These years later, I remain a wannabe ventriloquist and hypnotist. But as of yesterday, I have hereby joined the ranks of the hypnotized. Or not. Or something. Read on if you dare.
At a County Fair, among plenty of mooing cattle and lowing sheep and snorting horses and overweight humans and motocross mud, I found myself drawn to a show by a hypnotist from Canada. (Hmm. Drawn?) He selected 15 people from the audience and proceeded to make them do a number of increasingly silly things. A seriously overweight teen took off his shoes and the hypnotist told him they were now too small for him, so he couldn't get them back on. A woman in jeans and a pink top karaoke-d to a song by country star Carrie Underwood, strutting all over the stage in a hat. A tousle-haired young man with baggy jeans started by saying he hated country, then was hypnotized into saying he loved it, and in particular loved Carrie Underwood, and hello, here she is on stage! -- so he mooned over her, screamed her name and generally acted the major league fan. Later the same dude was persuaded that a trash can next to him was the most beautiful girl in the world, and proceeded to dance with her. It.
Like that. Despite wanting to learn hypnotism, I'm entirely sceptical -- but well, what were these people doing?
I went back for the second show, at night. To my astonishment, the guy selected me to get up on stage. Despite my scepticism, I resolved to focus on the man's instructions as sincerely as I could. And I think I did.
And in turn, I did some silly things too. Ran all around the stage and the audience shouting "Skipper, where are you?" while a Navy guy in white ran around shouting "Gilligan, where are you, li'l buddy?" and then we finally met and flung ourselves into each other's arms. (Hurt my nose. Navy hardbody). Heard sounds in my hat and realized all my friends were having a party in there without me, and so I tried to gatecrash by climbing into the hat. Fell asleep as instructed, draped myself over the guy on one side or the girl on the other as instructed again, had them drape themselves over me as instructed, woke up as instructed. Danced to Eminem music with the other males on stage, the crowd went wild. Claimed there was a Naval conspiracy to steal my hat. Hugged the guy next to me, because we both suddenly believed that the other was the most attractive person in the world.
Here's the thing: all through, I was completely awake and alert, and so were my colleagues up on stage. I knew exactly what I was doing. And why. Thing is, you go along with the show. You go along with the entertainment, with keeping people laughing and clapping and delighted at your antics. In that sense, the hypnotist's great skill is in judging the people he picks -- those who show any signs of not going along, he packs off back to the audience.
And there's a clue. This guy actually advertises himself as an entertainer; his slogan is that he "will make you laugh, like it or not!" In that, he is eminently successful.
As I walked off the stage at the end, two guys in the audience were nudging each other. "Ask him, ask him", I heard the whispers. So I turned to them, and one asked me what it had been like. I told them about what I've said here. And as I did so, I found I had a strange mixture of feelings.
I'm glad to know that the scepticism was justified. But I'm oddly disappointed to know that there is no esoteric explanation for how these hypnotism shows go. And I puzzle over one thing: this business of getting volunteers to "go along", is that the real act of hypnosis?
Postscript: The hypnotist's name is Terrance B, and this is his site. He is also keeping a blog about his appearances this year, here.