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Episode 9
Atsuko Okatsuka
Episode 9: Standup comedian Atsuko Okatsuka shares how she pumps herself up before a big comedy set and where she finds her strength.Snooze fans- go to and use code snooze16 for up to 16 free meals AND 3 free gifts!Feals: become a member and get 50% automatically taken off your first order with free shipping. for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford, who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Megan Tan 0:01

[shuffling cards] Ooohh! You s-

Marina Peña 0:02

Can you hear me?

Megan Tan 0:02

You sound great! [tapping cards, shuffling]

Marina Peña 0:05

I remember these. [laughs]

Megan Tan 0:06

Yeah, cuz today actually is a very big day for you. So...

Marina Peña 0:11


Megan Tan 0:12

Yeah! [laughs]

Marina Peña 0:14

I forgot it was a big day. [laughs]

Megan Tan 0:19

I'm sitting across from producer Marina Pena before she does something she's never done before. [to Marina] Go ahead and pick a card. All right... What we got, what we got? [theme music: Only Until All is Well]

Marina Peña 0:32

It says patience. Congratulations, you've been granted more patience. You may start using it right away. [Megan laughs] Or much, much later. Waiting a long time is the sort of option now afforded to you by greater patience.

Megan Tan 0:49

Patience- having faith that things will come. A card that can apply to anyone, a father, a scientist, a comedian. On this episode of Snooze, I sit down with stand-up comedian, Atsuko Okatsuka. She tells me what she tells herself before she performs in front of millions of people. And she gives me some advice- a phrase that her grandmother gave to her. You're listening to Snooze, a show about things people put off, how they conquer them, but most importantly, how they conquer themselves. And I'm Megan Tan. [music out] [cards shuffling]

Megan Tan 1:48

If you were at a party, [Atsuko: Umm hmm.] how would you introduce yourself to people?

Atsuko Okatsuka 1:52

I'd just say, "Hi, I'm Atsuko..." and then I'm not gonna lie. I do wait to see if they already know who I am. [laughs]

James Cordon 2:01

[soundbite- Late Late Show with James Cordon] Please give her a warm welcome. The incredibly talented Atsuko Okatsuka, everybody!

Peter Sagal 2:06

[soundbite: Wait Wait Don't Tell Me] Please welcome Atsuko Okatsuka! [Atsuko: Hey, it's so great to see you.]

Randall Park 2:12

[soundbite] Atsuko Okatsuka! [music and applause]

Megan Tan 2:15

And at this party, you're waiting to see if someone knows you. What does your face look like? What are you doing?

Atsuko Okatsuka 2:22

Kind of like a deep stare, like I open, I kind of widen my eyes a little bit. [Megan laughs]

Megan Tan 2:28

Atsuko Okatsuka is a comedian and can still be funny while an earthquake is happening.

Atsuko Okatsuka 2:34

[soundbite of her stand-up comedy] Can she dance? [people shouting in audience] Okay! All right. [someone shouts: Earthquake!] What's happening? [audience shouting] Oh, shit! I thought I was making that happen. You know what it feels like to come out dancing and then everyone's like, Stop it! You're shaking the Earth! [audience laughing, some clapping] Calm it down! Woo! I really thought- No joke, no joke. Yesterday, there was an earthquake yesterday, right? It was the morning, we were, me and my husband were in bed. My husband, no joke, rolled over and he said, Are you masturbating? [laughs] [audience laughs] I was like...

Megan Tan 3:09

Atsuko's also known for her dance moves. In LA, if you go to a specific grocery store, you may catch her twerking in the noodle aisle or in this clip, the produce section. [sound clip: rap music] She really likes those veggies. Over the past 12 years, Atsuko's lightness of life has accompanied her into the writer's room of The Eric Andre Show. She's voiced characters for Stephen Colbert's animated series, Fairview. And most recently, she performed live on The Late Late Show with James Cordon.

James Cordon 3:45

[soundbite from Late Late Show with James Cordon] Please give her a warm welcome. The incredibly talented Atsuko Okatsuka, everybody! [music and Atsuko shouting in background] [duck under]

Megan Tan 3:54

So I want to know, before Atsuko gets on stage in front of millions, what did she tell herself? What did she do?

Atsuko Okatsuka 4:01

Sometimes you have a big thing that might happen in a day, whether it's, I don't know, even a party and maybe you're like, socially anxious to see a bunch of people or something. So, so you, you go, I I've cleared out the day. I used to before like big performances go, my whole day is clear. I'm not doing anything but that performance. But then that performance feels a little robotic because that's all you've been thinking about. Or maybe you're, you finally go to that party, and you're so stiff, because that's all you've been thinking about. But if you challenged yourself to, I don't know, uh go [music begins] and pet dogs at the dog pound or something, something wild and weird, right? Literally you go, oh, the world is so much bigger than this party, or the world is so much bigger than this performance I was supposed to do. Here's some puppies that need a home and now I'm getting to pet them. You know what I mean? Like it truly, it's, i- i- it'll make the experience better for you. [music out]

Marina Peña 5:20

[break music] Snooze, will be back after this break.

Marina Peña 5:22

[break music] Now back to the show.

Megan Tan 5:33

So before Atsuko walks on to James Corden's show, she's in the greenroom, and she pulls out a phrase that she's kept in her pocket for years for moments like these.

Atsuko Okatsuka 5:50

I just look in the mirror and go, you are so hot. And you're so freaking funny. Like, you're so funny. Okay, let's do it. Woo! And I high five myself, and I go on to stage.

Atsuko Okatsuka 6:00

[soundbite] Okay. All right. All right. Let's get to it. Let's get to it. [audience laughs] Uh, yeah. Uh, let me tell you, uh people think I'm mature. They do. [laughs] People think I'm mature because I'm married. Yeah, but uh, I would argue that getting married is the childlike thing to do. [audience laughs] Yeah, yeah. Because married people, what do they say? They say things like, I found my best friend. [audience laughs] You know. That's very childlike.

Megan Tan 6:33

[writing sounds] You're so hot. You're so [laughs] freakin funny. When did you first start doing that, telling yourself how hot and funny you are before a show?

Atsuko Okatsuka 6:47

Maybe it was like after I broke up with my ex, because my ex was very, like negative and toxic. And that was just his MO or something.

Megan Tan 6:59

Yeah, definitely have had that type of ex before.

Atsuko Okatsuka 7:02

If you break down someone's self-esteem, they'll rely on you for everything. And so, I think I had to, after the breakup, I had to learn to build up my self-esteem again.

Megan Tan 7:08

Mmm hmm. Been there done that.

Atsuko Okatsuka 7:09

You know, to be good at the cra- craft, you have to believe in yourself. So, I think I started doing more of that around that time.

Megan Tan 7:25

Mmm. Did you feel like a switch?

Atsuko Okatsuka 7:28

It's gradual. Cause sometimes you do go, oh, those are just words, you know? And you have to like somatically physically believe it too. [Megan: Mmm hmm.] Yeah.

Megan Tan 7:37

Yeah. No, I work on that, too.

Megan Tan 7:40

Every morning, no matter where I am, I look in the mirror, and I also say something like, "Good morning, beautiful!"

Atsuko Okatsuka 7:49

Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of us do that.

Megan Tan 7:54

We need to do that.

Atsuko Okatsuka 7:55

Don't we do that? Don't we try to do that?

Megan Tan 7:57

I hope parents and teachers teach that.

Atsuko Okatsuka 7:59

You should, because it's the easiest thing you can do.

Megan Tan 8:02

It really is.

Atsuko Okatsuka 8:03

It's not even like a wild sentence with hard words. It's really easy. Just like, God, look at that face. You're so uh! So pretty! Every little part of your face! Like stuff like that. I'm very childlike. So um, the ways that I, you know, my process is usually very childlike too.

Megan Tan 8:26

When I ask Atsuko if she has any other mantra she uses when she's facing a challenge, she says she doesn't.

Atsuko Okatsuka 8:34

That's like some meditation stuff. I don't meditate and stuff like that. So it's like, oh, like, like something you repeat in your head kind of thing? [Megan: Um hmm.] And it's usually like pretty easy for you to repeat, right?

Megan Tan 8:46

I guess mantra may not be the best word. It's more like, like, for instance-

Atsuko Okatsuka 8:50


Megan Tan 8:51

Um, I have this phrase, which is, you don't know what the future is. But your present is a reflection of your past actions. Therefore, your future is going to be a reflection of your present actions.

Atsuko Okatsuka 9:04

I like that one.

Megan Tan 9:06

Thanks, girl.

Atsuko Okatsuka 9:07

So the mantra or the lesson, I guess, came from my grandma.

Megan Tan 9:12

Atsuko's grandma, the woman who immigrated to the United States from Japan on her own, who raised her three children on her own, who raised Atsuko on her own...

Atsuko's Grandma 9:24

[soundbite] I am very proud of her and also proud of you. [audience says, Aww!] I love all of- I love all of you so much. [audience shouts and applauds]

Megan Tan 9:36

And who also guest stars on Atsuko's comedy tours and makes the audience cry when she tells them she loves them. This is a lesson from that grandma.

Atsuko Okatsuka 9:48

So in the fifth grade, our class was gonna do a play, and I think the teacher wrote it or something like that. I'd never heard of the story. I was like, oh, you know, maybe we'll do Snow White or Princess and the Pea or something like that. And uh, she was like, this is a different one. [laughs] Anyway, so there was a princess in it. Every girl wanted to be the princess. I wanted to be the princess. We had to audition for the parts.

Megan Tan 10:18

Do you remember what you had to say or do?

Atsuko Okatsuka 10:20

Here's the thing, the princess has no lines. Of course, everyone wants to be the hot pretty princess though. What the girls really didn't want, including me was to play the old woman. We kind of all had to audition for both parts, and I got the part of the old woman. Like, oh, no, you're a senior citizen. Oh, no, wrinkly old person. And I remember the girl who got the princess part, just being really like envious of her. And I went home, and I was like, so bummed about it, told my grandma, because my grandma raised me and she's the one that I kind of go to about everything. And A- she was offended. She was like, A- like, I'm so offended as an old woman that you don't want to be an old woman. [laughs] What's wrong with being an old woman, that's me. [laughs] And B- the old woman has a ton of lines. You can be a star; she saves the day. She goes, so you just got to be the best old woman you can play.

Megan Tan 10:23

[writing sounds] Just be the best old woman.

Atsuko Okatsuka 11:30

Just show them that old women are cool. [laughs] It's not a mantra, per se, but it's a lesson that I think about a lot, which is: A lot of us aren't the princess. We really aren't, and that's okay. Just be the best old woman, you know, the role no one wants. Because you're good at being that. That's why you were chosen to be that.

Megan Tan 12:05

And what happened in the play? How did it go?

Atsuko Okatsuka 12:08

I did really well. I remember the teacher's boyfriend came for the day of the play. And he was like, young and attractive, and he took the time to sit next to me and talk to me after the play to be like, God, you really crushed that. That was really awesome. And I was blushing, and all the girls were mad at me, [music begins] were jealous of me, envious of me, the old woman, for getting to talk to the teacher's hot boyfriend.

Megan Tan 12:41

Because you were the princess in real life.

Atsuko Okatsuka 12:43

That's right. Wow. So you helped me come up with that arc.

Megan Tan 12:49

That's dope.

Atsuko Okatsuka 12:50

Yeah. [music out]

Marina Peña 12:50

[break music] Snooze, will be back after this break.

Marina Peña 13:08

[break music] Now back to the show.

Atsuko Okatsuka 13:19

[soundbite] Do you guys know who um, Takeru Kobayashi is? [audience members respond] Yeah, he's the Japanese guy who ate 50 hotdogs? [audience laughs] In 12 minutes. Profound. [more laughter]

Megan Tan 13:40

From the fifth grade, to middle school, to high school, through her 20s, Atsuko leans into who she is. And every time she's in front of an audience, you can tell. But sometimes that's not enough. The stage can be really big, but it's hard to know who always belongs up there.

Atsuko Okatsuka 14:04

So in like 2012, me and a few other comedians started like uh, the US's first ever Asian American, mostly female standup tour, Disoriented Comedy. And at the time, we were trying to create space for us because there weren't that many of us. Growing up, it was just Margaret Cho. It really felt like there wasn't many slots. Where it's like, uh does it even make sense to be doing standup comedy as an Asian woman? Because like, they already filled their slots, like you know, Margaret Cho and whoa! Now we got Ali Wong. It's like, well, how is- Are they're gonna book us for shows like they already filled their quota, which is usually one person for maybe 10 years or TV shows. During that time, it was like that, right?

Megan Tan 14:56

Sure. Yeah.

Atsuko Okatsuka 14:58

So I think around that time is when I saw Chelsea Handler's video about how there are slots for everybody. There is a slot for everybody. And it may not be in the area that you initially thought was gonna be in, you know, but there's a place for you.

Megan Tan 15:16

[writing sounds] There's a place for you.

Atsuko Okatsuka 15:22

And sometimes, and what I mean by like, it may not be the thing you initially hoped for or dreamed about doing, is like, I have standup comedian friends, for example, who don't do standup anymore. But they are in writers' rooms for TV shows, and they like that way better. They realized that's their calling. [Megan: Mmm.] But that's a spot they were able to take up. So maybe stand up wasn't it, and so they're like, there's no slot for me here. It's too hard. I don't get it, it's frustrating. And it's like, maybe it's because standup comedy- Maybe you don't like it, and that's okay. Maybe that's not your calling. And then the calling was being a writer [Megan: Mmm hmm.] for a TV show, and contributing to somebody else's voice or something, you know. And that's okay. But that's why you have to keep saying yes to things to see where you end up.

Megan Tan 16:15

[writing sounds] You have to say yes to things to see where you end up. That's really beautiful.

Atsuko Okatsuka 16:33


Megan Tan 16:34

That also-

Atsuko Okatsuka 16:34

Thank you. I didn't say it. It was Chelsea.

Megan Tan 16:37

But you put it in your pocket.

Atsuko Okatsuka 16:39

I did. Yeah. [Megan: Yeah.] I watched it. I remembered it. And I repeated it again. [Megan laughs] [Atsuko: I, I have--]

Megan Tan 16:47

That's most of life, you know what I mean?

Atsuko Okatsuka 16:48

For sure! [Megan: Yeah.] Yeah. [Megan: Right?] Quoting someone else. [Megan: Yeah!] Yeah. Being like, wasn't that good? [Megan: I know, and then-] That's so cool they said that.

Megan Tan 16:55

And then maybe you change it just a little bit, right? [Atsuko: Yeah.] And put some bows on it or som-

Atsuko Okatsuka 16:58

Oh, I put a lot of bows on it. Like, you could probably look back at the video and it won't be as poignant as I just put it right now. [Megan: Wow.] Yeah, I made it emotional. I had a personal story. Yeah...

Megan Tan 17:08

Yeah, there's a lot going on. [laughs]

Atsuko Okatsuka 17:09

Yeah, I talked about being Asian, like, you know, stuff she didn't talk about.

Megan Tan 17:12

That's right.

Atsuko Okatsuka 17:13

I put many bows on her version. [Megan: Yeah.] Yeah.

Megan Tan 17:18

Let me ask you this. [Atsuko: Umm hmm.] So um, and this is a little, this is something I was thinking about this morning, [Atsuko: Umm hmm.] which is um, when you are [sighs] taking care of like other people, right? So um, I was talking to my dad today. And my dad, he's in his 70s, he lives 2000 miles away from me, alone in an apartment. And this whole isolated life thing hasn't been really good for him. And so I was on the phone with him this morning. And one of the things I was thinking about is like, I can pull out some phrases for myself when it comes to the things that I want to do in my life, [Atsuko: Umm hmm.] right? But when it comes to like really supporting people, or encouraging them, you know, or like encouraging yourself to be there for someone, [Atsuko: Umm hmm.] right? I'm curious if you have any um, phrases or things that you think about.

Atsuko Okatsuka 18:17

Totally can relate. My mom has schizophrenia. And you know, as she gets older, it's harder and harder. And as my grandma gets older, it's harder and harder too. Um where my grandma is sort of the main caretaker right now. But you know, one day she's gonna go, and so I'll be the caretaker for my mom. But I'm the most childlike, the most late bloomer, the most disorganized, the literal clown in the family. I'm taking over for my very responsible, very adult, grandma, you know, who's raised three kids on her own. She, she's lived through a lot. She raised me too, she could do it all. Be replaced by me? Just a hot mess, making out with strangers' dogs, getting yelled at but for- I just learned how to use a dishwasher- last week. Um, and so I can totally, totally relate to like the things you maybe have to say to yourself to be like, no, y- you go and do it. It's more like the things you should say to yourself to feel okay, if you're not able to step up. [Megan: Mmm.] Does that make sense?

Megan Tan 19:29


Atsuko Okatsuka 19:30

A lot of it's- So for that I have things, which is like, it's okay to need boundaries.

Megan Tan 19:37

[writing sounds] It's okay to need boundaries.

Atsuko Okatsuka 19:43

It's okay to create boundaries. It's okay to be tired. It's okay to not be able to make it- because it's a lot. It's a lot to take care of yourself. So then to take care of a whole nother person? Of course, you're gonna mess up. [Megan: Mmm.] You know? [Megan: Mmm hmm.] Or lack in things they might need.

Megan Tan 20:04


Atsuko Okatsuka 20:05

Uh, and that's okay. So tha- that's maybe more the mantra. [Megan: Mmm.] Yeah.

Megan Tan 20:10

Are there any things that your grandma says to you?

Atsuko Okatsuka 20:13

About caretaking?

Megan Tan 20:14

Or just like- You know, she said the thing about um-

Atsuko Okatsuka 20:19

The old woman?

Megan Tan 20:21

Be the old woman. [Atsuko: Mmm hmm.] Yeah. [Atsuko: Mmm hmm.] But I wonder if there are any other things that she's kind of gifted you in terms of philosophy of, of life or-

Atsuko Okatsuka 20:29


Megan Tan 20:30

Because she has, she has been able to conquer and transform so much.

Atsuko Okatsuka 20:35

Right. Yeah. Um, I wouldn't say this is a great one, because she's also like, just ignore them. She says, like, just ignore them. But then our family has a tendenc- our family has a tendency to not talk about things. And so um, she always want to, she always wants to brush things off. Just, just ignore it, just don't talk about it, it'll go away. Um, which, you know, is n-, is the, probably the only mantra philosophy I, I, I haven't taken from her. [Megan: Mmm.] Because I don't think it's a healthy mindset. At least for me.

Megan Tan 21:14

Yeah, yeah, I can feel my dad doing that too, where he's just like, bye. And I'm like, do you want to resolve this? Like, [laughs]

Atsuko Okatsuka 21:20

Yeah, I'm like, no, no. We've- I've seen too many of this manifesting in uh, illnesses and bad things in the [Megan: Mmm.] family, because we don't talk about things.

Megan Tan 21:30


Atsuko Okatsuka 21:31

From mental illness to- um you know, my mom with schizophrenia, the family didn't talk about it. They were just like, I think she's just dehydrated. She's just dehydrated, like, if she had an episode. Oh, oh, she she's just hungry. Try feeding her. Uhh, just low blood sugar, probably, when she would hallucinate. That's wild. You know, you gotta talk about it. [Megan: Mmm hmm.] You can't just ignore it. [Megan: Mmm hmm.] You know, and then it manifests in different things, right?

Megan Tan 21:58

Right. Yeah.

Atsuko Okatsuka 21:58

That causes stress, and then it caused stress on me. You know, it came out uh for me, in the form of uh, form of eating disorders. [Megan: Mmm.] You know, and, and then they didn't want to talk about that. Oh, no, she's just, this is just how teenagers are. Really? Eating and throwing up? I don't think so. [laughs] [Megan: Mmm hmm.] We gotta talk about things. And so... Yeah, don't ignore it. Let's talk about it. By, me.

Megan Tan 22:23

[writing sounds] Don't ignore it. Let's talk about it. By the one and only Atsuko Okatsuka. Love it. [Atsuko laughs] And then many, many years later, someone is gonna be like, you know in that podcast? Atsuko says duh duh duh duh duh. [laughs]

Atsuko Okatsuka 22:41

Right. That's true. Yeah. Or they'll be like, remember that podcast? We had no idea what she was saying. [Megan laughs] I think she needs to- stop mumbling?

Megan Tan 22:51

No, no one's gonna say that! I guarantee no one's gonna say that. Is there anything Atsuko, that you're putting off, that you're snoozing?

Atsuko Okatsuka 23:00

Um, yeah, definitely. Uh, becoming more organized and clean, which, you know, my, my husband has to do a lot of the heavy lifting there. It's a constant conversation. And I can't even use the excuse that I grew up with a mom with schizophrenia, because my husband's mom also has schizophrenia. [laughs] And so, you know, because I've joked that for like, I grew up weird, you know my mom. And he's like, you literally cannot use that against me out of all people. And so that's something I'm working on. And then something I fear, like, is acting actually. So I've been putting that off, where I still have to, like, audition and things like that. And I just like, prep as much as I can. But saying and performing someone else's words is really terrifying to me, [Megan: Mmm.] because it feels like I'm not being, I'm not able to be me completely. And that's really scary. Because it's like, I feel like I just got a grasp of that again, after I broke up with my ex. And I was able to, like, find strength in standup comedy, and write my own words, perform it the way I want. I have so much control, right, where [Megan: Mmm.] the audience is laughing at my words, at my performance that I directed, that I'm acting out, to then not have that power at all. Um, which is acting... [laughs] is terrifying. [music starts] And so I have to take classes, but I have been putting that off.

Megan Tan 24:43

That's very specific though.

Atsuko Okatsuka 24:44


Megan Tan 24:45

That's awesome. [music out]

Megan Tan 24:46

[theme music] It's funny, because when Atsuko sat down with me 30 minutes ago, she didn't think she had phrases in her to give to the world. But she did. Naturally, they poured out of her. Some of them were borrowed from school play memories. [writing sounds] Just be the best old... Some of them were repurposed. [writing sounds] There's a place for you. And some that she created for herself. [writing sounds] Don't ignore it. Let's talk about it. By the one and only Atsuko Okatsuka. When we don't think we have the answers to our own lives, the phrases that get us through challenging times, it's just not true. They're in there, buried deep behind the cobwebs and the dark corners, and all of the voices that tell us they're not. Once we push those aside, we'll see that they've been there this whole time. [theme music out]

Erick Galindo 26:32

[credits music] If you have something that you've been putting off, call us. 323-591-8159. That's 323-591-8159. Leave us a message. And you could be on an episode of Snooze. Don't put it off. I'm talking to you.

Marina Peña 26:54

This episode was produced by me, Marina Peña, and Megan Tan. Megan and Erick Galindo wrote the episode. Erick also edited and fact checked this episode. It was mixed and engineered by Donald Paz. Jessica Pilot is our talent producer. Erick Galindo is our showrunner. Megan Tan is our host. I'm the producer, Marina Peña. Additional production support on this episode by Kyle Chang. Antonia Cereijido and Leo G are the executive producers. Our theme song is by Wayan Dopeman.

Megan Tan 27:28

The original artwork for Snooze was created by Seonna Hong.

Erick Galindo 27:32

Andrew Eapen wrote and composed the original music for this show. Additional production on this episode by Emma Alabaster.

Marina Peña 27:39

Make sure you hit follow, like and subscribe to Snooze wherever you get your podcast. You can follow Megan on Twitter or Instagram @meganleetan and the show @snoozepodcast. Our website on is designed by Andy Cheatwood and the digital and marketing team, who also created our branding. Snooze is a production of LAist Studios.

Erick Galindo 28:02

Thanks to the team over there, including Taylor Coffman, Sabir Brara, Kristen Hayford, Kristen Muller, Andy Orozco, Michael Cosentino and Leo G. Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford, who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Marina Peña 28:28

If you like Snooze, rate and review us on Apple podcasts. Trust me, it really helps us and we would love to know what you think. And if you love Snooze, like you want to shower us with appreciation, become a sustaining member of KPCC and LAist Studios by going to Support the place that supports this work that supports people like me. I'm Marina Peña, and thanks for listening. [music out]

Megan Tan 29:04

[music begins] On the next episode of Snooze, Gerardo asked the Squad for help applying to RuPaul's Drag Race.

Megan Tan 29:14

What do you feel like is the block?

Gerardo 29:17

Me. Myself. Honestly, because I can be a perfectionist. I would rather be shamed for not doing it, than be shamed for it being bad.

Megan Tan 29:32

I'm Megan Tan, and thanks for listening. [music out]

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