If comedy hypnosis has any place in the world at all, then it's on a Tuesday night during university orientation week. Like the Toga party or a Shapeshifter / Fat Freddy's double bill, the hypnotism show is an enduring O-Week tradition, its popularity mysterious and inexplicable.
Out of sight, out of mind, for years comedy hypnotism has existed as a marginal form of entertainment in this country. That is about to change. This year TVNZ announced it had bought the rights to make a local version of the British show You're Back in the Room. Two weeks ago TV2 began screening the original UK version on Sunday nights.
A throwback to the halcyon TV days of Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game and Whose Line Is It Anyway, though lacking any of the humble charms of either of those two shows, You're Back in the Room is a game show where contestants must team up to complete a series of simple tasks for a cash prize. The catch, of course, it that they have all been hypnotised by an Irish hypnotist called Keith.
"We'll be hacking into their brains," host Phillip Schofield forecasts sinisterly at the top of the show. His job is primarily to conduct the contestants in their hypnotised stupor, to create grand symphonies out of their senseless actions. But with great power comes great responsibility. "Keith has already hypnotised our contestants backstage before the show," he assures everyone, "in case you get hypnotised as well."
Keith performs a dire monologue - "I can make the easy seem difficult and the bizarre seem normal," he brags - before receiving his order from Phillip: "Keith, hack 'em!"
The first challenge requires the five hypnotised contestants to ice four cakes each in a couple of minutes. Mild-mannered opera singer Alex has been hacked to plant his face into a cake any time he hears the words "finished chef". Hacked personal trainer Terry thinks the cake bases are extremely hot, and yelps in anguish every time he touches them. Taylor, 21, has been hacked to sarcastically repeat everything Phillip says, although possibly not knowing what sarcasm is in the first place, she just shouts everything.
It's mayhem, a cacophonic wall of white noise which Phillip must try desperately to sculpt into a tune fit for broadcast. He flits around the stage pulling the strings, reminding contestants to say "finished chef" so that posh Alex will plunge his face into another pile of sponge and cream. "I wondered why I had cake up my nose," he says after the fact, when all the contestants snap back to reality and are forced to rewatch their hacked antics. "I couldn't believe that nobody else found it hot," marvels Terry.
Later the show takes it up a notch with a pub-themed challenge where the contestants have to serve pints to a bemused David Platt and some of his pals from Coronation Street. It makes you wonder: who will the celebrity guests be on the forthcoming New Zealand version? TK from Shortland Street? Nicole from Shortland Street? Chris Warner from Shortland Street?
And who, for that matter, is our Phillip Schofield? Someone resilient enough to host what is possibly the stupidest game show in the world, good-natured enough to herd a bunch of hacked idiots around a stage, experienced enough to hold the whole shambles together. Is there anyone in New Zealand who meets these unfairly demanding criteria?
So many questions which could soon be answered if TVNZ forge ahead with its hellish plan to drag comedy hypnosis out of the shadows and into the mainstream with You're Back in the Room NZ.
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