A video shows a group of students slumped in their chairs on a stage as if in a deep sleep. The video cuts to hypnotist Tony Lee prompting them, both women and men, to imagine simulating oral sex to a man. The students abide as they gesture, half unconscious, and move in ways miming actions one would expect to see in a pornographic film. The audience roars with laughter and cheers. “Lean forward! Use your hands! Grab that cock” Tony Lee shouts and the students on stage obey.
This scene is only a small part of the 20-minute Youtube video of Tony Lee’s show at Fanshawe College in London, Ont. in 2012, and there are others like it. Lee travels across the country with his hypnotist routine performing at various universities’ orientation week events. He’s performed close to 7000 shows at universities, including Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s, Mount A and Acadia.. Lee is a self-described “XXX-rated hypnotist,” but also offers a less racy “PG-rated” show to orientation week leaders. But many want the full XXX, he says.
Even with the controversial nature of his show, Lee says he would estimate about three or four students out of 1000 might not enjoy the show, usually due to religious or moral beliefs. The show, he says, is completely optional and no one if forced to attend. “At the end of the day the kids are grown up, if they really don’t like what they see, they’re young adults, they’ll leave the building.” He says he’s careful at universities never to demean women and to prevent nudity. “There’s a certain line that you can’t cross,” he says.
“Damien the XXX hypnotist,” AKA Damian Dougherty, also tours Canadian universities with a similar act. Lee says he mentored Damien and the two have an agreement in which Lee allows Damien to use some of his unique and original acts, “sort of like lending a comedian a joke,” Lee says.
The acts people who are hypnotized perform, Damien says, “could be anything from pretending they’re Britney Spears or Justin Bieber to falling in love with their chair.”
Lee employs a similar trick, suggesting that the students imagine themselves as their favourite pet, and their chair as a member of the same animal species and a love interest. “They think they’re a dog humping another dog,” he says “but visually to the audience it’s a person screwing a chair, you know what I mean.”
“The kids love it,” Dougherty says, referring to his own performance at orientation weeks. “I am still the highest attended event. You can speak to all the programmers on campus, my show is very fun, very safe, very clean.”
But not everyone agrees. The Dalhousie Student Union discontinued the use of a hypnotist a few years ago.
Danny Shanahan has been involved in orientation week at the university from his The XXX hypnotist set a bad tone for the type of orientation week that they want to offer at Dalhousie, says Danny Shanahan, as chair of the orientation week committee. “I can tell you from a personal standpoint that there were definitely things that I was uncomfortable with as a first year student, but also I think many students probably were,” Shanahan says referring to his experience watching Tony Lee perform in 2009.
“I think there were some very homophobic undertones and we didn’t appreciate as a student union and it was something that we were not interested in promoting in any way,” he continues.
Many universities still hire an XXX-hypnotist for orientation week. In September Damien performed at Saint Mary’s University, Acadia, Mount St. Vincent and UPEI, and Tony Lee celebrated his 20th year performing at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.