Local hypnotist Jim Spinnato is a mesmerizing guy
The problem, according to Morgan, is that, off to the left by the bar, there's a gathering of leprechauns engaging in a rampant orgy. At the same time, on the other side of the room, Ginger, not pleased by what she perceives to be a small group of men laughing at her, is spewing a reactionary flow of clever and scalpel-sharp obscenities that would intimidate Snoop Dog.
And all around, several dozen onlookers, either convulsed with mirth or slack-jawed with disbelief, watch as both scenarios unfold before them. There's one person who could tame this madness — if he wanted to.
Instead, though, Jim Spinnato, standing center stage Friday night in Comix at Mohegan Sun, merrily orchestrates the whole thing with precision and dynamics. This is, after all, the climax of his regular, 21+ hypnotism show at the club, and Spinnato is having a grand time. He also hosts a Magic Matinee every Sunday in Comix.
"It's fun," he says in an interview prior to the performance. "It's a lot of fun being a nightclub hypnotist. You never know what's going to happen."
Spinnato, 68 and with the energy of someone half his age, has been a nightclub entertainer for 31 years. He started — and continues to work — as a magician. Two decades ago, he added comedy hypnotism to his resume. In addition to magic and hypnotism residencies at Comix, he also does the college circuit, private parties, corporate gigs, and other club dates. Spinnato was born in New London, attended Norwich Tech and, before starting his career as a magician, spent four years in the Air Force. He and his family moved to Waterford in 2000.
At Comix on Friday, Morgan and Ginger — no last names, please — have volunteered to undergo hypnosis along with about a dozen other attendees. This night, they're the only two of several volunteers who were successfully put under.
"There are nights when I'll have 15 people volunteer, and all of them will go under," Spinnato says. "Other nights, maybe just a few. That's actually part of the challenge because it changes the dynamics of what I have to work with."
After an hour of increasingly outrageous and mostly risqué directives to Ginger and Morgan — and their respective and decidedly unscripted reactions thereof — they're now midway through the denouement of the show.
Morgan was asked by Spinnato to procure a bottle of water in the adjacent pub but was also informed by the hypnotist that, when she approached the bar, she'd behold the carnal leprechauns.
"There are leprechauns MATING," she announces to Spinnato. But, as Spinnato is busy explaining to Ginger that she's being relentlessly ridiculed (by a segment of the crowd that's actually doing no such thing), Morgan gets more insistent. She can't believe no one's paying attention to what (she thinks) she's seeing. "The leprechauns are (obscenity) the (obscenity) out of each other!" she cries.
Eventually, of course, Spinnato calms the ladies down, smoothly returns them to a normal state of perception, and brings the 75-minute set to a close. Neither subject has any recollection of "being under" and, indeed, each thinks she was asleep for perhaps five minutes.
HOW IT WORKS
Spinnato, as one attendee exulted on the way out of Comix, "hypnotized the hell out of them!"
Except that's not accurate.
"All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. There's not a hypnonist in the world that can put you under," Spinnato says. "What hypnotists do is simply guide you through the process. If you allow it to happen by concentrating and relaxing and getting serious about it, it will happen."
He's talking a few hours before Saturday's show in the Comix Green Room. Through the walls, laughter percolates from the stage as national touring comic Brent Morin serves as the evening's headliner. In the structured hierarchy of the comedy world, Spinnato's late-night set follows the main draw and gets a mostly new crowd. It's a good situation; Spinnato has a regular local following, plus some of Morin's audience will stick around and see what amusing and mesmerizing entertainment a hypnotist can offer.
"Jim is a true professional, honest, extremely reliable and has always worked well with us to promote both Comix and himself," says Michael Brauth, one of the co-owners of Comix. "He's easy to work with, and we're rarely heard complaints about any of his shows. Even when we have small crowds, he works magic, and some of his bigger shows have been the funniest we have ever had."
In terms of theory, there's little difference between the methods employed by a hypnotherapist — someone who helps one overcome fears or quit smoking, for example — and what Spinnato does with his comedy act. He explains, "We all use the same process. I elected to use it for entertainment purposes because I come from that field."
As a well-established magician working regularly in the mid-'80s, Spinnato, a father with two young children, made the decision to minimize out-of-town gigs.
"I was making a nice living as a magician when the comedy club circuit exploded," he says. "I had an offer to work in Atlantic City, and that could have taken off. But I wanted to be in my own bed every night and see my wife and children every night."
He decided to expand his local options by working the college circuit — only to find the big college draws were hypnotists.
"That's not true anymore. Magic and hypnosis are huge in the college market. Anyway, some agent saw me and asked me to be the opening act for this hypnotist out of Rhode Island, Frank Santos, who was very successful. Great guy. I love him. Anyway, I worked with him for five years and studied under him and was able to get my own routine," he says.
When asked how hard it is to master hypnotism, Spinnato pauses, reflecting.
"Here's the deal. To be a stage hypnotist, simply all you need is to learn a script, which is bothersome to me because now kids go online and they watch a hypnotist performing a show and they memorize the script and then put their friends under. Well, that's easy to do, but if something were to happen, you'd better know what the hell you're doing," he says.
While hypnosis is typically a safe practice, Spinnato says there are all sorts of things that could potentially go wrong. He won't work with someone who's obviously intoxicated. They might be fun and less inhibited in terms of what they might do onstage, but real-world possibilities like falls or getting sick negate the positives.
Too — and here Spinnato again references amateurs practicing hypnotism on friends, as well as professional colleagues in the nightclub community — there are more technical areas of concern. "Some hypnotists love to use what they call age regression, which means they'll tell someone who's hypnotized that they're going back to their childhood. And it's true, they will. But if someone had a bad experience at that age, and they relive that onstage, that's an issue. In the hands of a qualified hypnotist, it's fine and a lot of hypnotherapists use it. In my opinion, you've got to know how to handle that, and it belongs in a therapist's office."
THE NATURE OF THE BEAST
Other than those self-imposed parameters, Spinnato's typical show is pretty freewheeling. He says that, despite this era of political correctness, the college and comedy club audiences still enjoy R-rated humor, which provides a reliable template from which any given show can spin off in fun directions. To that end, he says he doesn't have to constantly write new material or reconceptualize his act.
"It's more about the people themselves," Spinnato says. "I'll suggest something onstage, and they'll react differently than what I anticipated, and I'll think, 'Oh, we can go in that directions instead of what I thought.'"
At the same time, Spinnato says everyday experiences trigger new bits. He might be talking to a colleague who tried an idea, and it sparks a completely different concept for Spinnato. He's also a big fan of "thinking in the shower." He gets great ideas in the shower, he says, and even has a waterproof pad/writing mechanism in his bath.
As far as how the timing, tension and overall show blueprint have evolved in the age of information overload and decreasing attention span, Spinnato takes a "what are you gonna do?" approach.
"The pace of my show is the same today as it was 20 years ago," he says. "If they're paying attention, they're paying attention. I don't care whether you're a comedian or in a band or you're doing a play. If you're onstage, you're going to see audience members on their iPhones. You can't do anything about it, so you learn to trust the act, and it mostly works out."
Spinnato says one of the biggest questions people have is what would happen if they don't come out of the hypnosis state.
"That won't happen," he says. "In my estimation, hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness. When someone's hypnotized, they know exactly what they're doing. They know right from wrong; they can reject the hypnotist's suggestions ... They're not in a zombie state. If someone was in a hypnotic state and I left the stage, they'd eventually and simply go from a hypnotic sleep into a normal sleep, and then they'd wake up."
Contrarily, Spinnato says he frequently has to deal with people who want to challenge him, a sort of "you can't put ME under" attitude.
"And they're right," he says simply. "With that attitude, I can't do it. If you're not going to allow yourself to do it, that's fine. But why did you volunteer, you know?"
Spinnato says he wants to continue to work his hypnosis and magic gigs as long as he can. He enjoys it and, yes, as he wanted all those years ago, he's home every night. Now, he gets to spend time with actual grandkids. Which prompts the question: can he hypnotize his grandchildren if they won't shut up?
He answers quickly and decisively. "I'm not THAT good."
If you go
Who: Jim Spinnato
What: Nightclub entertainer who has both a comedy-hypnotism act and a magic show
When: 8 p.m. May 20, 10:30 p.m. June 1, 8 p.m. June 17 (comedy hypnotism); 5 p.m. Sundays (Spinnato's Magic Matinee)
Where: Comix, Mohegan Sun
How much: $10
For more information: (860) 862-7000, comix.comedy.com
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