The first time Flip Orley got on a stage and used his hypnotic powers to make people do his bidding, he himself had to be coaxed into doing it.
Of course, it wasn't with a swinging pocket watch or a spinning spiral. Sometimes, nagging someone enough is its own form of hypnotism.
Orley, a comic hypnotist from Lafayette, La. who has become a regular fixture at the Addison Improv, dabbed in the practice throughout high school and college as a student of psychology, communications and general social sciences. He also did stand-up on the side and never thought of melding the two until a friend nagged him into trying it.
"The conversation came around often enough that I got aggravated and said, 'If I do it on stage once, will you leave it alone and never bring it up again?" Orley says from his home in Louisiana.
When asked why he didn't just hypnotize his friend to get him to stop asking, he laughed and says, "Actually, I never thought of that. That's a pretty good idea."
That night, he had to turn people away from the stage who wanted to be put into a trance and made to pretend they were Superman or made to believe that he's just a floating head. He says he never even expected to get a volunteer.
"I assumed I was going to say I'm going to do hypnosis and people would look at me like an idiot," he says. "So when a ton of people rushed the stage, I was surprised. It shocked the hell out of me."
Almost 25 years later, Orley travels from stage to stage to put people under and make them into human marionettes for audiences' amusements and he returns to the Addison Improv (http://addison.improv.com) for a Halloween weekend run.
Orley admits that hypnotism isn't a magical ability for one person to control another. He can't put someone under who doesn't want to be or isn't open to the idea.
"You look for ways to try to have a show with the best chance of success," Orley says. "In the first part of the show, you look for ways to encourage people to volunteer and set their fears at ease so that they think I'm not going to be mean to them or make them bark like a dog or squeal like a pig or something like that."
Orley says he likes to observe the "Golden Rule" with victims, er, subjects. In fact, he's usually the only person in the room who comes up with the characters and scenes for his volunteers to play because some audiences like to take it a bit beyond his comfort level.
"I used to put questionnaires on the table and so often, the things people wrote down were so mean," Orley says. "I would look at these questionnaires night in and night out and think, 'Holy crap, thank God you're not the hypnotist'...Back when the movie 'Titanic' was a big thing, I kept getting suggestions like 'Imagine they're in freezing cold water and imagine that the boat's going down.'"
The best way for a hypnotist to get the best possible show out of a crowd is to ensure the audience and the volunteers that he can't make them do anything they don't want to do or couldn't normally do, Orley says.
"If you get on the stage with the intention of not being hypnotized, I have no control, no power over you," Orley says. "What I'm looking to do is encourage those people who are open minded and serious about giving it a shot and putting their fears at ease."
Orley describes the process of being hypnotized as regressing to a more imaginative state and exercising a part of your brain that most people haven't used for a very long time.
"You have the conscious and the unconscious mind and your conscious is your short term memory, your analytical ability and the stuff we're taught to use when you get older and when you're in school," Orley says. "The unconscious is your subjectivity, creativity and long term memory and people repress their natural abilities. For kids, pretending things gets very real for them. You know you're not Superman but in that moment, you feel like you are when you're 5 or 6-years-old. That ability doesn't go away. It's just that we stop using it."
The state of hypnotism isn't a complete loss of one's faculties or consciousness, Orley says.
"When a person's hypnotized, it's not typically what they expect," he says. "Their eyes might be open or closed. Typically, the body's relaxed and it looks like they are sleeping or sleepy but what's interesting is that you're very aware. You can hear what's going on. You know what you're doing and people can feel like they can choose not to do something."
That means that sometimes Orley will get someone who doesn't go under or can't be made to do something more than a few times on stage. He estimated that around 40 percent of the people that come up on stage won't respond to him for a number of different reasons.
"Even if someone gets on stage with the best of intentions or attitudes and they sitting somewhere where they can't hear the speaker or if they are nervous or they have too much to drink," Orley says, "there are any number of things that can make it difficult to concentrate."
Besides, having someone who doesn't go under isn't the worst thing that has happened to Orley on stage. His last run in Addison featured both one of the high and low points of his career. First, the bad: He actually fell off the stage while trying to put some subjects under during a show and fell "face first" into a table filled with food and drinks.
"I jumped up and apparently, I fell into a dish of condiments," he says. "So when I stood up, it looked like I was hemorrhaging."
The show before that, however, made up for that moment since that's when he first met his future wife Stacia.
Mix those moments in with the fact that Addison was his first big into the Improv community of clubs and it's easy to tell why Orley keeps coming back to put a spell on the club's audiences.
"For me, it's like home," Orley says. "It's like my home club. I've been playing here longer than any other club in the country."