Alan Katz, L.A.'s Most Hilarious Wedding Officiant
|Alan Katz marries an estimated 1,000 couples each year.|
It's a mellow day at Point Dume. A scattering of beachgoers lies in the Malibu sand or walks ankle-deep inxto the waves, while the occasional sandal-clad hiker ascends the adjacent hilly path. Over to the side, near a rough wall of boulders that jut out into the ocean, a couple gets married by a stocky, jovial man in a flowery shirt. The ceremony couldn't be more intimate: It's just the three of them, plus the groom's hefty, well-behaved dog.
The soon-to-be husband is a rough-hewn, middle-aged guy with salty, punk-rock tattoos on his arms and legs; his bride is lithe and pretty in an L.A. trophy wife way, with a soft, European-sounding accent.
Their bond is sealed with some poetic words from the officiant, the stiff breeze carrying the squawking of nearby gulls.
For the newly married, it's a singular experience. For Alan Katz, the aforementioned officiant, it's just another day at work.
Katz is the king of wedding officiants-for-hire in Southern California. He estimates he's performed more than 4,000 ceremonies over the years, catering to the growing demographic of couples who prefer a nontraditional service, outside the places of religious worship where a priest or rabbi usually presides.
And in true showbiz style, Katz doesn't just offer basic ceremonies. If the couple wants, he'll perform the service in character as an icon like Father Guido Sarducci, Ozzy Osbourne, Borat or, of course, Elvis. An able impressionist, Katz, 51, came up as a comedic performer before transitioning to weddings.
"I've been an entertainer since I made my debut on The Gong Show at age 16," he recalls. "I did a burping act, demonstrating different kinds of burping."
Katz grew up in the west San Fernando Valley, moving to Long Beach with his mom in high school after his parents divorced.
After the burping act came stand-up comedy and, in his late 20s, an accidental foray into singing telegrams after doing a much-loved "Santa Claus" character at friends' parties. This led to the establishment of his own singing-telegram company, which offers 50 different characters -- a business that sounds like an anachronism but which he operates to this day.
Not long after he set up the telegram company, a friend randomly asked Katz to perform his wedding. It went so well that more people asked, and it grew from there.
Today, Katz's Long Beach-based Great Officiants operatives travel around Southern California, performing an estimated 1,000 weddings a year, with Katz doing 70 percent of them himself. A typical ceremony is $375, with theme and custom-designed weddings going up from there.
Many take place at Great Officiants' 25-seat Long Beach chapel, but Katz has a vast knowledge of all the various weddings spots in the area, including his preferred beach spot at Zuma Beach near Point Dume.
"Being an entertainer and an improv person makes me the perfect person for the officiating job, because I can handle any situation," he says. "You never know what's gonna happen when you get in front of a group."
At one outdoor wedding, it was precisely the moment for the big matrimonial kiss when a helicopter came in low overhead, its blades chopping loudly.
"I seamlessly go into a little speech: 'I've hired this helicopter to fly at this precise moment to celebrate the heights of your marriage,' " he recalls proudly. " 'Every time you see a helicopter, lean over and give him a kiss.' "
But Katz doesn't just rely on clever improvisation. He is a firm believer in preparation.
"I approach it as, we're putting on the show, and the bride and groom are the stars," he says. "We write the show, we block it, we have everybody know their parts and we perform it in front of the crowd -- their audience. The audience becomes an integral part of the ceremony. It's a completely different approach than anybody else has ever taken."
In one case, Katz officiated on a Halloween cruise, with the groom dressed as a bunch of grapes, his bride as a bottle of wine and Katz himself outfitted as a Roman emperor.
Another time, Katz portrayed Borat in front of a culturally split audience. "Half the crowd was Latino and didn't know who Borat was," he recalls. "When I said, 'Do you take her as your No. 1 hooker?' half the crowd was like 'Que paso?!', while the other half was laughing in hysterics."
Katz even used to officiate at prison weddings. But it's one of the very few specialties he just can't bring himself to offer anymore.
"I hated having to ask why they were in there," he admits. "One time, this one prison bride says: 'It wasn't his fault. He was dealing the crack and the other guy tried to steal the crack and the knife slid off the counter and slit his throat. It wasn't his fault.' "
A large physical presence who's both relentlessly cheerful and congenitally honest, Katz refuses to get syrupy about the nature of his work: "A lot of people get married because they think they should, or they get pressured by families or girlfriends."
While currently single, Katz has married and divorced twice. (He has two kids with his first wife.) Of marriage, he says, "It's a great institution. And after a few years you need to be put in one." He adds, "But people are still walking into my office off the street every day."
While the officiant would like for all the couples he marries to stay madly in love forever, he is also a realist.
"There's an old Twilight Zone episode with ... a military man who can see the glow over his troops who aren't going to make it," he says. He adds, "I can see the glow over the couples that are going to make it."Follow us on Twitter at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.