Brian Frazer’s life reads far more colorfully than mine would, I’m afraid.
On the other hand, I managed to avoid that whole compulsive gambling-bodybuilding-speed-eating-colon-cleansing-Kabbalah thing that afflicted his youth.
In his first book, Hyper-Chondriac, Frazer comes clean… Did I just say that? …about a life lived at super-speed. It is one he spent most of his years in search of medical solutions to a litany of physical ailments when it turned out most of the trouble was in his head.
BOB ANDELMAN/Mr. MEDIA: Gotta start with the most dangerous question of all: How you feeling?
BRIAN FRAZER: I’m feeling pretty good, actually. I’m very fortunate that I found out I had a problem because, otherwise, I’d probably be dead by now.
ANDELMAN: Has your life settled down? Are you into a more comfortable routine now?
FRAZER: Yeah. Well, the first part about settling down is realizing that I had a problem because, basically — and you know because you’ve read the book, but I’ll tell your listeners. Three months before my wedding, my hands were itching furiously so a friend referred me to his dermatologist, and I expected to walk out with some cortisone cream. And instead, within 45 seconds, a 60 year-old guy said that I was the most high-strung, uptight, intense person he’d ever met, and he wrote me a prescription for Zoloft. And I was like, Zoloft? I don’t need…I’m not depressed. I have a lot of other problems, but I’m certainly not depressed. And I refused to take the Zoloft for a few weeks and then finally said, you know what? I’m gonna take it, and it changed my life within a week.
FRAZER: I realized that all of my problems, all of my rage…Every once in a while, sure, it’s somebody else, but for the most part, it’s me. I’m not in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s just my energy attracts other bad energy, and my rage…You have to let things slide. So until that happened, which was four or five years ago, I thought everybody else was a jerk and not me. That made me realize that I was a jerk. And then I wanted to get off of the Zoloft so I branched out and looked through some alternative therapies.
ANDELMAN: How much of your energy today, Brian, is devoted to staying calm, or do you feel that you’ve had it under control for a while?
FRAZER: I don’t think it’s ever under control. You have to work at it. If one was an alcoholic, it’s a day at a time. You never know what’s going to happen in life, and you have to just prepare yourself. If I keep my diet squeaky-clean and by squeaky-clean — my diet was always good before. I would have like a banana and a soy yogurt in the morning, but I went to an Ayurvedist, which I found to be the most helpful thing available. And that’s another thing about the book. There’s no stunt journalism in this. This is my life. And the book’s been out for almost a year now, and I still continue to go to new things, anything that I think will help me. The Ayurvedist, who basically puts his thumb on you and measures your pulse and your seven different layers of energy, said that yeah, the foods I’m eating are healthy, but they’re not healthy for my body type and that I actually had to eat foods with less sugar and more fat. And that has helped me tremendously. If I would stay on an Ayurvedic diet 100 percent of the time — which is hard to do especially if you’re traveling — I’d never have to take another pill in my life.
FRAZER: Making mung bean soup and these things that you wouldn’t even…I just smashed a coconut in my driveway this morning, which I do once a week, and I have a coconut and almonds and mango puree I make. I don’t cook so nothing I make is all that scientific or complicated. Like the mung bean soup has changed my life. I know it sounds really stupid, but I don’t know what’s in it, and it might not change your life or anybody else’s, but it’ll work for somebody else out there depending on their energy level.
ANDELMAN: Let’s come back to the food because I think the food comes in at the end of the story so let’s go back to the beginning a little bit. And I have to tell you, I can’t remember many books, many memoir-type books that I’ve read and felt guilty for laughing during, but I’m guessing you won’t take offense at hearing that.
FRAZER: No, no, not at all. I’ve had problems, family problems, as most people do, but my life is neither comedy nor tragedy. It’s a little bit of both. It’s not so bad. There’s a lot of people that have had a lot less and a lot worse lives than I have.
ANDELMAN: One of the things, Brian, that struck me as I was reading was that, as much as you seem to hate being noticed for all the quirks that made you stand out as a kid, you, nonetheless, wrote a catalog of them. Did you have second thoughts about putting all this in a book and opening yourself up?
FRAZER: No. A couple of people that I’ve known for years that read the book, and then I sat across the street from…In fact, even my publicist who set this up said, “Doesn’t it make you awkward to know that now I know all this stuff about you?” I’m like, “No. I didn’t kill a person. I didn’t really harm anybody but myself all these years.” My mother, obviously, still has not gotten over the book, and she’s sensitive to begin with. But I talked to her three times a week for 25 years, and now she’s not speaking to me. But I wouldn’t go back and change anything. If you’re gonna be honest, you have to be honest about everybody not just yourself. You have to kind of take everybody down with you.
ANDELMAN: Let’s start with your mother. I was going to say let’s talk about some of the issues from your youth, and we can start with your mom. One of the things that comes across is the reader may read into this. You get a ways into the book, and you think maybe he’s blaming his Jewish mother with the MS for some of his troubles. But I don’t really think that’s what you had in mind.
FRAZER: No, no, not at all. I, in fact, if anything, the only thing I blame her for is, present day, in that there’s not a solution to every problem, but there’s a partial solution to every problem, and I don’t know if she’s really explored all of her options. I’ve tried to get her to take Zoloft or Paxil or something like that, and allegedly she was on it for like a week years ago, and it was a great week, according to my father, and she just refuses to do that again. And it’s not like she’s pill-averse. She probably takes 30 pills a day. She almost wants to be a martyr, and she refuses to try and make things a little bit easier on herself. But, no, I love my mother. I love my parents. I dedicated the book to them so there’s certainly no malice there. But I think that a lot of the book centers around pain because, even though MS is not contagious, the symptoms certainly are. And disease and pain are contagious so I think that a lot of her pain has filtered down to me, and I’ve tried to compensate in other ways as you told your listeners at the beginning. I was a former bodybuilder, natural, steroid-free for about 10 or 12 years in an attempt to kind of insulate and protect my body so nothing horrible would happen to it as occurred to my mother.
ANDELMAN: Does your mother feel that there was an invasion of her privacy being written about in such detail?
FRAZER: Yes. She’s not really speaking to me, but you have to also realize that she has been retired for years, as has my father. They don’t go out. They’re basically confined to their house. They go out to eat for lunch at 11:00 maybe once a month, and that’s it. Had they had to face co-workers everyday, I may have thought otherwise, and I may have thought that I was stepping over the line. But nobody’s going to know anything about them. And the people that know her already know the difficulties that come with disease.
ANDELMAN: If it’s not your mother that contributed necessarily to some of the problems you’ve had over the years, could it be the father collecting the comic books? Because I know, as an old comic book guy myself, it’s been blamed for all kinds of things.
FRAZER: Both of my parents are still alive. If he had emulated a superhero a little bit more, then maybe the relationship with my mother and everybody else would be better because the problem is my mother is a little bit too mean, and my father’s a little bit too nice. So if my father became a little bit meaner and had more of a backbone, then my mother would realize that she couldn’t get away with everything that she’s getting away with. And then things would kind of move back toward the center a little bit.
ANDELMAN: I have to say that I connected to your description of struggling with your bar mitzvah. It was a hellacious time in my life, too. But the shocking thing there was that your rabbi, very shortly after your bar mitzvah, converted to Episcopalian, and that seemed to really have an effect on you and, of course, it’s a recurring theme later in the book. As you look at that now was that really a big deal in your life?
FRAZER: Yes. In fact, I just went to my high school reunion, actually, just October, and there were two or three other people that were there that I hadn’t seen in years that also went to my temple and that had read the book and were commenting about the rabbi. Yeah, it happened about two months after he bar mitzvahed me, and it’s kind of weird to have somebody kind of getting you through the rituals of becoming a Jewish man and then like two months later, he splits to Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and he’s converted. So, yeah, it’s a little odd.
ANDELMAN: Does it still bother you today?
FRAZER: Yeah. I still have an aversion. I flipped out for a while. The Zoloft has calmed down my religious aversion, but I can’t really go into any house of worship, whether it’s Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish. It doesn’t matter. I tend to show up for weddings late because the ceremonies kind of freak me out. So a lot of that is attributable to my rabbi or ex-rabbi.
ANDELMAN: And for me, it was always I’d go to those things, and I just fall asleep in them, which grates on my wife terribly. She gives me the elbow because I’m asleep. So it’s a different kind of aversion, but…
FRAZER: Every once in a while there’s like a really long one. Like I went to a Catholic one with my wife, and I always make a go of it and sit in the very, very back row just cause I don’t want to disrupt anything and see how long I can take it. And it was literally…The ceremony was an hour and a half, and I’m like, “What? This is crazy! Where are the appetizers? An hour and a half?”
ANDELMAN: Yeah, all that time with no food.
ANDELMAN: At what age did you realize that not everyone was like you?
FRAZER: Probably 38 or 39, to be honest with you.
ANDELMAN: Oh, really?
FRAZER: Oh yeah, yeah. I just kind of went through life and didn’t think about it too much. I thought that people weren’t like me in that I was polite, and they were rude, which is where a lot of the rage comes from, but that’s certainly not true. But, yeah, it took a long time. And had I not stumbled onto this dermatologist, and like I said, I don’t know why a dermatologist is dispensing Zoloft, I don’t know if I would ever have realized that I had a problem.
ANDELMAN: Do you ever count up how many doctors and therapists and quacks that you went through in the course of this?
FRAZER: No. I still go to some weird things. I went to this thing called Bradiology recently after the book, which just shows that it’s not stunt journalism, where they kind of measure energy, and they see if you’re getting the right minerals and supplements, and they also ask you questions. And it’s kind of odd, but I got something out of it so that’s all I can ask. No, I’ve gone to a lot of them. I’ve also experienced a bevy of illnesses. My colon hemorrhaged at 25, and I had Hepatitis A at 31, and I had prostate problems. And it was all induced by stress because I’ve never been a big drinker, never done a drug in my life, had been exercising five or six days a week since I was 14. So all the stress has just built up in my body and has contributed to these diseases, which is why I’m 43, and I’m much healthier now than I was when I was 23, which is unusual.
ANDELMAN: How would you describe, in a sentence or two, what you ultimately decided was the problem?
FRAZER: The problem was basically me. I have so much rage, and I always blamed it on other people, but I realized that it’s not a coincidence that there’s always a problem when I’m around. The Zoloft kind of elevated me up into the heavens, and it allowed me to look down and observe myself and observe my behavior. And it wasn’t as exemplary as I had once thought. And the title of the book also — a lot of people confuse hypochondria with the title of my book, which is Hyper-Chondriac, and basically, hyperchondriac, all of my diseases are real. A hypochondriac thinks that they’re sick. They go to the doctor, but they’re not really sick. They don’t find anything. I think I’m sick. I go to the doctor, and they find a lot of stuff, but it’s all created within. And it’s also on my website, hyper-chondriac.com, also explains a lot.
ANDELMAN: You did bodybuilding for 10 or 12 years. You were a stand-up comedian. At about the point that you started doing stand-up, I was thinking to myself okay, he’s in college, but I’m not getting any indication here how this guy is ever going to wind up as a writer at the end of the story. And then this kind of twist of fate in college puts you up in front of a class doing material. Which career is more psychically damaging, stand-up comedy or bodybuilding?
FRAZER: I think bodybuilding you can control because it’s not really an audience. There is an audience when you compete, but they’re not going to heckle you and say, “Hey, bad abs!” And if you work hard at bodybuilding, and you eat right, and you train hard, and you have some genetics, you’ll turn out okay whereas stand-up, you just never know what’s going to happen even if you’re prepared. Sometimes I’ve gone up and gotten huge laughs even though I know that my rhythm in everything is a little off, which upsets me because I haven’t done my job even though I’ve made people laugh. And then other times, everything’s perfect, and the lines are delivered perfectly and not a peep and heckling, and it is a disaster. So, yeah, stand-up is very, very, very difficult, and had I not gotten into it so early, I would’ve had more to think about. But because it happened so accidentally — it was like being pushed into water. I didn’t realize how insane it was.
ANDELMAN: Have you found, in the year since the book came out, that there is a community of people like you that you didn’t know about before, or were you already finding each other at that point?
FRAZER: No. I didn’t find anybody until through MySpace and Facebook and hyperchondriac.com cause there’s a web address at the back of the book. I’ve had all sorts of people. And the odd thing is, and maybe it’s because women seem to buy more books, but I would say 60 or 70 percent of the respondents, even on Amazon.com, have been women and the rage in the women. I had originally thought it was more of a very male book, but the response from women and not women who are with angry men. These are angry women on their own who have rage. So that has surprised me cause I thought it would be like two-thirds men and one-third women, and it’s been just the opposite.
ANDELMAN: What do you follow this book with? Do you go in another direction? I haven’t met anyone who has written a book who hasn’t been thinking about another one. Will you write about more health issues? Are you thinking about going in another direction? Have you already done another book?
FRAZER: In fact, I just handed the proposal in today. It’s basically about not having children so it’s also non-fiction, but it’s about not having children and being fine with it. And my wife and I have been married for coming up on six years, and we’re fine.
ANDELMAN: And that’s not stunt journalism either, right?
FRAZER: No. That’s not stunt journalism, no. No, it’s not like I’m only gonna date people named Laura for a year. No, no.
ANDELMAN: I have this strong sense that you keep referring to stunt journalism. I have this feeling of A.J. Jacobs coming up in conversation.
FRAZER: Oh no, not at all, not at all. I actually know him well, and he’s a great guy, so it’s certainly not aimed toward him. It’s just all the stuff I’ve been reading in Newsweek and Time and stuff like that that kind of is poking fun at the stunt journalism. But I don’t recall reading his name in that so that’s certainly not the case. But, no, I’ve just gotten questions on shows before about people think that this book is a gimmick, which it’s not, so I’m referring to myself and not to anybody else really.
ANDELMAN: Now I have to say I’ve never read anything like this. To a certain point in the book, it seems like every page there’s just something that makes you go oh, this poor guy, and at the same time, you present it in a way that it’s funny. That’s why I said earlier I felt a little guilty for laughing at times.
FRAZER: No, no. You shouldn’t feel guilty for laughing. No, I didn’t want to make it too jokey, but I also didn’t want to make it too serious cause if anything’s too serious like this, then people feel bad for you.
ANDELMAN: I guess one of the big turning points in your life was when you got the gig writing for the TV show “Blind Date,” which is where I guess you met your future wife, Nancy. Is that right?
FRAZER: That’s right. And again, another accidental thing that happened in that I was writing on another show, and the person that I was writing with in the conference room was turning on this new show called “Blind Date.” And it had just been on the air for like a week, and it looked really fun so I went home, and I didn’t have an agent, and I froze the credits. This is back in the days of VCR only. I froze the credits and wrote everybody’s name down, and I didn’t have an agent. And I just kept calling and calling and calling different people, and I befriended the secretary at “Blind Date,” and she told me who to speak with, and I wound up snaking myself in and getting an interview there. And then I get a sample date, and then I wound up working there. So it’s, again, just an accidental thing, but, yeah, that’s where I met Nancy. We wrote thought bubbles, and we kept it a secret from everybody for a year.
ANDELMAN: One of my secrets is that I actually watch that show, and I always find it funny. And I think there was another show called “The Fifth Wheel.”
FRAZER: Oh, “The Fifth Wheel,” same company, yeah. I hated “The Fifth Wheel” because every single person on the show… There’s basically five people. There’s like three guys and two women or three women and two guys. All the guys wore the same outfit, and they looked the same. And I actually called the producers one day and said why don’t you assign one guy to wear the red shirt or one guy wears black? Everybody dressed in black all the time, and it was just a massive confusion watching that show.
FRAZER: It’s actually a very time-intensive job, if you can believe it. It’s about 60 or 70 hours a week, five or six days a week. You have to cut down the date. It’s more scientific than maybe it should be, but you have to cut down the date. Then you have to write a script. Then you have to meet with executives, and they approve your script. And then you go to graphics department. So there’s not as much laughing until the end of the week cause everybody has to hand in a finished date every Friday. So Fridays were good, and there were a lot of laughs. But I’m not so sure that Monday through Thursday there were that many.
ANDELMAN: What would be an example of some pop-ups that were memorable? If you were in the industry of writing for “Blind Date,” what were some memorable pop-ups?
FRAZER: Oh, God, it’s been about three years. I couldn’t answer that. But when Nancy and I got married, our rabbi was a big “Blind Date” fan, and he actually kept making like thought bubble jokes throughout the wedding, which I thought was kind of odd. But it’s been years and he hasn’t converted to Episcopalianism since. so that’s good.
ANDELMAN: I think while I’m confessing to this, I also found “Cheaters” to be a guilty pleasure. I like that one, too.
FRAZER: I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen it. It’s a great title for the show.
ANDELMAN: You’ve got to watch it once. And I thought of it because I think we have an on-demand channel called “Outrageous on Demand,” and I saw that an uncensored “Cheaters” was on there. And I thought now that’s something I could spend an hour with. I don’t know.
FRAZER: That’s so funny, “Outrageous on Demand.”
ANDELMAN: What are you doing today? You mentioned you turned in a book proposal. Are you living off the first book? Are you doing other things? What’s kind of ahead for you?
FRAZER: I write for a bunch of magazines so I have a monthly column in Los Angeles Magazine. It’s the back page. It’s called “Hollywoodland.” I write for Esquire and ESPN magazines, occasionally Vanity Fair, and I just keep myself busy that way. Every once in a while I do some TV stuff so I keep myself pretty busy.
ANDELMAN: And I guess from the proposal, children are not in the future, but what do you and Nancy have in your plans? What do you want to do in the coming years?
FRAZER: We just like being creative people and being creatively stimulated and taking care of ourselves, basically. A lot of times when people have children, they have to kind of put themselves on hold and sometimes once the kids have left the nest, it’s hard to pick up where you left off.