An exotic-looking guy in a tux, swinging a pocket watch in front of the eyes of his subject.
Even a couple of decades ago, when Flip Orley was first getting into the business, this stereotypical image of the stage hypnotist was already outmoded.
How has it changed in the years since?
According to Orley, who plays the Tempe Improv later this month, it’s changed radically. And, in many ways, it’s also stayed the same.
“The structure of the show is always going to be the structure of the show,” says Orley. “I’m going to get up and do 25 to 30 minutes of stand-up, during which I’ll explain the kind of volunteers I’m looking for. In that regard, probably the show will always be the same.”
Once he’s found those volunteers from the audience, however, it will be as different as the personalities of the people he selects.
He notes a recent routine he did in which he induced his subjects to present themselves as experts in “micro-aggression,” the controversial idea that people often subtly give cultural offense to other people without being aware of it.
“I posted two videos up on You Tube of two different audiences doing the same bit,” he explains.
“The bit was the same, but I put the two clips up because they were two completely different. One lady said she hated it when micro-aggression got in your underwear and you had to go out back and get sprayed for it. I didn’t see that coming.”
A Valley native who currently lives in Louisiana but comes back often to perform and visit family and friends, Orley began in show business at 18, doing stand-up.
Separately, he later began to practice non-theatrical hypnosis to help people quit smoking, control their weight, etc.
Eventually he combined the two pursuits. His many years of touring have given him an unusual vantage point on shifting mass consciousness and pop culture awareness.
“Sixteen or 20 years ago,” he observes, “there was much more likelihood that we’d had a lot more shared experience.
Nowadays, with cable TV and the internet and all these choices, a TV show is a hit if it has a seven share.
Thirty years ago it was a hit if it got a 30 share.
“So it’s a lot harder for me to come up with bits based on TV shows. I used to have three different bits based on Gilligan’s Island, bits based on The Brady Bunch, and so on.”
The fragmentation of media has made it so difficult to write material based on pop culture that Orley recently took inspiration from a near-universal environmental experience.
“I was eating outside at a café with my wife, and we heard the beep-beep-beep of a vehicle backing up,” Orley recalls.
“I thought, everybody knows that sound, and now, of course, we all ignore it. So I came up with a bit where everybody was presenting their ideas for new back-up noises.”
It sounds as if his shows essentially consist of him recruiting an ad hoc improv troupe out of the audience.
“People volunteer for different reasons,” Orley admits.
“Some to prove I can’t hypnotize them, some because they’ve been hypnotized before and they enjoy it, some because they just want a license to get up on stage and be silly.
“But the people I’m looking for, it doesn’t seem like they’re up there to ham it up; they’re not faking it, but their creativity has come forth, and when a suggestion is given, for that brief time, it’s real to them.”
Flip Orley performs at the Tempe Improv Sept. 29 to Oct. 2.
For details call 480-921-9877 or go to tempeimprov.com.http://tempeimprov.com.