COVINGTON - Mike Harvey has hypnotized more than 175,000 people over the last 38 years. Just don't ask him how.
Oh, he knows what it takes to put people in a state of altered consciousness, and get them to do all sorts of bizarre things, like hit at fake spiders with a plastic bat or stand up and scream out a certain phrase when he says a particular word.
But after all his years and experience as a professional hypnotist, Harvey is insistent that he really doesn't know why hypnotism works.
"Nobody knows what makes it work. I just know how to make it work," he said.
That said, Harvey still knows more about hypnotism than the general public, and that's what keeps him in business.
"The only scary part about it is your lack of knowledge of it. Everything I do is real. Nobody believes me, and I get away with it," he said.
Locals will have the chance to decide whether they believe Harvey when he performs his act at It's Five O'Clock Somewhere on Dec. 21 and 22.
"He does a phenomenal show. It's hilarious. He's a hoot," said owner Debbie Harris, who met Harvey while in Panama City, a regular summertime gig he's performed for vacationers for 30 years.
Harris said she thought Harvey's show would be a good change of pace for locals who just want to let loose and laugh during the holiday season.
Harvey calls his act a comedy show, and much of the humor is provided by volunteers he pulls from the audience, hypnotizes and then, as he puts it, "turns into the stars of the show.
"I usually make the statement that I wouldn't make them do something they wouldn't normally do, but describe normal these days," he joked.
A typical gag is convincing a male volunteer that he's pregnant.
Harvey also keeps his shows clean. On his Web site, he makes a point of stating he will not perform R-rated shows.
"I don't have a cuss word that comes out of my mouth. It's not necessary to entertain people. All the skits are funny. It's just to have a good time and laugh until you have tears in your eyes," he said.
Harvey learned the technique of hypnotism from a hypnotist he hired to work at his Florida nightclub in 1969.
Soon he decided to try his hand at performing his own show at a private party.
"I did a horrible show with two drunk guys. I was wringing wet. I walked in and said, 'You don't owe me anything.' (The host) said, 'That was the funniest thing I've ever seen," Harvey recalled.
Soon he was performing at private apartment clubhouses and comedy clubs, and he eventually closed his restaurant and made the act his full-time job.
He has performed in more than 580 cities for more than 11 million spectators, including 74 weeks of shows at the University of Georgia and sold-out stints at The Punchline in Atlanta. He's also a regular entertainer and self-improvement lecturer for Carnival Cruise Lines.
Still, Harvey's work remains a mystery, even to him.
He said there has never been a scientific explanation for why hypnotism works or how the mind responds to it.
His best definition of hypnosis is "an altered state of consciousness characterized by extreme relaxation and a heightened subconscious."
It's similar to driving down the highway, drifting off without actually going to sleep and suddenly snapping to and wondering where you are, he said.
The messages delivered by the hypnotist sink in the same way as subliminal advertising, he said.
For example, after repeatedly watching a commercial advertising a particular food brand, a person may automatically purchase that brand at the grocery store without really knowing why.
Still, Harvey said there's always power of choice involved with hypnotism.
"Governments have spent millions of dollars wanting to use it as a weapon, but you can't hypnotize anybody against their will," he said.
Harvey will perform at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 21 and Dec. 22 at It's Five O'Clock Somewhere, located in Covington Gallery Shopping Center on Turner Lake Road.
There is a $5 cover charge at the door for those 21 and older and $15 for those 18 to 20.
No one under 18 will be admitted.
For more information on Harvey, visit www.hypnotistmikeharvey.com
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.