Perhaps you've seen a depiction of hypnotism in old television shows. Some conniving guy waves his pocket watch in front of a victim's face, putting the unsuspecting person under the evildoer's manipulative spell for total control.
Well, hypnosis isn't exactly like that. And laugh-out-loud hypnosis shows are nothing like that.
"It's a natural state of mind people experience frequently," said Flip Orley. The comic hypnotist chatted while en route from his home in Lafayette, La., to D.C., where he's set to perform two weekends of shows at the D.C. Improv.
If you go Flip Orley Where: D.C. Improv, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday to Thursday, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday (also July 14 to 18) Info: $15 and $17; 202-296-7008; improv.com
Orley likens hypnosis more to a relaxed mental state similar to a deep daydream. A person in such a relaxed mental state is aware of his or her surroundings, but can be very susceptible to suggestion. And that's where the fun comes in.
For a typical show, Orley calls upon volunteers from the audience, whittles the number down and has a group that he hypnotizes. The group of volunteers ends up saying and doing ridiculous things, and fun is had by all. It's part standup, part stage performance.
"I know a lot of people use a variety of techniques," said Orley, who estimates he performs anywhere between 150 and 300 shows a year. "I let people volunteer. For me, it makes it easier. I want everyone to feel safe."
Orley never lets anything get out of control. While some hypnotist comics can get a little raunchy, Orley says he keeps it clean. He doesn't want anyone to be embarrassed. Plus, he wants the volunteers to remember what they experienced.
"I'll be fair and treat them with respect," Orley said. "I don't want the guy to feel bad about it.
"I make sure people do remember. It's not fair to get onstage and not remember," he added.
Orley started his career in response to a dare from a roommate back in college. He's turned his stage hypnotist act into a popular career, and has appeared on "Today" and "Entertainment Tonight."
Hypnotism has been a popular form of entertainment for a number of years, ever since Pat Collins started a hypnotism nightclub act in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Entertainers like Orley have continued and expanded on that tradition.
Orley stresses the safety and respect of his volunteers onstage. The show is dependent on them, who can even guide what direction the show takes. And if it's going well, an Orley performance can stretch to two hours.
"As the show progresses, they teach me about themselves," Orley said. "If it's going well, I want to keep it going."