Hypnosis + Improv = Comedy: Colin Mochrie, hypnotist Asad Mecci join forces for 'HYPROV' show at the Raue
Several years ago, while taking improv courses at Second City Toronto, it occurred to hypnotist Asad Mecci that hypnosis plus improvisation could equal comedy.
Mecci reasoned there would be no better method for improv students to "get out of their heads" (as Second City instructors encourage) than hypnosis, which allows a person to move aside his/her conscious mind. On impulse, he reached out to the manager of improviser extraordinaire Colin Mochrie, a Second City veteran and cast member of the long-running TV show "Whose Line is it Anyway?"
Within 24 hours, Mecci and Mochrie met. Several weeks later, they tested the concept they dubbed "hyprov" onstage at Second City Toronto, where Mochrie was an ensemble member. Encouraged by the response, they embarked on a tour. Appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, Canada, followed in 2016 and 2017, as did a 2019 tour, which was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now Mecci and Mochrie are on the road again, performing their show "HYPROV: Improv Under Hypnosis" in-person Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Raue Center in Crystal Lake. Tickets are limited for that performance, but the duo returns in April 2022 to the Batavia Fine Arts Center.
While the idea of improvising with hypnotized audience volunteers terrified Mochrie initially, he quickly embraced the concept. As part of the show, Mecci hypnotizes 20 audience volunteers, from which the five most susceptible are selected to improvise with Mochrie. Interested participants must sign up in advance through the Raue Center link provided in the ticket confirmation email. To participate, volunteers must provide proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the show.
Mochrie relishes the challenge hyprov provides.
"I enjoy improvising the most when I'm outside my comfort zone, when there's no net, when you're living by your wits," he said.
Experienced improvisers like Second City ensemble members or the actor/comedians who work with Mochrie on "Whose Line" establish not only trust but a shorthand. That's not possible when one's improv partners are inexperienced audience volunteers, which leaves the heavy lifting to Mochrie. It helps that hypnosis makes the volunteers less self-conscious and less likely to play to the audience as opposed to participating in the scene.
"If you were to bring up 20 people who had no improv experience and tried to do an improv show, it would be catastrophic," Mecci said.
In part because neophytes are unfamiliar with the "yes, and" improvisational comedy technique in which improvisers accept and expand upon the ideas of their scene partners.
"When we first started, I thought they were going to be fine with the 'yes' part," Mochrie said. "I worried about the 'and' part, whether they would build upon the scene.
"They do," he said. "They go along with whatever we set up ... They become pure improvisers."
"It's like unlocking the unconscious," adds Mecci.
Every night a star emerges, Mochrie said.
"The hypnotism gets rid of that part of the brain that deals with self-criticism," he said, allowing them to react in the moment without worrying about how they appear to fellow audience members.
"Asad is good at weeding out the ones who are faking it," Mochrie said.
The ideal hyprov candidates are able to dissociate from their surroundings and become wrapped up in whatever they're experiencing, said Mecci, referring to folks who scream while watching a horror film or sob during a tear-jerker. Mecci and Mochrie treat their volunteer partners with respect.
No one will ever cluck like a chicken during a hyprov performance, Mochrie said.
"We don't make fun of audience members who are part of the show any more than I'd make fun of fellow improvisers," Mochrie said. "They are a valued part of the improv troupe."
They say audiences have responded well to the show.
"Now is the time to laugh," Mecci said. "It's been a tough year and this show is lots of fun. It's high energy, and you get to see Colin Mochrie from 'Whose Line' live."
"What could be better?" Mochrie quipped.
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"HYPROV: Improv Under Hypnosis"
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13
Where: Raue Center for the Arts, 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake
Tickets: $45-$65. (815) 356-9212 or rauecenter.org
COVID-19 precautions: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test for those 12 and older; masks mandatory for everyone 2 and older