Stage hypnotist Rich Guzzi has learned to expect the unexpected. In one memorable performance, he instructed 15 hypnotized audience volunteers to compose and perform a rap song onstage — in Chinese. One by one, they shed their inhibitions and freestyled vaguely Oriental gibberish, at the cultural expense of any unfortunate Chinese who happened to be attending the performance.
But then he got to the woman at the end of the line. With her face contorted into a stereotypical Asian grimace, she became a Chinese rapper by pretending to wrap a present.
That moment brought the house down. It also bolstered his talent for improvisation. "I used to have structured material when I was a comedian," Guzzi says. "I would be good at working the crowd, but I always knew where it was going to go... In this show, the stuff that comes out of their mouths is so outrageous that my improv skills have gotten a lot better... That's why every show is different every single night."
Guzzi, who describes his MO as "Tony Robbins meets Tony Soprano," looks and talks like an extra in a gangster movie. He discovered hypnosis at age 12, when he mesmerized a friend and then persuaded him to cluck like a chicken. But for much of his career, he was a straight standup comedian, one of countless comics crafting material that was "nothing groundbreaking." It took an especially bad evening of bombing in 2001 to change things for him.
"It didn't matter what was going to happen, so I just invited people from the audience onstage, I hypnotized them, and it totally turned the show around."
Since then, Guzzi has been touring with The Rich Guzzi Comedy Hypnosis Show, which runs August 17 and 18 at the Palm Beach Improv. He won't make volunteers quack like ducks — that's amateur hour — but he will, after a three-minute hypnotic induction, prompt them to ride invisible roller coasters, swill acrid moonshine, hallucinate extraterrestrials, pretend they're Michael Jackson, forget their bellybuttons, and enact any other elaborate scenarios.
And that's just in the PG-13 show at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Hard-core Guzzi fans know the wildest stuff happens during his "Exxxtreme Comedy Hypnosis" show, which begins at 9:45 p.m. Saturday. Admission is strictly limited to adults, and the doors are locked once the show begins to protect the privacy (and dignity) of the volunteers.
Guzzi is coy, if not bashful, about the details of his X-rated show. "The scenarios are dirtier than the regular ones. There's more sexual content. Instead of becoming your favorite movie star, all of a sudden you could be having sex with your favorite movie star."
Want to know more? Check out the YouTube clips. There isn't supposed to be nudity, but there will be an orgiastic smorgasbord of strangers dry-humping in Kama Sutra positions, unseemly crimes perpetrated against innocent bananas and broccoli, and, one assumes, some explaining to do on the ride home. Those who believe hypnotism is a tool of Satan (a Google search yields more than a million results connecting the two) could do worse than document Guzzi's late-night filth-fests.
It's all part of the strange duality that defines Guzzi's personality. A certified hypnotherapist, he has genuine, lofty ambitions about the power of hypnosis. "I try to show people this is a very viable tool to make their lives better," he says. "A lot of military people with PTSD will come to the shows, and we've changed a lot of lives, and that's rewarding. The emails I get sometimes are just heart-wrenching."
To that end, Guzzi considers himself a motivational speaker, and he sells CDs for $5 to $20 at his online store covering everything from self-hypnosis techniques to weight loss, anger management, stress reduction, smoking cessation, and a better golf game. Then there's a product called Jizz Wow — a $10 novelty parody of ShamWow with the tag line "Be ready for any mess that comes! It's better than using the drapes, a tissue, or an old tube sock!" It makes the product line at Spencer's look classy.
No doubt Guzzi is sincere about helping people, but it's hard to imagine Sylvia Browne or Franz Mesmer hawking dildos on the side. This show might be best for those with a sense of humor dirtier and cruder than a shipment of Middle East oil. If you accept the occasional sleaze, you might actually walk away cured of whatever ails you — then suffer a strange sensation the next time you bite into a cucumber.