Anthony Cools' hypnotism show in Las Vegas is an R-rated affair. Photo: MCT
Sure, Anthony Cools is a hypnotist, but this slick pompadour-sporting showman won't help you quit smoking.
He drives a Lamborghini and dresses in form-fitting suits with a bow tie, skull ring and pointy-toed, black-and-white Giorgio Brutini wingtips. Under his calculated spell, in fact, you might even start chain-smoking, or engage in other nefarious activities you wouldn't be caught dead doing in your right mind.
Maybe you'll move your bra outside your blouse, dirty-flirt with a stranger, or act in a porno casting call — with a chair. All in your clothes, of course, in front of a hooting audience.
Cools (his real name; honest, he says) is a suave Marquis de Sade of the Strip, who leads audiences down a shady back street of the entertainment scene. His show, now at the Paris Casino, makes embarrassed audience members pray that what takes place here indeed never leaves this resort city.
To avoid that, he sells videos of the evening's high jinks billed as "the perfect blackmail material."
Even in this town, with its traditional adult theme, Cools' act is decidedly R-rated. A decade ago, Las Vegas hosted a legion of hypnotists, but now Cools, 47, is one of just three. The others do adult fare, but he takes the mischief furthest.
"Some people consider hypnotism low entertainment, and lots of bad hypnotists contributed to bringing the art form down," he said. "Guys in sequined tuxes and goatees who made people squawk like chickens. I always wanted to do something different."
Growing up in Alberta, Canada, Cools sought to emulate hypnotist-performer Peter Reveen, who billed himself as Reveen the Impossibilist. He soon found that such library books as The Handbook on How to Hypnotize People at Parties didn't solve the mystery. As he got older, he honed his command of such areas as neurolinguistics programming and creative visualisation.
In 1994, in his first gig at a local club, the rakish emcee dressed in shorts and T-shirt, and held a cigarette and a beer. From the start, Cools says, he put people in R-rated scenarios, without a squawking chicken in sight. Audiences raved, and soon Cools embarked on several nationwide tours. But first his brother had some advice: Lose the college frat-boy look.
"You need a gimmick," he said, pointing to Cools' wingtips. "Could you wear the shoes every night?"
He developed new material — where else? — in bars. Friends egged him to hypnotise, say, the bartender, suggesting, "Make him do this!" just for laughs. Cools turned many episodes into stage fodder.
He later met entertainment executive Chuck Anthony, who became his friend and agent, eventually landing him in Vegas in 2003. The Paris gave him his own Anthony Cools Experience theater and a contract through 2017, a rare vote of confidence in a town where acts come and go. Mobile billboards pitch the act: "Hypnotism nightly: Wear respectable underwear."
The antics of his foils amaze even Cools and his brother Cameron, who has taped the shows for 16 years. Handed an imaginary joint onstage, a hypnotised policeman a few years ago tackled the emcee and tried to put him in handcuffs, leaving a gash in Cools' forehead.
"I'm so sorry," the cop said later.
"Are you kidding?" Cools said. "Do you know what you've done for me? This thing is going to be all over the Strip soon."
"Can you stop it?"
"Hell, no. I'm the one who's going to spread it."
Local TV soon played the story of a hypnotist "arrested" on stage, handing Cools free advertising.
There have been other walks on the wild side. During simulated sex with a chair, one man removed his prosthetic leg, and a gray-haired woman pulled out her dentures.
Each show begins with 20 audience volunteers sitting stiffly before the crowd like a Saturday morning traffic school class. On the backs of their chairs is a slogan hinting at what's to come: "Good clean dirty fun."
As his act begins, Cools asks, "How many have never seen the show before?"
"Good," he says, rubbing his palms. "Fresh meat."
Experts say stage hypnosis works best on otherwise shy people who allow themselves to act foolish in public just for fun, like the lampshade wearer at the office Christmas party. Cools' subjects describe the sensation as a feeling of daydreaming, only deeper.
"I was foggy," Montana tourist Brian Noguera said of his state while performing antics that included rubbing his crotch when Cools said his name. "I looked at my watch and it was 9 p.m. Ten minutes later, it was 10:30."
Under hypnosis, Tim Jabaay, a 49-year-old auctioneer from Wheatfield, Indiana, is told a woman in the front row is flirting with him. On command, Jabaay gives her the lurid look of a man in a trench coat.
After the show, Jabaay and his girlfriend stand outside the theater watching the video of the night's act.
"He's always been a little crazy," says Karrie Pearson, "but nothing like this."
After the show, Cools sips a tonic water before heading home for some downtime, which for him means a glass of scotch and a cigar.
"How you doing?" someone asks.
He beams a megawatt marquee smile.
"Livin' the dream," he says.