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Al Martinez

How can you not like somebody who looks and acts like a perfect blend of Jackie Mason and Ed Sullivan? : Where A Star Is Born

May 12, 1988|Al Martinez

The only hypnotist I ever had anything to do with prior to Sam Vine was a medical corpsman in Korea who entertained us one dry summer afternoon by hypnotizing a Marine rifleman named George and telling him he was in possession of a candy-striped dog.

"You love this dog dearly," the corpsman intoned. "It is the only dog you have ever owned and nothing means more to you."

We had a great time watching George play with his invisible dog until a lieutenant happened by and wanted to join the enlisted men's fun by petting the dog. That was a mistake.

George thought the lieutenant was going to take the dog from him and gave the officer a right jab that knocked him flat on his gold bars. That sobered the crowd in one hell of a hurry, but when the corpsman tried to snap George out of his trance, he wouldn't respond.

In fact, George drew a .45 and warned that anyone who tried to touch his candy-striped dog would be carried out on a stretcher. Suddenly, it had all gone sour.

What we didn't know at the time, you see, was that George was one of those guys who otherwise had nothing in his life: no family, no friends and no likelihood he would ever get any of them.

The candy-striped dog was a special love.

The corpsman tried for an hour to snap George out of it, but the guy sat in a corner of a tent cradling the dog and the gun and wouldn't even listen to the corpsman.

Finally, long after dark, someone came up with a candy bar, which we used to call pogie bait, and said if there was anything a candy-striped dog liked it was pogie bait.

That got George to concentrate on the candy and pretty soon he was out of the trance. The dog disappeared into the summer moonlight and we all went back to war, wondering about the silent anguish among us.

I mention the incident primarily, I guess, to clarify my initial response to an invitation to see Sam Vine, "the World's Funniest Hypnotist," at the Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica.

The candy-striped dog instantly came to mind with all of its inherent sadness. Time has drained from the moment whatever humor I saw in it back then, and I couldn't imagine being amused by a hypnotist again.

I was wrong. Sam Vine is funny as hell.

This isn't amateur night in Korea but a man with a medical background who shows his audience right away that he knows what he's doing. No one ends up hurt or embarrassed and everyone has a ball.

I don't usually write reviews, but seeing Sam was a kind of catharsis for me, I guess. Also, how can you not like somebody who looks and acts like a perfect blend of Jackie Mason and Ed Sullivan?

Sam easily gets a stage full of volunteers, hypnotizes them in a voice that could talk the pants off a nun and creates a show that is unlike any you've ever seen. Thank God he doesn't turn anyone into an arm-flapping chicken but instead establishes the parameters for humor by turning them into actors and comedians.

"It's impromptu theater," Sam said later. "I set up people-things with a potential for humor and they do the rest. They like it, too. For one night in their lives they're stars."

He had maybe a dozen volunteers to work with the night I was there and turned some or all of them at various times into feuding lovers, race track touts, musicians, schoolchildren, jealous tap dancers and New York Times reporters who periodically shouted, "Shut up!"

I liked the three women astronauts and the man they brought back from the moon who spoke only "moonlish." Fortunately, the astronauts also spoke moonlish and were able to translate his comments.

We learned that there are 3 1/2 sexes on the moon and that moon people live in small underground domes and eat green plant puss, which is very nourishing. Procreation occurs when a woman flies around a man and drops suddenly on him.

This is all transmitted from the moonman in a gibberish that sounds authentic enough to make you believe there is a moon language buried in the collective subconscious.

That part about women flying around a man's head and then landing on him would probably go over big in L.A., but it's a little kinky and should never be tried at home without professional guidance.

Sam Vine has been in show biz for 30 years. He went from practicing hypnotism in a medical office to opening for seven weeks in Buffalo, N.Y., where he established himself quickly, which is a miracle in itself. To paraphrase an old vaudeville expression, when you think you're good, play Buffalo.

Then it was on to clubs and concert halls throughout the country and finally to several television appearances, a lot of nights in Vegas and a one-man show on Broadway.

Now he's here for the first time, and if you've got a spare evening, go see Sam. He not only made me laugh but also blurred the edges of a sadness lodged in my head a lifetime ago.

As I left the theater, in fact, I paused for a moment and thought I could see just the faintest shadow of a candy-striped dog trotting off for the last time into the moonlight of a distant memory. He never looked back.

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