COLUMBIA — At first, only one woman was brave enough to leave her seat Saturday evening and walk onto the stage at Deja Vu when comic hypnotist Michael Johns asked for volunteers.
It took a few minutes and a lot of cajoling for Johns to get others to join the lone woman who was about to be put under hypnosis.
"I prefer to have younger folks come up because the older folks in the crowd look like they can actually afford a lawyer," Johns said with a laugh.
Johns said he has hypnotized almost a quarter million people in his career.
Eleven more joined that group, with a little prodding from Johns, during Puppies with Purpose's first comedy show fundraiser on Saturday.
Although there were puppies in the audience, Johns' hypnosis was the main attraction.
He paced the stage during the show, frequently burying his face in his hands at the spectacle onstage or looking out at the crowd with a look of astonishment.
The white-haired comedian said his show is similar to the game "Simon Says" but with something of a twist.
"You're not actually asleep, it's like you're in a daydream," Johns said to the participants onstage with their eyes closed.
Johns, a Missouri native, has built quite the act out of a procedure he used to think was bunk. He told the audience that he originally didn't believe in hypnosis. That changed when Johns volunteered for a hypnosis show.
"I got up on stage and woke up two hours later," Johns said. "My shirt was off, my pants were down, and I was doing something with the chair."
From that point on, the comedian began to incorporate hypnosis into his performances.
Johns put the group through at least a handful of different scenarios, each more raucous than the last.
As his participants were seated on the stage with their backs against the wall, audiences watched as Johns told them to imagine that they were laying out on the beach on a blistering hot day.
Within seconds Travis Millam pulled off his jacket. But before anything else could come off, Johns switched the scene to a frigid winter day.
Millam, who was all of a sudden inappropriately dressed for the hypnosis-induced weather, promptly pulled his green beanie down over his face and cowered under the jacket he just discarded.
The woman beside him huddled closer, pulling part of his jacket over her, too. If not for the shaking and shivering, it would have looked as if they were all in one giant group hug on stage.
For a cause
Some of the proceeds from the show went to Puppies with Purpose, an MU organization, whose members raise and socialize assistance puppies in training.
"We wanted to combine the lightheartedness of comedy and the seriousness of the cause," said Katie Rettenmaier, a member of Puppies with Purpose.
Before the comedy show, attendees could take part in a catered meal and bid on silent auction items to benefit the organization and help cover the costs of raising each puppy.
Dewey, Daisy and Riley, three of those puppies, were also in the crowd and soaked up the constant attention before the show started. During Johns' comedic performance, the puppies sat attentively in the audience alongside the students who are raising them.
After the show was over, Millam, fully clothed and out from under the hypnotist's spell, said the experience was a daze.
"It felt like a dream," Millam said after he'd left the stage. "It was kinda like when you're really, really drunk but with no side effects."
Millam said he came out to the event to support his sister, Kristi Millam, who is involved with Puppies With Purpose.
"I remember everything," he said, squinting his eyes in concentration. But it soon became clear that the encounter was more hazy than he'd realized. He looked slowly from his sister to his girlfriend trying to recall what all had happened.
"What did I do up there?" he asked.
Supervising editor is Edward Hart.