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PEOPLE STORY

Anthony Cools, hypnotist

Gambling’s roving reporter in Sin City Paul Sculpher takes a turn into the mysterious world of hypnotism this month, as he interviews one of the best known Vegas performers in his field, Anthony Cools, who performs at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino

Gambling: Hi Anthony, so how does a youngster decide to get into the hypnotism business? And where did it all originate?

Anthony: I was always kind of the class clown when I was at school, so I figured I always wanted to be some kind of entertainer. I wanted to be a musician but didn’t seem to have the talent, so I bounced around until I got to thinking about hypnosis. I learned everything I know from books originally, and took it from there. I was always kind of an arrogant kid, and I think that goes well with my stage persona.

Hypnotism itself was developed hundreds of years ago – one of the original pioneers was Franz Mesmer, hence you’ll have heard the word ‘mesmerised’. In those days it was pretty much looked at as voodoo magic, but obviously these days it’s much more accepted.

So do you start by practising on friends or family?

Well, believe it or not, I never practised at all on anyone. My first experience of hypnotising anyone was my first show, in front of 550 people. This was on 7 May 1994 – I was 27 years old – and I’ve never looked back. Of course I had no 100% certainty that it was going to work, I sure lost a lot of sleep the previous night worrying about it. But it turned out fine and I quit my job the next day to make a career out of it.

Who can and can’t be hypnotised?

There are three types of people who I can’t work with. That’s people who are drunk, people who are high, and people who simply don’t want to be hypnotised. Often people will volunteer to come up and be part of the act – we only take volunteers – with the intention of proving it can’t be done. Once I know I can’t get them under, I just send them back to their seats. Some people are tougher than others anyway, I might bring 15 people up on stage and end up working with anywhere from all 15 to four or five. Despite what people believe, the process isn’t connected to sleep as such, it’s more of an extremely focused state that I put them into through relaxation.

And the show is pretty much adult comedy, right?

Yes, we do tend to suggest that easily offended people don’t come along. We put that right there on the literature and give another warning at the top of the show, but still some people find it a bit much for them. I have a huge raft of comedy material that I draw from, so not every show will turn out the same. It depends on the type of people I get up on stage, so I run the show pretty much on the fly. My brother runs a multi-camera rig to record the whole show so that afterwards, people can buy a DVD of the whole thing and watch themselves and their friends or family making fools of themselves. It’s a big part of the appeal and takes some skill to edit the whole thing more or less in real time.

Working with real people – I’m often accused of using actors, but imagine the logistics of getting 15 different actors in every night, it’s just ridiculous – can throw up all kinds of issues, whether you hypnotise them or not. Something different happens every night we run the show, so I have to be alert. Obviously, I’ve seen lots of situations so I have a few standard responses, but I still get surprised sometimes.

And how have you had such a great run in Vegas? You must love it here.

We’ve been in the Paris Hotel and Casino for four years now, which is pretty good. [At this point Cools is a little hesitant to “toot his own horn” – but I press him]. We’ve received the respect of our peers in the entertainment and hypnotism fields, which means a lot to us, and I’m told elements of the show and my techniques are used in hypnotism classes. As for Las Vegas, I love it here, and it was my goal from day one to get a show in what is the top of the tree for a performer in any field. The massive payoff for me is that I get to go home every night – touring can be pretty rough, speaking from 10 years’ experience. And now that I’m here I can have aspects of a normal life. I get Monday and Wednesday off and can have a normal home life, love life and so on.

The standard question, which you must get asked all the time, is whether hypnotists have ever used their skills for evil deeds?

Hmmm, erm... no, that’s never happened in the history of hypnotism! But seriously, yes, you hear stories of people getting up to no good. In fact, if you watch the speeches of Adolf Hitler or the techniques of David Koresh – the guy behind the Branch Davidian sect who were all killed in Waco, Texas – they clearly use some elements of the hypnotic techniques, probably best classified as neurolinguistic programming. With my background it’s very clear that there were elements of my trade involved in their getting people to follow their instructions.

Is there any sort of ‘Magic Circle’ equivalent for hypnotism to control these kinds of things?

There is a hypnotists’ guild, but I’m not a member – it all gets kind of political. I just want to get on with my show and make people laugh.

With that it was on with the show. You might have seen hypnotist shows before, but the posters around Vegas aren’t kidding – this one’s about as extreme as you’re likely to get, certainly in Vegas. Cools is a very funny guy – a lot of the show is reacting in real time to the people he has on stage – and matters naturally turn to the sexual. The induction process is amazing, with only a few minutes of calming music and Cools’ speech to prepare the volunteers to do the most ridiculous things on stage.

The climax of the show, as it were, was provoking his remaining volunteers (he lost four or five from the original 14, presumably through their not being sufficiently ‘under’) to a rapturous orgasm. And any doubts about the validity of the whole deal were erased when one of his more vocal subjects took her seat in the row next to me, and was probably the most embarrassed person I’ve ever seen. Next time you’re in Sin City, drop in and check the show out – just be prepared for total humiliation if you decide to volunteer!

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