That’s the only way to describe the reaction of the crowd filling New York’s famous National Arts Club Ballroom. People gasped, they laughed, and they got up on their feet to watch the volunteers onstage look intoxicated, apparently high and seemingly blitzed. After failing a mock sobriety test, one woman even crawled back to her seat laughing and gurgling. It looked like something out of the high days of the great stage hypnotists.
Plus, it was extremely entertaining. But was it real?
The Hypnotic Bar stakes an outrageous claim: That all the experiences of drug and alcohol highs can be recreated in hypnotic trances—a “hypnotic high,” so to speak. At the Hypnotic Bar show, the members of the audience found susceptible to hypnotism are brought on stage. They are served only water, yet they seem to get more and more twisted.
Stranger still, they can be made to experience some of the most delightful aspects of our favorite psychoactives—and the invention of new ones with suggestions from the audience. For instance, they can be made to feel the air they are inhaling is causing them to melt into the floor. Not all fun and games, some of the demonstrations are inspiring, like one where the participants are told to feel an overwhelming and intoxicating love that only doubles with every snap of the finger.
Albert Nerenberg, the film director of Laughology, international laughter expert, TEDx speaker, and the hypnotist behind the idea, says he believes Hypnotic Bars could replace real ones.
“There’s no hangover, no side effects. You come out feeling healthy and refreshed,” he told Psymposia. “And there’s a much broader range of experiences available.”
To find out more, Psymposia’s Lex Pelger sat down with Albert Nerenberg for an interview.
So I was there, and it was hard to believe how deep in people were. Is this some kind of trick? Is it all the way real?
It’s not fake at all. Nor is it a trick in any way. I’ve done this in three different cities about 12 different times, and no one has been able to prove it’s fake. I assure you it’s real. I like that people find it unbelievable, but I would actually prefer that people believe it’s possible. That is actually far more interesting.
How did the idea of the Hypnotic Bar come about?
I have had a number of friends die of drug overdose. Smart, beautiful people. I came across the statistic that says more people are dying now of drug overdoses than at any other time in human history. As a hypnotist, I was already exploring altered states, and I had a hunch it might be possible to create virtually any altered state using deep hypnotic trance. The point would be to prove that it’s all in the mind anyway, so why risk killing or ruining yourself with drugs and booze?
I was giving a workshop where I mentioned I could make someone high with hypnosis. Naturally, someone asked me to prove it. I hypnotized some of the attendees and put them on cocaine, pot, beer, and even ecstasy. I interviewed them afterwards and asked them if it felt real. And each of them said yes. Quite real. Then my head exploded.
How did you get to the Hypnotic Bar?
Of course after that, the obvious question is, “Can you hypnotize someone to be drunk?”
And yes. I was able to do the same thing with alcohol, although I consider hypnotic alcohol one of the tougher ones. But that’s where the Hypnotic Bar idea came about. What if you could replace the alcoholic bar with trance? I have a friend who owns a popular bar in Toronto, The Monarch, famous for its bourbon. I asked him if he would let me put on a show for a few hours. Basically, we had a fake bartender serving fake shots. Then I hypnotized a section of the crowd, and we saw them get drunker and drunker. They couldn’t pass sobriety tests, touch their own noses, etc. And they had the time of their lives, laughing and carrying on.
And I realized this was a show. Bring people to a bar. Hypnotize a section of the crowd and have the rest watch them get drunk and do impossible things. Hypnotic trances already do part of what alcohol does. They cause people to lose inhibition, feel relaxed, feel more playful and all the ingredients of a good party. And the difference is, unlike alcohol, they came out of the experience ahead. Deep trance is a recuperative state, so people often come out of it feeling refreshed and energized, even healed.
When you say “healed,” what do you mean?
This is a whole other topic. But research on sleep shows there may be only two true recuperative states where we actually heal. One is a deep dreamless sleep. The other is the REM state when people are obviously dreaming. Deep hypnotic trance is very similar to the sleeping REM state. So if people spend an hour in a hypnotic trance, they feel distinctly refreshed and clear. I’m guessing that in that state, wounds might heal as well. It’s an area that requires investigation, but it’s a simple explanation for why hypnotherapy often works.