or few months I’ve got left. 

“Wanted you to know that the improv classes I took for five years were amongst the best adult activities I’ve experienced; truly like nothing else. I think my abs are much stronger from all the belly laughs each Monday.  Was a great way to forget the outside world and just have pure fun like we did as kids. 

“Thank you for welcoming me into the group and being an important part of my Monday night happiness. My wife will plan a memorial service shortly after I pass. Please don’t feel any obligation to come, but I will have her add you to her email list. And feel free to extend the invite to the folks who knew me well.’’

Geoff had always been a class act, always thinking of others before himself. Who else would say, “Don’t feel any obligation to come” to his memorial service? How could I not?

He loved the classes so much – that he would write me in his last days to thank me tells you a lot about the man – and he never tired of doing two-person scenes. For the film Hugh Go Your Way (2011) a movie I produced and wrote, Geoff got a “based on material by” credit for work he had done. He appeared in three scenes, which were based on improvisations he had done, and all three were funny.

Geoff worked as a programmer and later moved into advertising (he worked for the advertising arm of Razorfish); he was often flying to Chicago on business, and he usually turned up at class in “business casual” as opposed to, as he put it, “the rest of the class, which was ‘casual casual.’” But he was no stuffed shirt; he was willing to take chances in a scene, and often surprised me with the intensity of his work. (“Which you worked hard to bring out of me,” he wrote me once. “Witty one-liners are the opposite of intense.”)

He came to class in 2007 because someone had given him something called a “Gifty Box,” which gave him two classes for free. Afterwards, he came up to me and said that the class was “interesting.” He reminded me of that statement years later, and remembered a subsequent talk we had after he had been taking classes for years, where I apparently said to him: “When someone says the class was ‘interesting,’ I don’t expect them to return.” But he came back regularly, and although he said to me, “I wasn’t as good as a lot of the people in the class.” He added: “But it was all about the ride.”

After I received Geoff’s email, I wrote him a note:

“What can I say? I was very moved by your email and am very sad to hear of your condition. 

“It’s strange to think of you in the past tense. Although we haven’t seen each other in some time, when Monday rolls around every week, I sometimes half expect to see you, coming in at 7:05, with a class card in your hand that still has a few punches left on it, saying, ‘Is this still good?’

“I always will remember laughing at scenes you did, especially at the 78th Street Theater Lab, and your intense seriousness after each class when you would ask me how you could have improved your work in a particular scene. You learned quickly and were one of many funny people in a particularly funny class, with Rob, Wayne, Rosemary, Juliette, Peggy, Larry, Steve, Marc, David, Steve (Dave), and Paul Saputo, with his ‘Saputo chairs.’ Do you remember that strange lawyer, Jay, who threatened to ‘take out’ Rob – but not on a date? And how many times did you assume a Pakistani accent because you were in a scene with Rob? (Then there’s your brief career as an Apar Films star, in your ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ part in Flowers Are for Funerals and your ‘brothers’ scene with Chris Griggs and your ‘drunk and fainting’ scene with Alex Greene in Hugh Go Your Way. Was that really six years ago?)

“Most of all, however, I remember your excitement about improv, your enthusiasm, and your dedication to the craft. In my mind you are – and always will be – one of the best of the ‘true believers,’ that family of performers who lived in the small town of Creosote, N.M., where ‘flashbacks’ and ‘meanwhiles’ were commonplace, and where old-timers knew when to get off the Plot Train (because phrases like ‘our plan is working perfectly’ meant you were on a one-way ticket to Palookaville), and they’d know to transfer to the ‘Relationship Local.’ That would take them to the little town of Soterville, a place where no one would talk to strangers and everyone would always have a relationship (which meant having ‘history, feelings, and needs’), a place where justifications were sometimes required and one-word stories always made sense (except when they didn’t), and, finally, a place where everyone said yes, everyone listened, observed, and communicated, and everyone had fun because, as someone once said, ‘You might as well have fun because you’re not going to make a lot of money doing improv.’

“We had fun. You are a very funny fellow.

“Adios, amigo. I’ll miss you.”

October 6, 2017; revised October 14, 2017

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