Comedian Is Also a Hypnotist Who Helps People Kick the Habit

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Guzzi: On a serious, humorous mission.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
Nov. 20, 2013, 5:16 p.m.

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In his Tony Sop­rano New York ac­cent, comedi­an and hyp­no­ther­ap­ist Rich Guzzi re­called the mo­ment in his life when he de­cided to be a per­former. What he didn’t know then was that that mo­ment would later trans­form his act in­to a pub­lic ser­vice.

“My dad was a car mech­an­ic,” Guzzi said. “I was learn­ing the fam­ily busi­ness. I loved be­ing with my dad. One day, he wasn’t feel­ing good, and — and he’s this moun­tain of a man so I wasn’t sure what was wrong — we were driv­ing to the doc­tor and he says, “˜Nope, you’ve got to take me to the hos­pit­al, this is way worse than that.’ “

Turn­ing the car around to head to­ward the hos­pit­al, Guzzi got caught in the New York City traffic. Next thing he knew, his fath­er had died in the pas­sen­ger seat. Guzzi was 20 years old.

“When you’re a 20-year-old kid it’s not the best thing.”¦” Guzzi trailed off. “I was screwed up for a while.”

Guzzi’s fath­er died from smoking-re­lated heart dis­ease. Without his fath­er in his life, Guzzi re­thought his ca­reer path.

“Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be a comedi­an,” he said. “I dropped everything and went for it.”

Comedi­ans don’t make much in the be­gin­ning. Once, Guzzi drove to Pitt­s­burgh to do a 10-minute spot for free. Joey Kola, a stand-up com­ic on Com­edy Cent­ral who also opens for live tele­vi­sion shows, ment­ored Guzzi, show­ing him the ropes of the busi­ness.

“I owe it all to him,” Guzzi said. “This guy was the world’s greatest comedi­an. He was a real slug­ger.”

Things went well once Guzzi star­ted book­ing his own shows. But one night his crowd was stale.

“It was go­ing nowhere,” he said. “I knew how to hyp­not­ize from read­ing books. It was just a trick I would do at parties. And so I brought some people on stage and the crowd starts go­ing wild.”

People flocked to Guzzi’s show for the hyp­nosis. He once got a man to prom­ise to buy every­one drinks — and when the guy woke up, he did it. Guzzi went to school and earned his cer­ti­fic­a­tion for clin­ic­al hyp­no­ther­apy. That’s when it clicked.

“If the sug­ges­tion to buy drinks for every­one worked,” he said, “why couldn’t I sug­gest to them that they’re not go­ing to smoke any­more?”

Roughly one in five Amer­ic­ans smokes, and smoking is the largest pre­vent­able cause of dis­ease and pre­ma­ture death in the coun­try. Wash­ing­ton mir­rors the na­tion­al stat­ist­ics with a 20 per­cent smoking rate.

Thursday is the Amer­ic­an Can­cer So­ci­ety’s 38th An­nu­al Great Amer­ic­an Smokeout Day, en­cour­aging smokers to kick the habit. It’s also the first day of Guzzi’s “Start Jok­ing! Stop Smoking!” tour, a year­long series of shows that Guzzi hopes will get 100,000 people to quit smoking through hyp­nosis.

Guzzi per­forms roughly 300 shows a year. He opens with a bit of com­edy, and then asks for vo­lun­teers. Hyp­nosis, he said, can work with any­thing you know you should do but don’t have the mo­tiv­a­tion to ac­com­plish.

“Every per­son knows ex­actly how to lose weight: to ex­er­cise more and eat less food,” Guzzi said. “Yet there’s mil­lions of people across the world who don’t lose weight, be­cause their con­scious mind knows they want to but their sub­con­scious still wants that chocol­ate ice cream. So hyp­nosis turns your sub­con­scious mind on and puts it to use.”

Weight loss is Guzzi’s most pop­u­lar pro­gram.

“Smokers love to smoke,” Guzzi said. “They feel fear­less, they’re breath­ing fire every day. You go to the car­ni­val and pay to see that.

“But the thing with smoking is that it’s pass or fail. You’re either a smoker or you’re not. So it’s very easy to keep up with the people and find out if they’re a nonsmoker or not.”

Guzzi said he’ll keep up with the people he’s hyp­not­ized in or­der to count to 100,000. Some­times, he said, they re­lapse, but “it still works” if they quit for six months at a time. Guzzi sells CD au­dio pro­grams for smoking and weight loss, since he can’t al­ways do in-per­son ses­sions.

Vet­er­ans, however, are a dif­fer­ent story. For those suf­fer­ing from posttrau­mat­ic stress dis­order, Guzzi’s pro­gram can be an al­tern­at­ive to pre­scrip­tion drugs.

“We get hun­dreds of emails from people all around the coun­try, but the big ones are the mil­it­ary guys who are get­ting their life back,” Guzzi said. “I didn’t real­ize it was as much of a prob­lem un­til I star­ted see­ing these stor­ies. They come back and they’re men­tally fa­tigued with the stuff that they’ve seen and done. We’re not do­ing enough to help these people out. I feel like it’s my duty be­cause I have a tool that they’re not us­ing.”

It’s been 30 years since Guzzi’s fath­er died. Guzzi star­ted com­edy be­cause mak­ing oth­er people laugh was his “ther­apy” — and today he’s a ther­ap­ist for thou­sands of people who want to bet­ter their lives.

“I would nev­er want any­body to go through what I went through,” Guzzi said. “I couldn’t write a worse movie script to hap­pen. To have it hap­pen right in front of you.”

Get­ting people to stop smoking is as much about a healthy life­style as it is about Guzzi’s fath­er.

“My dad was one of those blue-col­lar guys who nev­er made any money,” Guzzi said. “It would have been kind of cool if he was around to see this, to see me fol­low my dream, and be a suc­cess.”

Guzzi doesn’t have a stop planned in Wash­ing­ton, but he’s selling his pro­gram for a penny on­line to get people to try it.

“My goal is to help a lot of people, and to put hyp­nosis on the map,” he said. “If I can do it through help­ing people, then that’s even bet­ter.”

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