Entranced: An Interview With A (Comedy) Hypnotist
Clean, charming and enchanting, Isaac Lomman’s debut show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is accessible to all. With a velveteen jacket and a silver pocket watch, he’s capable of just about anything. Don’t worry though, he only uses his powers for good, or so he tells Aidan Johnson…
This is your first time at the International Comedy Festival. Are you excited?
What prompted you to come out this way?
The show has grown exponentially over the last year or two in Adelaide, and I haven’t really exported the show anywhere else (from a festival perspective). And Melbourne is kind of like my second home, my family lives over there, so I can stay with them, and I really wanted to see how the show goes in the consumer marketplace in Melbourne.
So are you hoping this will launch a Melbourne/national tour?
Probably not looking at that for this year – this is mostly for testing waters right now. If it goes well, then I will definitely look at doing some regional stuff, and the Comedy Festival in 2017. So I was going to look at doing a lot of regional Victoria, or the Northern Territory – generally a big tour.
You got into the art of showman-hypnosis through hypno-therapy. How did that happen? And why?
It was more a case of finding my niche. I enjoyed the therapy – I especially liked helping people and the results from therapy. But I found that I am better at shows, and getting this notion of trance hypnosis out to a broader populace; to teach different trance pathways to use in their lives.
It’s also a lot more fun! Getting on stage and making people laugh – I have always had that showman’s streak in me I think. Once I managed to get hypnosis and the stage together I suddenly thought: “This is it! This is what I’ve been looking for! This is a career that I can really sink my teeth into.”
Obviously found quite a good niche.
I found that when I first started my career in comedy, it just seemed to work naturally for me. People at the beginning would say “your voice” or “the way you did this got us involved really easily”. So then it sort of stuck, and I became “The Hypnotist” in my head, and then I made it happen.
So are you more that “Old School” hypnotist, or are you a more modern style of comedian?
So I kind of do feel like I am transporting people back to that olden time. The show has changed to be suitable for a modern audience, meaning that it is a feel-good show and not like the nasty image that is associated with hypnotism. The look and the feel of the show is quite old school, if that makes sense. You know, you see the pictures of me with the watch and stuff – it’s all about igniting those thoughts in people’s mind about what hypnotism is and isn’t.
Have you come across any negative reactions to hypnotism – for example, people being concerned about “mind control”?
Look, scepticism comes with the territory, and a lot of people come to the show not believing that I (or the volunteers) can do that, and that the people I choose are paid actors and all that. That’s a given – in fact, I quite enjoy people coming down with that mindset, because oftentimes when they get onstage it becomes a part of the show, which is something I am finding through these festivals (and is quite funny).
But there have been other people who take an even harder stand, who say “this is dangerous” and all that kind of stuff. When I did the Port Adelaide Football Club, there was this psychologist on the Melbourne media, and he was having a chat on Sunrise about it. And the reality is that hypnosis is the same as any other live art form. Those people are all going through a rollercoaster of emotions, and my show particularly focuses on positive emotions, and at the end of the show, it’s all wrapped up and everyone has had a good time. But there’s always going to be some negativity, no matter what you do. But my hope is that when people see the show, they can understand amuch more about it.
So I watched that interview on Sunrise, and Dr Michael Carr-Greg considered your show to be quite dangerous. Is there any reason why you and he would have such a different professional opinion?
I think for him – and he said it in the interview – and it’s quite funny, but his view is that you put an idea in someone’s mind, and they believe this idea wholeheartedly, without fact checking it or anything. So he was saying in that interview that the Psychologist Association of Australia has said that he, as a psychologist, is not allowed to go to a hypnotist show. And now he believes, wholeheartedly, that they’re dangerous – but he’s never even seen one. So, without him having his own view, or having seen one himself, he’ll never really know what they’re like. Certainly modern shows have moved away from that really “hardcore” or “dark comedy” that existed in the ‘90’s and stuff.
Also, a lot of psychologists use hypnosis themselves as part of their therapy practices, and it’s a powerful tool that can be used in to change communication, which it really is. But the whole idea of therapy and comedy are worlds apart, and in comedy hypnosis is just a tool, and you can use a tool in different applications, and the result will be completely different. So, I think they don’t quite understand the difference between the two worlds, especially if they haven’t come down to see a show (especially one done by a professional), then they might be holding this belief that things could be triggered off. But if you have been trained professionally, as I have, in the potential pitfalls hypnosis (which there are very few if it’s done correctly), then you avoid anything that might set triggers off.
That’s fair enough. Speaking on your professional background, you have had a hypno-therapy training previously, do you think that has provided you with useful skills for this line of work? Do you use skills from then, or do you have new ones? Are they comparable skills?
They are comparable skills.
So when I was learning therapy, I was learning the various mechanisms for safety, and how to end trance respectfully, and also basic tools such as hypnotic language. That all came from the therapy side of things.
The actual way I hypnotise people onstage is very different to therapy. Most therapists are passive in their practices, whereas I’m very active (asking for feedback etc). It’s a much more joint process between me and the subject. It can be quite different, but they both are coming from the idea of what hypnosis is, and how great it can be in helping people’s lives. And coming through the show, I guess it helps shape how the show feels. Whereas if I came from a magic or showman background, then my show might have a completely different feel to it.
Speaking of the show, there are lots of misconceptions of hypnosis. How much control do you have over the subjects? Are you able to predict the outcomes every time, or are you often as surprised by audiences at the outcome?
Yes, absolutely. I have used suggestions hundreds of times in shows, and quite often the subject will take it in a completely different direction from what I could have guessed. So it does keep me on my toes, and I often end up laughing just as much as the audience does at what their response is. And I love that, and I think that’s the part that’s so interesting to audiences, as it is about the imagination, and everyone’s imagination is different. Even if I did the same show and the same routine night after night, with the same suggestions, because I have new volunteers, the show would naturally change anyway. I’m also always changing the routine as well, to keep it fresh both for myself and for audiences if they come back for another show.
In terms of control of the subject, it varies from subject to subject. Some will go really deep, and become like a somnambulace (the deepest state you can go into in hypnosis). But typically, the whole way through they keep their morals, which means you can’t suggest that they go and do something really bad, and they’ll do it all the time. It really varies from person to person.
On the differences in between your types of shows, I notice you do a fair amount of corporate gigs. Have you done much festival work like the Comedy Festival – and what is different?
So there are a couple of big differences, and certainly the corporate stuff is what I based my shows around, which is why my shows have that nice clean comedy feel to them. They were designed to appeal to a broad demographic – a 9 – 90 audience, and a show that everyone could enjoy. But in terms of large scale staging, I have done Adelaide Fringe for 4 years now, and the shows there have gone from 4, to 11, then to 28, and we’re looking at 31 shows for Fringe this year, and those seats range from 300 – 400 every Fringe. I have also taken the show on the road, with some regional touring here in South Australia, which included shows in theatres of around 500.
So I have done quite a lot of these big stage works and audience ticketed shows, and I really actually enjoy these shows more than the corporate stuff. Corporate is great, but when you’ve got a room full of people who have decided to come, decided to be there, the atmosphere in the room is so different, so much bigger, and we get some pretty crazy stuff happening on the stages for the festival-type shows.
As an aside, do you have any memorable moments from these festival moments? Not necessarily bad, just unexpected and memorable.
There was one time a couple of years ago that has stuck with me as being pretty funny. I was doing this routine for the first time ever, and I stroked this girl’s hand, and the suggestion was that she would fall in love with the guy next to her essentially – she would find him absolutely magnificent, like he would be this glorious man. And the suggestion following that was that she couldn’t stop staring at him. And it was really funny, because he was a good looking bloke – the type who probably has done a bit of modelling, and it was easy to see this girl fawning over him. But it was really funny seeing how their personalities came out, especially his personality, as I used this suggestion multiple times throughout the show, and every time he would be a little bit weirded out, with the whole “stop this, you’re creepy” look. And towards the end of the show, I set off the trigger again (for maybe the fourth time that show), and he just leant over and gave her a big hug, and the audience just went absolutely wild. It wasn’t scripted like that, but it just came out, and you could see his personality shining through, which created this fantastic moment that I hadn’t expected, but the show was better for it really.
So that really reinforces the whole “you can’t expect what will happen” thing then?
Yep, that’s right. I love those moments when they catch me off-guard – it’s good.
Backtracking a bit, you mentioned being an active participant in giving out the hypnosis, but have you been on the receiving end much, or at all?
Yes. So when I was learning and in training for hypnosis, basically the course that I did had 60 different people there, and we were all learning the course together. This meant that we were all each other’s subjects to start with, and that is where I was able to experience it myself, and especially some of the effects that kind of blew my mind a little bit. Like there was this one point in the course where we had a 23 hour day, and the guy running the course hypnotised everybody to come back in a few hours, feeling as though they have just had a full night’s rest. And then I did exactly that. I went back to where we were staying, and had a sleep for about 2 – 3 hours, and I woke up feeling completely refreshed when I came back to the course.
I also use hypnosis on myself – self-hypnosis – just to achieve goals, or just to relax and destress. Whatever I need it for really. So yeah, I have experienced hypnosis myself a lot, and continue to do so. In part, I want to promote this idea of “trance” in our lives. I think if we had a little bit more trance in our lives, we’d be a little bit less stressed out, we’d be able to control our emotions to certain extents. And whether it is through hypnosis, or meditation, or yoga, or whatever trance medium you choose, the more we do it, we would get many benefits from it.
What does this “trance” mean for you as a performer, therapist, and in your general life?
So what is trance?
I think that really trance is that moment when you can put your current reality on hold, and dream, or think about – or visualise – a new reality for yourself. And once you begin to visualise that new reality strongly enough, you can begin to make it happen for you. So whether that new reality is to have more energy in 10 minutes time; or perhaps it is not being scared of birds anymore; or maybe it’s working harder; or making more money. And I guess you are visualising this new reality so strongly that your current reality starts to shift, and make those unconscious choices to fulfil the new reality.
So that’s a fairly long-winded version of what trance is. I think the shorthand version of trance would be: putting your current reality on hold, and fantasising, daydreaming, or visualising a new one.
It’s lots of fun too!
Have you had people ever come up to you after the show and asked about the trance experience? Or been blown away – not just by the show, but in the more life-altering fashion?
There have been a few who have come up after the show. Quite a few people have said that they have used hypnosis before, or the usual “I didn’t expect the show to be quite like that – I was expecting it to be much nastier”, or stuff like that.
But I had one woman message me on Facebook recently actually, and she had been to one of my shows. This had prompted her to go and see a therapist about her anxiety issues and her stress issues that she had in her life. And my show had helped her want to change what her current reality was.
This was really fulfilling to me, because as I have mentioned, my intention is to project the notion of trance out there into a mainstream audience. And there are people out there who think that life is what it is, who are dragging themselves through it sometimes, without realising that it can be a whole lot better, or a whole lot more exciting etc. If they take control over certain issues that are holding them back – so again, people with anxiety issues, PTSD even, phobias even.
Phobias are actually a big one, because phobias can often be weird little things, but it can be a crippling thing, if you think about that on a daily basis. I just met someone this year, who I did a piece with here on TodayTonight, who had a phobia of birds. Which we took away from her. But if you think about birds, especially pigeons (which was the particular type of bird she had an issue with), there are pigeons everywhere, in every city. Imagine seeing those every single day – it’s got to be tiresome right?
So I have had a few moments when I have been able to open people’s eyes to a different reality.
That must be a very fulfilling experience.
Absolutely, and I think those moments will be the ones that stay with me, long after the shows are done and I’m quite a bit older. The laughs are great, and it’s a fantastic medium to get trance out there, but it’s those points where I’ve helped changed someone’s life which are really, truly rewarding.
So, wrapping up, what are the plans for after you have finished here in Melbourne? After you have bedazzled us with your hypnotic abilities.
I’m not actually quite sure yet, I’ve left the year quite open. I will be doing a few footy club type things throughout the winter, and then the Christmas parties and corporate shows here and there. But the plans for this year or next will be to do the Festivals again, but then maybe to also do an Asian tour, so through maybe Singapore, or Hong Kong – and I am even considering the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So a very international affair will be on the horizon I think.
Cool. Do you think your show will be received differently overseas?
I’m not sure, truth be told. I know there will be subtleties that will be a little bit different, a little bit alien to some people or cultures. I think culturally Edinburgh will be quite similar to Australia, but Singapore might have some really interesting moments over there. And I am choosing places where English is a fluently spoken language, and I know in Hong Kong and Singapore there are a lot of expats over there. So hopefully it will take off in those markets, but I’m not sure right now – see how it all goes really. I might have to take a few hits before it gets better mind you.
Comedy Hypnosis: Entranced! is on from the 23rd of March until the 17th of April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets range from $25 to $30, and are available online and at the MICF box office.