Hypnosis is a strange thing. It’s so bizarre, one could confuse it for mind-control, and while they are very similar, hypnosis just sounds cooler, more mysterious, tamer and less suspicious.
The best way I can describe hypnosis -at least to anyone who has never tried it -is that you know what you’re doing, but not knowing how or why. You’re fully aware that you’re moving your body, uttering words and sentences and mindful of your embarrassment, excitement and shock throughout the whole ordeal. And the most adrenaline-inducing part of it all is that burning fear of being embarrassed in front of hundreds of people doing weird things onstage you can’t imagine doing anywhere else.
Yet, when you try to recall what you did, your brain goes into denial, telling you “that didn’t happen; you’re dreaming!” You make yourself believe that it was all smoke and mirrors, an elaborate joke designed to get a reaction of its participants and toy with the audience’s suspension of disbelief. In other words: fake.
At least, that’s what I thought until hypnotist Steve Taubman showed me otherwise.
It was Saturday, Sept. 22. I was encouraged to see Taubman’s hypnosis performance with Nick Johnson, who, along with Jacob Dawson, suggested that I put a GoPro action camera on my head and get volunteered, as a cool way to showcase hypnosis from a first-person perspective. I was initially reluctant, a feeling not really helped by Dawson, who suggested that I might be too “strong-minded” to be hypnotized anyway; nevertheless, I accepted, hoping to both make another great video for TNH and be an active player in the performance.
On that Saturday at 9 p.m., however, neither Nick nor Jacob showed up, leaving me at first to just observe the show, take photos, interview people after the fact…in other words, business as usual. Then, my friend and up-and-coming hypnotist Zach Pincince showed up and, in the midst of Taubman’s opening remarks, encouraged me to participate. Filled with dread-driven hesitation, I asked him to join me, but he decided to watch and learn from Taubman’s show instead.
Only when Taubman called for volunteers to line up in front of the stage to be picked for his show did I reluctantly surrender to the madness and stand up, simultaneously praying to be seated and find out what it was all about. The latter, as I soon discovered, turned out to be the weirdest experience in my life, both for me and those who decided to join me.
After passing the qualifying round -one Taubman said was based on one’s “willingness” to be hypnotized -by submerging our hands in sticky glue and tying them to balloons, we were slowly lured to sleep by his voice. Except, it wasn’t exactly sleep; it was more a nap than anything else, as I didn’t feel tired at all but felt like lying there for hours.
As I laid there on the hard wooden stage, I was transported to a warm tropical beach, surrounded by the sea breeze and sand, only to be sabotaged by insects and ever-growing humidity. I was then flung to the movies, where me and my “date” sat through a marathon consisting of the funniest movie I had ever seen (I think it was Caddyshack, though Chevy Chase looked a bit blurry to me), the world’s most depressing film (and the first to make me cry in years), and a beautifully-shot romance that was sadly interrupted by the worst projectionist that ever lived.
I say that because, when the film returned, it was a dirty, NC-17 rated train wreck starring people I will not mention in order to preserve their dignity. Needless to say, I was scared.
And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Thankfully, we were put back to sleep soon after the fourth film and were transported back to the stage and what appeared to be reality; however, it was under one condition: we forgot our own names.
Something that stupid and desperate is pure nonsense, I thought; of course I know my own damn name!
And yet, when that microphone approached my mouth -even after checking my wallet and seeing my license in plain sight -my brain drew a blank and dealt it out to a delighted audience. For once in my life, I was a true dumbass.
It wasn’t just me, however, as I took some solace in the fact that the other participants had suffered the same fate, so at least it was fair across the board. Feeling bad for my blunder, Taubman gave me the ability to put others to sleep simply by saying “sleep!” It was amazing.
But, once again, like a dumbass, I was encouraged by Taubman to use it on myself. And I did.
The next time I awakened, I found myself in a laundry room, then the Kentucky Derby, then in some random room that looked like the Strafford Room talking on a shoe-shaped phone to the President of the United States about nuclear weapons in Mongolia.
And THEN, like that, we were all back on the stage, after returning from yet another nap. All seemed normal, at least, until some guy started jumping around and grunting he was Tarzan; a girl thought my friend Zach was Taylor Lautner of all people (until she found out otherwise and Taubman jokingly called him out for being a “pervert”); another participant kept getting up and giving Taubman his wallet, who would return it to him moments later; and one guy even went into labor. It was like a madhouse trapped in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day all while my mind kept screaming WTF.
As the grand finale, Taubman sent us all to the 2018 MTV Awards and danced the night away until we suddenly found ourselves back on the stage in the Strafford Room, as if nothing had happened…except something had happened; we just didn’t know what.
Next thing I knew, we were all in a circle by the stage. The lights were up, the audience was departing, and, before I knew it, a finger snapped, and I remembered my name once more.
Just like that, it was all over. And it was a refreshingly surreal blast.
As for how real it was? To answer that, it’s only appropriate for the illusionist himself to have the final say.
“It makes me feel really good,” Taubman, who has performing hypnosis for colleges and a variety of other venues for over 22years, told me after the show. “I feel a lot of gratitude for people being willing to play and get into the experience. I believe that we all have an imagination, we all have a rich inner world, and some of us, we block it up…[hypnosis] helps peel away layers and this gives us access to a creative, imaginative, playful, childlike part of ourselves and I think we could all benefit from going there.”