SIDNEY – When hypnotist Mike Bishop called her Kathy instead of Katie, Sidney native Gwen Pinson got so mad that she kicked him.
“I was mad at him,” Pinson said following Tuesday evening’s show at the Shelby County Fair. “I knew he had done something.”
Bishop is hosting three comedy hypnosis shows daily at the Shelby County Fair. He brings volunteers onto the stage and through the power of suggestion makes them dance to imaginary music, makes them think they were pinched and makes them forget common knowledge such as the existence of the number seven.
“Last night I stole a bunch of people’s bellybuttons, and they were all yelling at me,” Bishop said Tuesday afternoon.
In the case of Pinson, who now lives in Maineville, Bishop made her forget her name. When asked to introduce herself on stage, she just glared at him with a frustrated look upon her face.
Bishop then returned Pinson to a deeply relaxed state and told her that her name was Katie. Moments later when he called her Kelly or Kathy, she became upset, leading her to kick him on the shin.
“I won’t give a suggestion that I think is going to make them feel distressed,” Bishop said. “And anytime we do get that then I start backing away from it as quick as I can because I don’t want them to feel distressed. I want them to feel a little bit overwhelmed for a moment, but I don’t want them to hurt.”
Bishop has performed hypnosis for more than 40 years, starting at age 16 after he saw a hypnotist at his high school. He talked to the hypnotist who helped him start on the path to performing hypnosis himself.
Before he got into hypnosis, Bishop already was a performer. He started putting on magic shows when he was 8.
“By the time I was 12 I was doing shows everywhere,” he said. “I was just working like a crazy guy. My poor dad used to have to drive me around.”
At one point Bishop performed more than 250 hypnosis shows a year at fairs, high schools, colleges, casinos and corporate lectures. He’s scaled back his schedule and now performs just under 200 shows a year throughout the United States.
“It’s fun to have a family audience,” the Canton native said. “Casinos pay really well, but you almost always have to deal with drunks and after a while that wears on you.”
Bishop hypnotizes more than 3,000 people a year. Along with drunk people, he also sometimes has to deal with individuals who try to mess with him on stage.
“There are people that will come up and try to fake it and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “Most of those people, if they’re kind and they’re just doing it because they feel uncomfortable, I just let them stay. But if they’re just goofing off and not trying I just say try next time and dismiss them off the stage.”
All of Bishop’s guests on stage are volunteers, and the only people who can be hypnotized are people who want to be hypnotized.
“The more they want to be hypnotized, the best they are as hypnotic subjects,” Bishop said. “People who are above-average intelligence are better subjects, people who are highly creative are better subjects, and people who have strong will are better subjects.”
Bishop spends about 10 minutes on stage with his volunteers in a process called induction. The process brings them into a hypnotic state that Bishop likens to daydreaming.
“People need to decide for themselves,” Bishop said of those who doubt that hypnosis is real. “I know it’s real. I know it’s measurable, which is a really important part of the scientific process. We can put an (electroencephalogram) on someone, and you can see that they’ve entered into a brainwave state that is not the same as fully conscious state. As far as the rest of it’s concerned, I can tell you that there’s as much art as there is science in doing this. When you’re looking at someone you have to kind of interpret what you see, and the more you do that the better you get at it.”
Once his volunteers have reached the deeply relaxed state, Bishop is able to make suggestions and start his comedy.
“It’s based usually on sort of my instinct to try to figure out what I think it is that they’re going to respond the best to,” he said.
During a show on Monday, he convinced a group of guys they were being pinched by a girl on stage.
“It’s a funny dynamic for the audience because the girl is laughing at them and never touched them, which makes it even funnier for the girl,” Bishop said. “I’ve seen guys get up and start crying and go ‘Stop it!’ and all kinds of stuff like that.”
While Bishop likes to have fun with his volunteers, he said he doesn’t want to hurt anyone with his antics.
“For me the most important thing is I don’t want anybody leaving the stage having a negative feeling about it,” he said. “I don’t want them walking away not liking me, you know what I’m saying? I want them to say ‘I had fun. I felt really good.’
“I hear stories about people who like play with people’s phobias like snakes and stuff. That is just not cool. Phobias are more deeply seeded than what a little 30 or 40 or 50 minute show should be dealing with.”
Bishop has learned minor changes in techniques can affect volunteers’ reactions and said people who don’t have training in hypnosis shouldn’t perform it.
“Guys who watch it on YouTube and say I’ll give that a try and then they’re successful, that’s really bad because they don’t understand what’s really going on inside the brain of the person who’s trying to process that information,” Bishop said.
Bishop said he hasn’t completely mastered hypnosis even though it’s his full-time job and has been doing it for decades.
“In some ways I still surprise myself or something happens that surprises me on stage,” he said. “But I would say that any hypnotist needs to do, I would think, over 100 stage shows before you could call them well balanced or, you know what I mean? Because there’s just things you shouldn’t do.”
Bishop’s shows are at 5, 7 and 9 p.m. daily at the Shelby County Fair. For more information about Bishop and his show, visit www.hypnomike.com.
Reach this writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-538-4824.