drew fralick

Hilarious, Loveable, Friendly

Corrective Action Plan: Part 2

Dear reader, have you ever read Lord of the Rings? I mean the book, not Peter Jackson’s 65 hour long trying-to-win-an-Academy-Award-in-every-scene monstrosity that psychiatrists sometimes prescribe to insomnia patients when they do not respond favorably to Ambien?

Remember the scene with the massive spider?

 

They walked as it were in a black vapour wrought of veritable darkness itself that, as it was breathed, brought blindness not only to the eyes but to the mind, so that even the memory of colours and of forms and of any light faded out of thought. Night always had been, and always would be, and night was all.

Frodo, Mr. Frodo!' he called. 'Don't leave me here alone! It's your Sam calling. 'Don't go where I can't follow! Wake up, Mr. Frodo! O wake up, Frodo, dear me. Wake up!' [...]

   And suddenly he saw that he was in the picture that was revealed to him in the mirror of Galadriel in Lórien: Frodo with a pale face lying fast asleep under a great dark cliff. Or fast asleep he had thought then. 'He's dead!' he said. 'Not asleep, dead!' And as he said it, as if the words had set the venom to its work again, it seemed to him that the hue of the face grew livid and green. 

Frodo wrapped in spider webs. Spolier alert: this is also what the auditor looked like after eating lunch

Frodo wrapped in spider webs. Spolier alert: this is also what the auditor looked like after eating lunch

This generally describes the condition of the factory packing area. Like a haunted house in the middle of rural China. Except that instead of being haunted by ghosts it is noisy (decible levels regularly reached: 130dB, which caused outrage from HOC Key personnel resulting in earplugs [that workers refused to use] being issued out), and full of 16 to 23 year old women packing trays into boxes for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. There were so many spider webs in that place they could have filmed Indiana Jones there. It was like that time the owlish secretary at work decorated the office for halloween and found the only way to express her repressed nature was to overuse the cheesy looking spider webs, but no one called her out on it because she regularly did others expense reports for them (I mean who likes doing their own expense reports?). It was a NEST.     

 

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The full scale audit was being carried out today. Invectivaire, the Corporate Social Responsibility/Safety/Quality Control (i.e. your one-stop shop for factory audits) had sent their young associate auditor on the 11 hour flight from California to gather data, give ratings and more specifically find out how the heck a spider got into a sandwich tray! This was his first trip to China, and while excited to be here, still he sat nervously in the factory meeting room waiting for everyone to arrive.

The meeting room at the factory had a long fake wooden table with a window at one of the table and a white board hanging on a wall at the other end. Because of the spider incident a meeting was called the next day and everyone involved in production and the Quality and Technology Deqartment were told to come. Before the meeting the workers stood huddled in the hallway outside chatting amongst themselves. They all wore the same uniform blue pants, blue top and blue hats. For someone with poor vision they looked from a distance like a blue blob rather an individual people. They swayed back and forth as they chatted in blue, like an ocean. An ocean where the ship of accountability could sail out, be swallowed up by the waves and never heard from again.

Everyone filed in and sat down. Dai Man, the factory manager, sat at the head of the table and opened a pack of cigarettes. Grabbing two at a time he threw cigarrettes at each worker starting from his left and working his way around the horseshoe of workers sitting facing him. Down at the far end of the table he still managed to get cigarrettes to land on the table right in front of where people were sitting. His accuracy was incredible. All at once 25 cigarrettes were lit up. Someone got up and went to close the window. It was winter, an easy time to catch a cold.

 

One of the team leads from the Quality and Technology Deqartment stood and read the days numbers in a droning voice…..

“November 3. Production numbers report: 17,693 pieces of the 17F tray were made, 641 were defects. BL4 flat plates, 9,345 produced, 2,910 were defects. S45 fiber bowl 12,343 pieces, 3,689 defects, 67F tray 12,456 pieces 985 defects. Safety and health incidents, nothing to report. 785 days since our last safety incide………..”

Dai Man slowly sucked on his cigarrette, looking out the window and zoning out as the worker went on. Outside the weather was beginning to turn cold, in a couple of weeks the countdown to the lunar new year would begin. That glorious time where everyone in the country pretends to be working but everyone knows that everyone else knows, that they know, that they’re not. Outside the window a plume of black smoke rose from the pile of PET plastic waste that was burned daily. The worker pushed the plastic scraps around with a pole and wore cotton face masks for the fumes.   Somewhere deep down inside of Dai Man, he stomach made a little movement. 10:45am, almost lunchime.

 

“……..67BL trays, 27,004 produced, among which 6,985 were defects. No more to report on production. Everyone please pay attention to safety.”

And with that a silence settled over the smoke filled room.

 

Dai Man: “Ok, heres the deal. The Americans found a spider in one of the trays.  We know it was one of you, so whoever it was speak up now.”

(23 heads staring at the ground)

Dai Man: “Look at the look on this American’s face! Look how sad it is! You see how sad you’ve made us all?? Huh!!?? It’s an embarassment!!! Now WHO knows how the spider got in there!!??” HUH??”

Dai Man: “Fine. You don’t want to tell us. We’ll get to the bottom of this. That’s why we’re doing this audit! You guys are REALLY PISSING ME OFF BY NOT TELLING ME!!!”

Auditor to Dai Man: “you know what? Its not that big of deal, we are here to help you identify any areas for change and fix the problems”

Dai Man to workers:  “You see? You see how good this guy is to you!? You should thank him”

Everyone in unison: “Thank you.”

Dai Man to workers: “now this is it! We’re going down to the factory floor and if it isnt perfect, Im gonna have your heads!”

(Everyone looks at the ground)

Dai Man to auditor: “but first…. Why don’t we grab some lunch? Let me ask you a question Mr Auditor? Have you ever tried Chinese white wine?”

Auditor: “Oh hmmm. Well. At lunch? Well….I do enjoy chardonnay”

Dai Man: “Welcome you to try our Chinese white wine, it’s a local specialty.”

Auditor: “Well I guess there’s no harm in one glass”

 

Chinese "White Wine"

Chinese "White Wine"

 


 

What is the 'Last 20 Minutes'?

Thank you for reading the first of what I hope will be many blog posts. My name is Drew Fralick, I am a comic and mental health counselor who has been living in Shanghai, China for the past ten years. Happy 2017 and hope you enjoy!

Taking a 1 month break from counselling at Edinburgh Fringe

Taking a 1 month break from counselling at Edinburgh Fringe

Psychotherapy and Comedy as mirroring art forms

I get asked a lot about what its like to be a counselor by day and comedian by night/weekend. Recently, I’ve been responding with a little joke: “The two are not that different, during the day I listen to other people’s problems and at night other people listen to my problems.” Despite what people may think, psychotherapy and stand-up comedy are both art forms that mirror each other in almost everyway. They say that comedic timing is one of the most difficult skills to learn, it is pure instinct. For counselors timing is also a skill that I doubt textbooks are able to teach. You sit with a client and you listen, and wait, and question, and listen more, all the while waiting for that ‘moment’ when a well placed hunch, insight or question could prove therapeutic for the client. While this is one similarity, there are many many more.

Is it a coincidence that 1 therapy session is about an hour and headlining a comedy show is about an hour? Not only are they approximately the same length, I see them as having a similar structure. One book that I have found helpful for understanding the structure of a therapy session is The Clinical Interview Using DSM-IV-TR Volume 1 by Othmer and Othmer. I believe comics can read this book to gain some inspiration when writing an hour long set. [DISCLAIMER: I am not encouraging comics to read this and become ‘open micer therapists’]. In this book it talks about the three stages of an hour session: opening, middle, and ending phases. Main tasks of these stages are outlined below.

 

In the opening phase the interviewer warms up the patient, establishes rapport, and prepares the patient for the main task of the interview

 

In the middle phase, they perform the bulk of the work; therefore it takes the longest time.

 

In the end phase the interviewer prepares the patient for closure. Therapist avoids highly emotional topics, summarizes for the patient what has been learned and provides an outlook for the future. [1]
[1] Taken from Othmer and Othmer (2002)

In a therapy hour, the opening stage is extremely important. Research has shown that the most important element for the success of therapy is the quality of the relationship shared between client and counselor.  Not only is it important for clients to like their counselor, it is also crucial that there be a sense of the counselor’s expertise – in other words a belief that the counselor is able to do what they say they can do. Successes early on in the counseling process can reinforce the belief that the counselor knows what they’re talking about and pushes the momentum of therapy forward.

In the same way, a comic must prove to an audience that they have expertise as well – in other words they are able to make an audience laugh. In my experience audiences generally decide whether or not a comic has this ability in about 10 seconds to 2 minutes. [unless they know the comic e.g. a celebrity, or have previously seen the comic perform].

I see strong parallels between how Othmer and Othmer structure a therapeutic hour and how a comic would go about writing and performing a coherent hour. I would structure the comedy hour in the following way:

 

In the opening phase you are building trust with the audience. This is done in two ways: [a] audience believes that you are able to be funny [b] audience trusts you as a person – this is all about things like fitting with your stage persona, not being emotionally unstable onstage, audience feeling like you are in control of the room/show, etc.

 

In the middle phase you talk about who you are. Material for this phase is more difficult to write and more difficult to perform. However the payoff is that if this phase is done successfully audience members will feel they have connected with you on a deeper level. These people become fans.

 

In the closing phase you deliver a message. This is what could be called a ‘Life Philosophy’. Its not like the middle phase where you are like ‘heres who I am’, its beyond that. Its more like, ‘you know who I am already, but heres what I think about the world.’

 

Closing phase material is extremely difficult to write, practice and is not pallatible for many audience members or even fans. If you perform Closing phase material on an open mic or 15 minute weekend slot opening for someone else, you are about 95% guaranteed to bomb. [one time I opened for Jimmy Schubert with a 12 minute long bit about people’s indifference to human trafficking – one of the worst comedic decisions I have ever made. Not recommended]. Indeed, some people come to comedy shows just to laugh and don't want anything that is deeper or provoking. I think some comics would even disagree with me that this closing phase is important. However, comics who write and perform into this phase go beyond the realm of ‘entertainment’ and into the realm of ‘impact’.  

Some of my favorite comics, including Bill Burr, Des Bishop and Ari Shaffir write and perform into this closing phase. They leave with you a little something to think about or be challenged by in addition to a great show. 

Performing under a blanket - i.e. the Holy Grail of 'opening phase' comedy 

Performing under a blanket - i.e. the Holy Grail of 'opening phase' comedy 

What is The Last 20 Minutes?

If you ever come see me perform live [and I sincerely hope you will] you’ll notice a pattern to my hour. I try to structure my hour like Othmer: the first 20 minutes doing jokes, the middle 20 minutes introducing who I am and the last 20 minutes talking about something that is important to me. Examples of this are talking about things like mental illness, human trafficking, religion, death, etc. I don't think people feel too cheated by this format but for those who do we tell them absolutely zero refunds.

However, as I mentioned above opportunities to write and share ‘The Last 20 Minutes’ are far too few. So is this a comedy blog? Yes it is. Is it a mental health blog? Sometimes yes as well. But I hope it will be more than all that as well. I hope to share my Last 20 Minutes with you regularly.

I’ll be putting a new post out weekly. Every Saturday. Please share with your friends and family, and post to social media. Also check this website for my upcoming comedy shows!

 

Looking forward to sharing with you in the new year,

drew