For many years, people who performed hypnotism as entertainment called themselves “stage hypnotists.” Then, there was a movement toward the term “comedy hypnotist.” It was part of an effort to re-brand the art form from the old vaudeville days–when hypnosis was portrayed more as a mystical event, mysterious and even spooky–to a more modern experience of light-hearted hilarity. Both terms are still in use today, but as a college hypnotist I find myself wishing for a new term.
You might think, “Well, Paul, you’re using it already. You just referred to yourself as a “college hypnotist.” The catch there is that while I work mostly in the college market, I’m not just a college hypnotist. I do shows for high schools and corporate events, too. What’s wrong with using “comedy hypnotist?” Nothing, exactly. But here’s the thing…
In the college market, comedy has become tricky. It’s not just about whether or not the comedy makes you laugh or not anymore, but now there’s also more scrutiny than ever about whether or not the laughter is coming from an appropriate joke or not. At the broader level, I can appreciate this. I think it’s good to be discerning about what we consume and what we support as consumers. I want everyone at my shows to feel valued and supported. I want my show to make people feel great.
I don’t actively refer to myself as a college hypnotist. I don’t usually call myself a comedy hypnotist, either, and especially now I don’t think I want to use that term. Comedy in the college market is sort of a mine field these days. My difficulty, now, is in knowing how to plan for the wide variety of viewpoints and reactions that can occur from a single moment of comedy. It’s no longer as simple as some people laugh and some people don’t. Now some people laugh, some people don’t, some people get mad, and some people get mad and post about it on social media.
The biggest challenge of using hypnosis for entertainment is that, contrary to what some people think, you cannot completely control the hypnotized people on stage. You do not bend them to your will and make them do whatever you want. This means that at some point during a show, they may do something that offends other people, and those offended people may blame you because they think somehow you made it happen. There’s not much I can do about that, so I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it.
What gets more of my attention is the idea that I might plan for a scenario that I think is funny, and in facilitating that scenario I might create a moment that offends somebody in the audience. Sometimes performing hypnotists purposefully create moments of drama or conflict on stage in order to get a funny reaction or response from the hypnotized subjects. It’s a reasonable part of the creative process. I may continue to do this in my own shows. I just want to be thoughtful about how I do it.
But even better, what I’d like to do more and more is to focus less on trying to make my show funny, and instead focus on making it fun. Here’s why.
All throughout my life, when I have tried to be funny, there have been points where being funny came at the expense of someone else or made somebody feel uncomfortable. But never in my life have I tried to help somebody have fun and ended up hurting their feelings. Maybe they didn’t have fun. Maybe they were bored or just sort of “meh” about it, but I’ve never, ever had somebody get upset when I made a genuine effort to help them have fun.
So I’m slowly and consistently working my show in that direction. I’m creating moments based on how it could give the person on stage a fun experience, or how it would be fun for the audience to watch the people on stage have a novel experience. Either way, fun is at the cornerstone of the show experience.
Will funny things still happen? Of course! But I think that the funny moments will come organically from the fun that the people on stage are having, not from me provoking them somehow. As a college hypnotist I want to do the best job I can for my college audiences, and focusing on fun feels like the right way to do that. It’s easy to feel good about helping people have fun.
I’m still not sure what I’m going to call myself. “Fun hypnotist” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. I’ll keep thinking about it.