Between 2013 and 2014, I wrote a blog at higher-learning.ca covering a wide variety of student-centric concerns. I have archived some of these posts here since that website no longer exists. For more information on my student leadership experience, please click here.
“He’s been touring Canada, shooting tequila, getting people naked, and killing piglets for 27 years. Most people with a track record like this would be in jail by now, but the X-rated hypnotist Tony Lee has sold out over 5000 shows, won 10 Canadian Campus Awards (he’s been nominated for 21 more), and has had an amazing time doing it.
It’s hard to be at a Canadian campus these days and not have heard about Tony Lee. As a hypnotist, he has been bringing his unique brand of entertainment to campuses for almost three decades. As a Public Relations assistant for my students union, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to interview Tony when he came to perform at my school for the 20th year in a row this September.
Here’s a look at the history of one of Canada’s longest running performers that you won’t find anywhere else.
Beginnings of a Hypnotist
Like many others, Tony Lee used to be skeptical of hypnotism.
“When I started doing this, I thought hypnotism was a busload of people acting as plants for some fake entertainer… I was messing around one night, and started pretending to hypnotize my girlfriend. I figured I would just keep going until something happened, and it happened!”
To Tony’s amazement, his girlfriend fell over, completely ‘asleep’. Still skeptical, he gave her commands of things to do when she woke up, and she actually did them – that was all the convincing he needed.
“The thing about hypnotism in the 1980’s was that the research material was really outdated… a lot of it was trial and error,” said Tony, “so I joined the Society of Therapeutic Hypnosis to learn more.”
Hypnosis shows were a rarity back then, let alone shows with a sexual edge to them. “I had never actually seen a hypnotism show before, so I was just doing stuff that was funny to me,” admitted Tony. “With my kind of show, I became the black sheep of the hypnosis community.”
From Grand Marnier to Tequila Shots
“It was a nightmare doing shows on campuses 27 years ago,” remembered Tony. “Back then, everyone had slugged back seven or eight drinks before the show even started. I could count the sober people on two hands, and it looked like a hurricane had torn the place apart after my show ended.”
Hypnotism is a psychological phenomenon that requires intense focus, and the atmosphere at Canadian campus bars in the 1980’s wasn’t necessarily conducive to focus of any level. “”I had to basically have the personality of a WWE wrestler to get them to even shut up,” said Tony. “But once I got them under, the noises and the yelling of the audience… it turned into a rock concert.”
The Animal House-like atmosphere at Canadian campus bars shaped more than Tony’s stage persona – Tony Lee often amuses onlookers by doing tequila shots with audience members while hypnotizing the night’s subjects.
“I had this thing where I would make a guy go to the bar and buy me a triple Grand Marnier on the rocks, tip the bartender well, bring it back to me, and then forget it ever happened. I used to do this three or five times a night, and eventually the drinking became part of the show… it became one huge party.”
Tony estimates that over 60,000 ounces of tequila have been consumed at his shows since he’s started. “I only drink when I work,” he insisted.
Tony’s Faves: “There Are No Rules”
Here are three of Tony’s favorite memories from over five thousand shows.
A staple of Tony’s live show is making subjects fall in love with an imaginary pet piglet. He provokes outrage and sorrow among his subjects when he mercilessly ‘kills’ the pigs – their reactions are often the highlight of the performance. “I’ve been punched, spit on, and thrown offstage for killing someone’s pig,” said Tony. “I’ve learned to make sure they’re glued to their chair since then.”
Lost In Translation
One of Tony Lee’s most memorable performances was in Vancouver. “People just assume I can speak different languages on account of my name,” he explained.
“I was called to do a show in Vancouver, and I knew something was up since the ticket price was unusually high. Peeking out from backstage, I realized that the only white guy in the room was the bartender. Everyone who walked in was Asian… but one of the well-dressed mafia types.
It was only when I started the show that I realized not a single one of them spoke English, which is kind of essential to the show. Thankfully, they understood enough that I could put some of them under, so I couldn’t do anything more than putting them to sleep and waking them up again.
I spent the entire show thinking I would end up floating down the river, but when I finished I got a standing ovation. It turns out that they had never seen anything like hypnosis before, and were utterly amazed.”
Hypnosis is often advertised as having therapeutic properties – many people cite it as an effective tool for quitting smoking, losing weight, and overcoming phobias. Some subjects are even able to experience anesthesia. As cool as all of these phenomena are, Tony Lee has one-upped all of them… by accident.
“I used to have this routine where I was a cop, and I had pulled over my subjects for drunk driving. I would have people stand up, recite the alphabet backwards while touching their nose, all of that shit.
Then, I would have them walk a straight line from one end of the stage to the other. I was in Calgary, and I had this guy walk the line. Nothing was out of the ordinary, but there was this big commotion in the audience – some woman started screaming and bawling her eyes out.
I found out after the show that it was the guy’s mother. It turned out that he was disabled, and had never walked properly without crutches before. There really are no rules when it comes to hypnosis… nobody really knows the limits of what is possible.”