BILLY SUTER interviews popular stage success ANDRE THE HILARIOUS HYPNOTIST, who is back at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until August 19, performing at 7.30pm every Wednesday to Saturday (and 3pm on Sundays). Booking is at Computicket outlets.
WHAT CAN LOCALS EXPECT OF YOUR LATEST SHOW… ANY NEW ROUTINES OR OTHER SURPRISES?
One should never mess with a successful recipe… and to that extent the show has a mix of the old combined with a dash of new routines. The concept remains the same: volunteers from the audience take part in numerous strange routines, varying from impersonating a washing machine to pretending to be Superman. However, every year brings its fair dosage of new surprises, and this year promises to be no different.
WHAT HAVE BEEN TWO OF YOUR MOST HILARIOUS MOMENTS ON STAGE WITH PEOPLE UNDER HYPNOSIS?
The list of funny routines can fill a book because no two shows are ever the same. A great example is the voodoo doll routine, where volunteers believe that I have disappeared. On more than one occasion the seemingly magic movement has seen the volunteer clear the stage in fright.
Another favourite would be when the guys are told they are male strippers. Every so often the volunteers will provide a little more than what the audience was expecting to see.
Telling the guys they are Baywatch lifeguards has also led to many moments of absolute hilarity when an innocent victim from the audience gets more expected. If I do not make it to the volunteer on time he or she might just end up with a full mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
WHAT HAVE BEEN TWO OF THE MOST TENSE MOMENTS ON STAGE THAT YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED?
The show is structured in such a way that the safety of the volunteers, and the nature of the routines, leave them as the stars of the performance, rather than the fools of the evening. To this extent I really cannot say I have had tense moments involving volunteers.
Any tense moments are more directly aimed at me when hypnotising the group on stage, and noticing that some on stage are not going to make great volunteers… or that I might end up with no volunteers whatsoever.
At the end of the show I have a volunteer run up to hit me. This has presented tense moments… and has even led to me being hit on more that one occasion. In Secunda, a very good volunteer picked up a brick and threw it at me!
WHAT MARKED YOUR FIRST TIME ON STAGE AS A HYPNOTIST – AND WHAT DO YOU MOST RECALL OF THAT EXPERIENCE?
I started performing hypnosis while in the Entertainment Corps of the SA Defence Force. My job was to entertain the troops with a combination of mentalism, magic and hypnotism.
Not having a shortage of volunteers, due to the willingness of the soldiers to take part in the shows, made the performances easy to do and provided me with a good platform on which to hone my craft.
After leaving the SA Defence Force, and while studying, I would perform at various hotels in Umhlanga and caravan parks up and down the North and South Coast… at the very expensive fee of R2 per person.
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE HYPONOTISM IS FAKE AND THAT MANY PEOPLE SEEM TO BE PRETENDING TO BE HYPNOTISED ON STAGE?
I never argue about religion, politics and hypnotism. I do not prove that people are hypnotised during my performance and leave this up to the audiences members’ own imaginations.
My aim is not to prove that hypnosis is real, but rather to provide a high-quality, two-hour performance that will leave the audience in stitches. All I ask from the audience is that they suspend belief for those two hours and enjoy the hilarity provided by the volunteers on stage.
People are normally convinced of the power of hypnosis when they see their loved one or best friend taking part on stage. The mere fact that the person reacts so out of character is enough to convince them that something must have happened.
WHAT HAS BEEN A STANDOUT MOMENT FOR YOU AS A HYPNOTIST?
My career has had some incredible highlights, ranging from setting new attendance records at every theatre in South Africa to performing in several other countries, as far afield as Australia.
In South Africa I have had the privilege of filling the Sun City theatre, The Carnival City Hippodrome and The Playhouse Opera for two weeks. The fact that I am still performing to good houses 23 years after launching my career is in itself an incredible honour.
TELL ME WHY, HOW, WHEN AND WITH WHOM YOU TRAINED AS A HYPNOTIST.
I had the privilege of working with, and being mentored by, the late Max Collie,who toured South Africa from the 1960s to the 1990s. He was the stage hypnotist of the day and would fill the Durban City Hall with hundreds of curious fans.
My training in drama, from a very young age, dictated that I would eventually end up on stage. but I did not ever think it would be as a stage hypnotist. It was by chance that I purchased a ticket to Collie’s show… and by the end of that evening I knew what my future career was going to be.
My drama teacher always believed I was going to be a newsreader, but with Riaan Cruywagen only retiring recently I am glad I decided to become a stage hypnotist instead.
ANY FUTURE PLANS REGARDING YOUR SHOW, TV PROSPECTS , BOOKS OR OTHERWISE?
Having lost 100kg a few years ago, and always being asked about my weight loss success, I have recently published a book, Why Diets Fail, available on Amazon and other leading online book stores.
With the ever-changing face of entertainment and the way it is presented to audiences, I assume it is only a matter of time before hypnosis becomes the next viral sensation.
WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOU BORN – AND WHAT WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
I was born in Durban, at Addington Hospital. Words I would choose to describe me best are funny, dry-witted and single. Also, I have a strange sense of humour.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
I explore caves as a hobby, I tour with two chihuahuas, and I am passionate about sea-horses (I used to be the supplier of Sea-Monkeys in South Africa). Also, I have every 3D movie ever released on Blu Ray.
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
Every artist’s nightmare… in a blackout on stage I walked in the wrong direction and fell on to a person sitting in the front row of the theatre. My ego took a dent, but nobody was injured –and the look on my face when the house lights were switched on was probably worth seeing.
THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE MET – AND WHO WOULD YOU GIVE GOLD TO MEET?
I drove past Dr Phil’s house while on holiday in Los Angeles, but other than that I have only met and worked with South African celebs. I would love to meet magician David Copperfield, who left a lasting impression on my career direction as a youngster.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?
I don’t know what the most surprising thing was, but the most annoying is “Don’t look into my eyes”.
WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS AND PHOBIAS?
No fears or phobias, other than for the normal dislike of snakes and spiders.
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?
In 1997, the Government decided to pass a law which, in essence, would ban the performing of stage hypnosis. When I arrived in Bloemfontein the local psychologist/church pastor laid charges against me for performing.
Although I was never arrested, the police had to be at every performance while we fought the ban in court. Not only was I possibly going to lose my source of income but also face arrest. The court did, however, find in my favour.
THE MOST FRIGHTENING THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
I have the dubious distinction of having rolled three vehicles, and I walked away from the scene of the accident each time.
WHAT THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’?
America, pizza, rollercoasters and a sold-out theatre.
SOME OF YOUR ALL-TIME FAVOURITE SONGS?
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina by Julie Covington, Cell Block Tango (from the musical Chicago), Disturbed’s version of The Sounds of Silence and Nature Boy by Aurora.