Comedy hypnosis: Suggestive material at Tampa Improv

A Q&A with comedy hypnotist Gary Conrad.



Knockout: Gary Conrad puts his volunteers to sleep, but the audience is wide awake and laughing at their antics.
  • Knockout: Gary Conrad puts his volunteers to sleep, but the audience is wide awake and laughing at their antics.

Imagine being part of a large improv troupe where the entire cast gets replaced every night— except you.
In a way, that's what Gary Conrad does: Performing comedy hypnosis with an entirely new group of volunteers every show. He has set activities for them, but they're complete strangers and how they'll react once they're hypnotized is something of a mystery. He's prepared for just about every contingency, but the audience might be surprised at what they see.
We caught up with Conrad for a short Q&A in advance of his shows this week at Tampa Improv in Ybor City.

CL: You perform comedy hypnosis. Are the volunteers really hypnotized? Do they know what they're doing on stage?

Conrad: They are really hypnotized. They have a sense of what they are doing. Usually, they don't care about what anyone else thinks of their behaviors. That makes it so much fun. Is it their true selves? A bit of play-acting? Hyperbole?
Who knows... who cares... as long as it's exciting!

For people who have never seen a hypnosis show, what's a big misconception?

That I'm wealthy enough to pay so many people to engage in such outrageous behaviors!

How do you prepare for a show where you don't know any of the people and you don't know exactly how they'll react to any particular suggestion? Do you enjoy that level of uncertainty?

Performing "without a net" is always stimulating. I've been doing it so long that there are usually four or five solid bits that can be conjured that are audience/show-rating appropriate to intrigue the crowd.

You have two types of shows this week: A regular show and an "R-rated" show. What's the difference?

The PG-rated show is more mainstream and intellectually-stimulating. Its language is toned-down and civil, although behaviors are outlandish. It appeals to folks of all walks of life on sundry levels. Effects of amnesia, mood altering, and hallucination are demonstrated.
The "adult" show is more graphic and sensual; language is not necessarily the main mode of expression. There seems to be more of a "common" theme.
I worry more during these "adult" shows and listen for rifle clicks.

Knowing that they'll be doing silly things, what makes people want to get up there and be part of the show?

"Free at last; free at last; good God-Almighty, I'm free at last!"
It can be exhilarating.

What makes these shows fun for the audience? What can they expect if it's their first time at a hypnosis show?

Transformation of volunteers (strangers, their friends, or even themselves) into singers, dancers, or celebrities behaving badly. They should realize that just because they have not volunteered to take the stage, that inures them from not being a part of the show. There are many ways individual audience members may find themselves interacting with the entranced: Being serenaded, being visited, being hugged, or having a "Chippendale" dance at their tables. This up-close-and-personal component augments the edginess that I want to create. Suspense is rarely boring.

Showtimes are Wednesday at 8 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m.
1600 E. Eighth Ave., Tampa. Info: or 813-864-4000.

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