COMEDY : UNDER HIS SPELL : You'll Never Get Sleepy Watching This Hypnotist

Glenn Doggrell writes about comedy for The Times Orange County Edition.

If comic-hypnotist Flip Orley had his way, he'd cast a spell over the planet and plant this thought deep, deep into our souls:

"Not all hypnotists are cape-wearing, turban-topped Svengalis looking for weak-minded, pablum-brained sots to help fake the show."

The stereotype is one that Orley--who brings his two-hour show to the Brea Improv through Sunday, April 24--has been trying to overcome for 10 years, since incorporating hypnotism into the stand-up act he started in college.

"A lot of people have the preconceived notion that we are some hokey older guy with a beer belly in a tuxedo doing some cheesy lounge act," Orley said in a phone interview from the home he shares with his wife, Dana, in Lafayette, La.

But despite a concerted effort to get the word out, progress can only be measured in small steps.

"I've done 'Comic Strip Live,' 'Entertainment Tonight' and a lot of local TV. I'm definitely breaking down some barriers, but you have to recognize the fact you need to be patient and go a step at a time."

Spreading the message keeps Orley, who has a degree from the Chicago Institute of Hypnotism, on the road about 40 weeks a year, but he's not complaining, even if it means doing it club by club, city by city. For now, he's content to work his way through the 50 states, polish his act and gain exposure in new markets.

"It's fun, things are going well, and I do enjoy it," he said. "If I didn't, I'd be a personal-injury lawyer."

Eventually, Orley, who is scheduled to appear on NBC's "Today" show May 5, would like to do Las Vegas, perhaps put together a cable special or start playing theaters, which would give him more flexibility.

"When I take the next step up, I want to make sure I'm ready," Orley explained. "Maybe I'm being too cautious, but I'm setting a good foundation so when I'm in a theater, I'm ready to be there. I'm constantly adapting my act. The show must be ready to look bigger and be bigger and really fill the stage."

Though Orley's show is generally hilarious, he takes hypnotism seriously and is careful not to embarrass his volunteers. He will not make anyone bark like a dog or squeal like a pig. "Now why are some of you looking disappointed?" he asks in some of his shows.

After he hypnotizes people, the laughs come when Orley transforms them into contestants on a "Newlywed Game," candidates for a film critic's job or Mississippi cousins telling Geraldo about space aliens they saw.

Orley also appreciates and supports the positive things hypnotism can achieve. He has worked with his wife and others, and, responding to demand after his shows, has put together self-help videos, including ones for smoking and sex.

"I don't just try to put the whammy on someone," he said. "I helped my wife sleep better, control her weight more easily."

Another example was a neighbor who had recovered from a car accident but remained a nervous wreck about motoring.

"The body had healed, but the psyche hadn't," he said. "I worked with her to be a better passenger."

He has also worked with athletes to improve muscle memory, concentration and relaxation. But one thing remains the same.

"Every person is different," Orley said. "Suggestions may or may not last, but if you learn self-hypnosis, you can reinforce the suggestion."

As for nonbelievers, Orley says they only need to pay attention to realize his performances are no hocus-pocus mumbo jumbo. When a volunteer cannot say their own name for $1 million, it is no act.

"Sit close," he says. "You can look directly into someone's eyes and you can see they think they should know the answer but it isn't coming to them. These really subtle things are incredibly interesting, because if you are a skeptic, you can see a lot of funny responses but question if it's real. You see things people wouldn't think to do consciously--facial expressions, body language. It really lends credibility to the fact that something is going on here."

Ironically, Orley's mind goes blank when he tries to remember some truly classic shows.

"I should have been computer cataloguing. I've seen some amazing things," he said, laughing as he tried to come up with an answer, before remembering a show he did in Denver. Strangers were paired up in a "Newlywed Game," vying for big prizes chosen especially for them. A year later, one of the couples got married.

Orley generally starts his routine with a monologue before asking volunteers to take a seat on the stage. But he cautions he doesn't want anyone who is drunk or a jerk.

"Even if you don't think you're a (jerk)," Orley explains in the show, "if someone else thinks you are, that counts. So don't come up."

Once the volunteers are on stage, he does a mass hypnotic motion and then weeds out the subjects who don't go under.

That settled, he offers the suggestions and scenarios to those who made the cut. Let the laughter begin.

"I start every show having no idea what I'm going to do," he said. "Then I try to see what's going to work. 'The Dating Game.' A family from Mississippi. Or the psychics. From bit to bit and moment to moment, they teach me what they're capable of and what direction to take the show."

That spontaneity and creativity, however, determine the quality of the performance, meaning whether he succeeds or fails that night is out of Orley's control.

"The downside with my show," he said, "is there is a little bit of the unknown, but the upside to that is I can't be bored, and I can't do my show by rote. I have to be involved, really keep my head into what I'm doing. That makes it fun for me, night in and night out."

The Phoenix native, who has been married nearly four years, traces his start to the time he picked up a copy of "How to Pick Up Girls Through Hypnotism" in the sixth grade. And yes, the title is exactly why he did it. Reality, however, threw him a curve, denying him the "megalomania control" he was after.

Instead, he picked up an appreciation for the discipline and an early lesson in romance.

It turned out, Orley recalled, he was always the brotherly type to the girls he wanted to date, so he was relegated to the role of confidant. He did, however, salvage some control. When asked for opinions on affairs of the heart, he would reply with self-serving advice:

"I think you should dump him."

* Who: Comedian-hypnotist Flip Orley

* When: Nightly through April 24, except Monday April 18. Show times: 8p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

* Where: Brea Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea.

* Whereabouts: Take the Lambert Road exit from the Orange (57) Freeway and go West. Turn left onto State College Boulevard and right onto Birch Street. The Improv is in the Brea Marketplace, across from the Brea Mall.

* Wherewithal: $7 to $10.

* Where to Call: (714) 529-7878.

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