Fry & Laurie, Really Only Slightly Mad

Over lunch today with a friend, as I was picking over ideas for a new novel, I realized I was dreaming up a mash note to psychoanalysis wrapped around a murder mystery. (Oh, come on -- what else could it be?) My friend pointed me to Fry & Laurie's psychiatric sketches. These guys sure had a lot of fun with psychoanalytic psychiatry. I see their sketch "Slightly Mad" as a riposte to the question posed in Freud's "On Creative Writers and Daydreaming": What is the difference between the "normal" work of the creative writer and the pathological productions of, say, a writer like Daniel Paul Schreber, on the one hand; and the work of the psychoanalytic psychiatrist, on the other? (The title image on that last link is emphatically NSFW, unless you work in a Dadaist art gallery. What was Penguin thinking?)

The crux is the business about writing letters to the paper, about 3 minutes in.

Freud kept the patient on the couch, kept himself out of view, and recommended only the occasional provision of interpretations. Modern face-to-face psychotherapies don't protest so much. Here's Fry & Laurie on the result -- the relevant bit starts at 0:57:

At 2:21 there's a playful reference to the "Bender Gestalt Test," which is real, but Fry's invitation to draw a line seems more like a request to play Winnicott's Squiggle Game. Laurie retorts that Fry is using "some sort of psychiatric jargon that you've picked up from the Reader's Digest," which at once notes the confusion and elides it, in a send-up of just the sort of incomplete repression Freud sees in jokes and parapraxes. At 3:00, the preamble ends on the word "masturbation," and the power struggle comes to the fore. "I'm the doctor, and you are the patient." The roles reverse dizzyingly. The question of names comes up at this point: Who is "Dr" and who is "Mr"? The rest of the session raises, only to deconstruct, every piece of stage business in the psychoanalytic psychiatrist's theater: the authority to summon the secretary, to make clinical notes, to prescribe medication, to end the session, to offer appointment times. By 4:53, the joke's on us -- but I won't spoil it. Take a look.