By Rob Hadley.
The perfect comedy hypnosis show is an event that will be talked about for years. But what is it about a comedy hypnosis show that makes it work so well? As a hypnotist that performs in many shows, some extremely complex, it’s in my interest to really understand the audience experience, and look for ways to improve it for their greater enjoyment. With this in mind I have talked with many audiences after shows to learn what they enjoyed most about the event.
Often what people find funniest in a show of this type is seeing a friend let go of inhibitions and do something no one expected. Suddenly we see them acting in a manner we least expected, and sometimes doing things that we never would have anticipated. A great show includes seeing the volunteers on stage having a great time, laughing uncontrollably and expressing themselves freely and with uninhibited confidence.
If the hypnotist is a skilled performer and entertainer they will ensure that no one is humiliated or put in a position that they will regret the following day. My own measure is to avoid having the subject do anything that would make them feel awkward should their family see a video of them on Youtube or other social media following the show.
Having surveyed many audiences following shows it’s interesting to listen to the comments people make. Often the phrase “We’ve been looking forward to this for weeks,” comes up. Part of the enjoyment appears to be the anticipation of the event. Another comment I hear regularly is “I never knew Jeff could dance like that!” People are surprised and impressed by seeing someone they thought they knew reveal themselves in positive ways that their friends least expect.
In one show some years ago one of my volunteers was asked to dance to a particular piece of music. This guy was a hardened young jock, and very brash and loud. He was clearly more at home on a baseball diamond than the dance floor. When he got up and danced in a sensual and genuinely sensitive way, his friends gawked at him in disbelief, and then outright admiration. Needless to say there was not a woman in the audience who looked at him the same way again. He had gone from goon to swoon in a few bars of music. It turned out he had been trained in both ballet and jazz dance as a child, and since high school had hidden the fact from his friends for fear of being teased. He was the star of the show, and later came and talked to me about his performance.
“I had no idea I could even still remember that stuff!” he said.
“You impressed a lot of people,” I replied.
“I want to thank you for this. I have never had the nerve to get up and do this, but I love it. My mother put me in dance as a kid, and I was the only boy. It was always a problem, because I didn’t want to be teased about it. We drove miles to the classes because I didn’t want people to know…”
Looking back, I think that’s one of the great things about what I do. It’s very important to me that I do make a positive difference for people. In this young man’s case it was to put him back in touch with something he had loved and in a sense lost. Several months later he emailed me and told me he was back in dance and was seriously thinking about getting into the performance business. Like everyone else, I like to feel I do make a difference in people’s lives.
I work with audiences from high school graduations to corporate and even some mildly adult events. I’ve staged small shows, and shows in arenas. The theme is always fun. Most performers who work in a comedy genre realise that the safest bet for a laugh is to make fun of yourself – and I play up to that very well. It’s more productive to have my audience and subjects laughing at me than making fun of someone else, who may not be so happy about the show after the fact. So, in all the performances I do, I work on the basis that it will be appropriate material for the audience and still be fun when they talk about it the next day.
One thing that surprised me when talking to audiences after shows is that many of them like to see the process of the subjects going into hypnosis. I put so many people into hypnosis that one pretty well takes it for granted. It wasn’t until people started to consistently say that one of the best things they remembered about the show was seeing how their friends went into hypnosis, that I realised this was of deep interest to my audience.
As a result of this, nowadays I will sometimes go along a line of fifteen or twenty people and with each one use a different technique to put them into hypnosis. This is a source of deep frustration to one of my favourite collaborators, the amazing Sharlene Canning.
“Oh God! Rob’s at it again,” she’ll say. “He’s such a show off!”
Sharlene puts up with a great deal from me and tolerates my behaviour pretty well. Our goal is always to give our audience the best possible experience, and as a result she indulges me.
Another thing that clearly marks the most successful corporate shows is the presence of partners. A good show has a big audience, and an audience that is at ease enough to let go. When directors of a company are present junior staff are often worried about being seen in a negative light. They tend to be a little on their guard, even in the most casual of companies. This can stifle things a bit unless it’s handled in the right manner, at which point it becomes an exercise in building cohesion in the company. With this in mind, with corporate gigs it’s always great to see that the audience is made up of partners as well as staff, because they don’t feel such intimidating scrutiny from senior staff. It sounds strange, but it’s definitely true. Inviting partners and even suppliers is a great way to broaden the audience, and improve the show. It’s also good for the company, as it gives the suppliers a chance to get to know their client better and build stronger ties with their client. Corporate organisers may also keep in mind that this gives you a chance to spread the cost of the event across several cost centres, rather than having the entire cost fielded by human resources, as is often the case.
I’ve put shows on in locations from London to the beach at Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro. Sometimes all you need is an audience. Better to have a mic wired to an established sound system, but we can make almost anything work. I particularly like it when I see that there’s a DJ already set up, because I know all I have to do is plug my mic into an existing soundboard, and off we go. Often I will also use a tablet to feed in music, which I like to use extensively in the shows I produce.
Even when nothing exists on site it’s not really a problem. With a large audience we will either bring sound systems with us, or rent them locally on arrival to save the cost of transporting them by air from Vancouver, where I live. It’s very common for people in the shows I run to collaborate with a few local performers. This gives us access to resources we might not otherwise know about, and contributes to a more localized flavor for the show.
Often we’ll use a row of plastic chairs on stage, simply because having experimented with many options, it gives an easy way for the audience to see the subjects clearly. We avoid having too many props, as we don’t want people falling over things or have things fall on them. As one performer said to me, “It’s all giggles until an 80 lbs lighting chassis falls on someone’s head.” That can ruin even the best planned evening.
An unusual thing we found is that people who fall in hypnosis generally do so vertically. That is, they collapse down on themselves. When looking at videos we’ve analysed this quite closely. The reason this is important is that while it can look very dramatic, it’s also very safe. They collapse in a sort of – knee, bum, torso – order. Effectively, they break their own fall. As a result, one rarely hears of injuries on stage in a hypnosis show.
The best venues are usually a theater or club with a stage or dance floor. It’s rare to come across a concrete dance floor. Usually the floor is a wooden surface, which again contributes to safety. Obviously we watch carefully for the possibility of anyone falling from a stage, and in some venues will even use what we call ‘catchers’ on stage, to be sure no one gets close to anything that might prove dangerous. We also have on many occasions a ‘vanity assistant’, to be sure that if a subject wearing a short dress falls awkwardly they are not left in a position that might be indiscreet. A large scarf or piece of material is then used to drape across the subject in a manner that protects their dignity.
From this short article you can probably see there’s quite a lot to putting on a hypnosis show. The good news is that the hypnotist takes care of most of this, and you are left to enjoy a great show which people will talk about for years to come.