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Tracking down the ghosts of New York City with comedian Mike Kelton

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In BEYOND, which explores the supernatural side of New York, comedian Mike Kelton documents his encounters with regression therapists, healers, witches, and mediums.

Image courtesy of Mike Kelton // Forever Dog Productions

Kelton is known for his comedic style, which he describes as “story-telling comedy”. No stranger to the spotlight, he had a one-man show in New York for eight months, which encapsulated “queer coming of age storytelling”, where Kelton’s “silly, almost absurdist view of the world” came to the forefront – transforming the perceivably unfortunate moments into queer power asserting a “place in the world” through comedy.

A lot of Kelton’s comedic understanding came from his training at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), a live comedy, sketch and improv theatre where all shows are less than $10.

He says: “I learnt that comedy can only exist in a truthful setting, where you or people are listening. I had the preconceived notion that comedy was loud and slap-sticky, but UCB taught me that through improv, comedy exists through a place where people are listening and responding”.

Listening and responding is the purpose of BEYOND, which Kelton created to debunk the misunderstood stereotypes surrounding mystics and mediums.”

The exploration of New York’s supernatural world under the guise of subtle, sarcastic comedy is what makes the podcasts so wonderfully unique. Kelton says he wanted it to feel fresh – I wanted to find the balance between narrating my journey and comedy, because of my fun and silly outlook on the world, and life in general. But then I wanted the podcast to be authentic – I would actually be going through these experiences. I wasn’t going to bastardise them for the sake of a comedy podcast.”

Understated comedy is utilised a creative tool; normalising the bustling city’s supernatural sphere. Kelton wanted to make people feel less shameful about listening to something on their phone that was about psychics and mediums – there’s a definite stigma surrounding it, and it’s easy to make fun of”.

Image courtesy of Mike Kelton 

The media is largely responsible for these construed representations, he says, because it “doesn’t like to lift up mediums and intuitive and magical things, to (make them) sound normal, because (then) they don’t have a story.”

Understandably, Kelton doesn’t want to “attack the media” - yet he argues that they will “seek stories that make psychics seem crazy before they support a story that seems normal and nice”.

A prime example of this is the “cuckoo” representation of  Amethyst Realm, a spiritual councillor who appeared on This Morning to discuss her plans to have a baby with a ghost – her story even reached Kelton in America.

The podcast also emphasises how genuinely helpful mediums can be. Past-life regression, spatial healers and mediums have invoked internal peace and openness in the comedian’s relationships. “If it’s helpful," he says, "then we shouldn’t be ashamed”.

Comedy also makes the podcasts a lot more accessible to a mass audience - BEYOND is not mushy”; it doesn’t sentimentalise spirituality, neither does it take an intimidatingly intellectual angle.

There are so many thousands of ways in which New York has been depicted the media, adding to its gigantic presence in the world. This “magical and larger than life city” feels “somewhat underwhelming and like home”, for Kelton, though - he has lived there for over nine years, attending high school there.

With such a diverse society, it could be expected that New York would embrace individual freedom. However, Kelton argues that New York supports individuality, but doesn’t celebrate it commercially, or financially.

“Sometimes when you are an individual in this city, doing your own things, you are not nominally or financially supported," he says. "Some of the most revolutionary fashion designers in the New York weren’t getting or compensated for their designs or (the) styles that they were making.” The money in New York, he says, "goes to the taker”.

Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York is one of the most beloved representations of New York’s population, championing and connecting the world by voicing the stories of every-day individuals, through the medium of portraits and short video episodes. Kelton takes huge inspiration from this - it’s one of the reasons why he decided to explore the psychic community. 

“I love their depiction of real people living real lives that are not lifted up or faked for media purposes – there’s an authenticity to it," he says. "I wanted to authentically portray these spiritual mediums and people that do this for a living. I do think it’s real - it’s authentic for them. Humans Of New York helped me find authenticity in the stories that I was telling.”

There is, therefore, a real sense of a necessary, social purpose behind BEYOND. Kelton confronted his own scepticism - if he hadn't, he says, there would have been “nothing to challenge”. Instead of poking holes, he wanted to experience everything from his “own perspective, rather than, you know, writing a dissertation on how mediums are real.”

Despite describing himself as “100% a spiritual person” already, Kelton underwent a transformative spiritual and emotional journey throughout the podcasts. “I did not think I would be so affected – I had no idea that it would continue my spiritual journey and bring me to a place where I feel more affected,” he says.

One of his main perceptions that changed was learning that “all forms of spiritual gurus connect to the same energy and power. They’re tapping into source energy, and the energy of the earth.”

One of the most vivid spiritual experiences in the series is the discussion of energy vortexes in the East Village's Cure Thrift Shop, with New York socialite Nikki Haskell. The energy in the shop is almost tangible, even through the medium of a podcast – in fact, it influenced the dreams of some listeners.

Cure Thrift Shop, East Village, New York // Image courtesy of Mike Kelton 

Kelton says the experience “shook him to the core”. In his own words:

“Asa, our medium, realised there were a lot of dark happenings in the basement over a couple of decades.

"Because of that, Asa calls it an "amorphogenic field", a scientific field, that means when a traumatic event happens within a space, that space can absorb the energy of the turmoil. 

"And it happens in the opposite way when babies are born. There are the cells that form, and then the energy around where the lungs are gonna be exist before the cells make the lungs.

"It’s basically where energy will exist, that has the essence of what will be, or what was before. And when there’s trauma in a space, let’s say someone’s murdered, that trauma that existed in that instance is transferred into that space.

"And if that trauma is also met with fear and stories, as one does in a town, all that fear created onto that space can create an energy vortex. And what that energy vortex is, it is a time and energy suck, where all that negative energy has created almost like a place where nothing good can come out from, unless you clear the space with a practitioner.”

Kelton says that he found the work of medium Asa Hoffman "life-changing", and the most convincing thing that he encountered during the making of the podcast. He comes across as very emotionally affected by Asa’s exploration of the supernatural occurrences surrounding his grandfather’s death. He says Asa “definitely felt like one of the most experienced and talented, and I say that because he says things that just really hit me emotionally.

"And I also think he had a leg up, because he was dealing with the medium episode, which was connecting with my grandfather. But, I mean I don’t want to say he’s the best, but maybe he’s the best.”

BEYOND challenges perceptions of spiritual healers, psychics, and mediums. Kelton’s work is simultaneously informative, funny and respectful. The execution of the podcasts is a true credit to those he worked with, and effectively debunks the stereotypes surrounding their profession.

Find out more about BEYOND here

Lead image courtesy of Mike Kelton 

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