From the Horse's Mouth

Where people turn into circus monkeys

Posted in 1 by theskinhorse on May 8, 2010

I wouldn’t have even considered going if it wasn’t free. But seeing how I happened to have two free tickets to a comedy hypnotist show, it would be just silly not to use them. The last one of these shows I had seen live was probably in high school when I was young and gullible. I wondered how the experience would be different this time around, after the cynicism had begun to set in.

Before the show I weighed the possibility of volunteering to participate. I was sincerely interested in how I would fare as a subject to comedic suggestion, but I was likely not as gregarious and extroverted as many of the audience members might be. I had come to a conclusion before we even sat down: I would volunteer if the hypnotist was having a difficult time finding willing participants. I had no other goal in mind except to experience the show, either comfortably from my seat or as an acting member.

The hypnotist took the stage and called for willing, enthusiastic participants to fill the ten chairs on the stage. Within that thirty-second decision window, four people (three females, one male) giddily ascended onto the stage. Four people would not prove to be a comedic success, especially when it was likely at least half of the participants would not be able to complete the show. At this point, the hypnotist asked for representatives from other tables in the room. He requested that they not be from the same group of friends, not have many physical limitations, and that they be either the most intelligent person at the table or a strong personality. No one near me was budging. I handed my glasses to my partner, and, despite my blurry vision, I ascended the stage. I figured that most of the show would be done with my eyes closed anyway so the lack of clear vision wouldn’t be much of a problem. (Plus, I could always decide to leave.)

The final count on stage was ten (I think… blurry vision, y’know). Most of the volunteers were women; only two men, excluding the hypnotist, were on stage with us. Most participants were younger, under thirty, and only three people looking like they were close to fifty.

To begin, he made some jokes and asked us to complete simple tasks such as standing up or sitting down as fast as we could at the count of three. I was conscious that I was acting a bit slower than most on the stage, perhaps due to either my hesitation about participating or due to my scientific mind attempting to observe the hypnotist closely as I was participating. After these exercises, he broke us into to two groups: the achievers (aka trainable monkeys) and the resistant. I was placed closest to the stairs descending the stage since I was “the closest to leaving.” He then proceeded to berate the “remedial class” of participants in front of the audience. This caused me to smile quite broadly, which he noted… which I subsequently noted.

Next we were asked to enter alpha state, what he termed “deep relaxation.” We were instructed to close our eyes and listen only to his voice. This was fine for me. Being that I normally meditate and can enter alpha quite easily, this was not a problem for me; however, this may have been a problem for him. See, when I do my meditative exercises and lucid dreaming, my concentration and state of awareness heightens. I am lucid, conscious of my choices, and I can carry on inner dialogue despite unexpected noises and disturbances. The wheels are always turning, a mere suggestion to shut these wheels off is quickly negated. But given a chance, I will decide to allow myself to relax, so I did. Little did he know that the snaps and stomps he used to get my attention was getting my attention in all the wrong ways. As I slumped in my chair, allowing my limbs to flomp, my brain recognized his attempts at control, noting the manipulative language and behavior more than his actual  commands.

At the end of our alpha induction, he dismissed two women who refused to go under. He took my hand and invited me to sit in the middle of the stage, obviously impressed with my relaxation abilities. After a few minutes of being “awake,” he promptly put us back “to sleep.” I must say, some of his techniques were not very sleep-promoting. I don’t know how or why putting a hand over someone’s face would make them “go to sleep.” I played along because my brain decided that this game was OK so far, and it was an interesting activity to me.

We “slept” on the person to our left. I didn’t know who was on my left, but whoever it was, they felt fairly comfortable. While he talked to the audience, I kept waiting to find out if this was really IT, if these were the tricks. I didn’t really feel hypnotized at all. Everything I was doing, I was consciously choosing to do because it was silly and fun. And I was waiting for the real stuff, but the real stuff wasn’t coming.

We were then asked to “stretch out” as we slept. Of course, this meant that everyone started getting all up in everyone else’s personal space in an uncomfortable way. I knew I didn’t dig these people touching me, so my body found a way out: I slid down off of my seat. The audience laughed, and the hypnotist ran over to pick me up and place me back in the chair. We were instructed to stretch out more. “Oh yeah?” came the voice in my head as I did the exact same thing again. Once I was on the floor, I moved myself to front, center stage and laid there peacefully, with my hands tucked under my head and my knees up, most assuredly not stretched out. The audience laughed as the hypnotist was forced to walk around me as he barked orders at the others. After I had left the stage (about ten minutes later), my partner told me that I had a huge grin on my face as I lay there. Apparently, my relaxed, inner self is quite defiant and more than a little pleased with “getting away” with expressing myself. This is the part of the show I liked. While others were getting praise and attention from the audience for doing what they were ordered to do, I was getting a different kind of attention for being openly defiant in my “hypnotized” state. It was at this point that the realization began to gel about the actual manipulation performed by the hypnotist on the volunteers. I assumed that everyone was as lucid as I was. (How could they not be?) So the question became: why are they choosing to do all this?

After a few minutes, he directed me back to my seat. With all of our eyes still closed, we were told to hold onto the person to our right. “Squeeze your pillow tight,” came the humorous suggestion. I, in no way, believed this person was a pillow, but I was still fully relaxed. As others grabbed people and did as they were told, my body went rather limp and hung there like a ragdoll. When he instructed that we bop our heads on the pillow, my mind dismissed that suggestion. This was no longer OK by the hypnotist’s standards, he came over to me on more than one occasion to forcibly make me do the commands by positioning my hands and pushing on my head. This was no longer OK with me. We had now entered the realm where we volunteers were nothing more than circus monkeys, and he was the demanding ring master. He became the compilation of all undesirable, unstable, corrupt or depraved authority figures, from drunken drill sergeants to aggressive abusers. During one of his physical interventions to get us to act, the girl who was positioned next to me hit her head on the wall several times. My first reaction was to check if she was OK, and this is where my relaxation completely broke. I became extremely uncomfortable, and I began to develop much disgust toward the hypnotist.

Immediately after this exercise, I took myself out of the show and left the stage, along with the only two men on the stage. An older woman had been selected by the hypnotist to leave since her discomfort was obvious. As I walked back to my chair, I could not see the looks the audience gave me. Once I put my glasses back on, I could see faces of concern, inquiry or interest look back at me. My displeasure with the experience was obvious to everyone. The rest of the show was spent analyzing the hypnotist and the volunteers with my partner.

As the sow progressed, the activities became sadder to watch, especially now that I knew the truth of the matter. These people were completely lucid and choosing to act in this manner to perform like monkeys, selling themselves for the laugh. See, the hypnotist only controls these people because they allow him. He taps into their eagerness to please, like a child performing for a parent for attention, or their fear of the ramifications of displeasing others, like an abused spouse appeasing their partner.

They always say that under hypnosis the subject ” will not do anything they wouldn’t normally do or would have great displeasure doing.” So I would normally annoy by defiance and express my own thoughts on the matter through my behavior. Yet others would normally allow someone to make fools of them to get the spotlight. Fair enough.

Still, everyone has their breaking point. Mine was the realization of what these shows were all about, and how unimpressive the memework was by the “professional” (??!) hypnotist. For one girl, the breaking point was a request that she could, in no way, fulfill. He implanted a trigger phrase to signal to her to sing. She was fine doing so. After this performance, he added a trigger to sing the same song, three times as loud, in Chinese. After he spoke the trigger phrase, she stood with the mic in hand like a deer in headlights. “Ching?” she spoke before making a face and turning to the hypnotist. “Why would I want to sing this in Chinese? I don’t know Chinese. Do you?” Oh, I reveled in the face the hypnotist pulled as he realized how his orders backfired. “You would sing it better than me,” she said. “Why don’t you sing it?” Perfect. Hypnotist, have a taste; it’s just a mere suggestion.

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