Hypnotism and improv to meet on UCPAC stage

Master hypnotist Asad Mecci, left, and improv legend Colin Mochrie have combined their talents to create a hilarious, one-of-a-kind show.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — The mind is a funny thing — literally, for improv legend Colin Mochrie and master hypnotist Asad Mecci, who will perform their show, “Hyprov: Improv Under Hypnosis,” at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway on Thursday, March 17. The two men, who have toured Europe and North America together, have combined their specialties to make a one-of-a-kind show; not only is the idea behind the show unique, but each performance is a new experience with new participants and new games.

The idea for the show was first conceived by Mecci, a hypnotist who has been featured on Entertainment Tonight, MTV, HGTV, YTV and talk television, and written about in the New York Times, the Huffington Post and Maxim magazine. Mecci has performed solo at venues across North America, and, when he is not performing on stage, he uses hypnosis to help people lose weight, reduce stress and make positive change in their lives.

“I was traveling around the world, performing for different cruise lines and celebrity cruise lines and I wanted to get better at my craft, so I ended up taking courses at the Second City,” Mecci told Union County LocalSource in a March 9 phone interview. The Second City is a famous improv theater in Chicago, Ill. “There, oftentimes, the instructors would say, ‘Get out of your head. You’re too much in your head.’ And what they meant to say, you know, from a hypnosis perspective, is, ‘Stop consciously constructing the comedy.’ We want the comedy to be a knee-jerk reaction, we want your unconscious mind to release that information instead. So we want unconscious functions.”

This led Mecci to come up with the idea for “Hyprov,” in which Mecci hypnotizes 20 volunteers from the audience, then keeps the best five to improvise with “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” star Mochrie.

“When you look at Colin performing on stage, it looks effortless. It looks like it’s just very normal and natural in every way. First-time improvisers, they will play to the crowd, they’ll look like they’re under stress. They will be self-conscious,” Mecci said. “So with hypnosis, what you’re doing, you’re actually disconnecting the part of the brain that deals with self-reflection. So when a person is hypnotized, I give them a suggestion and they just carry out that suggestion without all that self-consciousness.”

Mecci reached out to Mochrie, whose longtime manager, Jeff Andrews, was fascinated by the proposal. While Mochrie doesn’t think he has ever been hypnotized, he did admit that he jumped to work with Mecci rather quickly.

“I did accept this fairly quickly, so I’m not sure. I’m going to say, as far as I know, I haven’t” been hypnotized, Mochrie told LocalSource on March 9. “But as I say, I mean, we had one coffee and I’m doing it. So maybe yeah. Maybe.”

Luckily for Mecci and Mochrie, the idea was more than just fascinating — it was doable and incredibly entertaining.

“Is it possible to hypnotize somebody and turn them into good improvisers? The answer has been a resounding yes,” Mecci said. “From there, I thought, even more, Is it possible to take a really great improviser, a world-renowned improviser, an improv legend like Colin Mochrie, and then put them with someone who’s never had any improv experience, but is hypnotized to think that they’re a great singer, or to think that they are madly in love with Colin? And in those environments will they be great improvisers? Again, the answer has been a resounding yes.”

Mecci explained that, while inhibitions are relaxed while a subject is hypnotized, the subject will not do anything against their morals, ethics or cultural values.

Mochrie, who has been a regular on both the British and American “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” TV shows, said it was surprisingly easy to improvise with hypnotized people. In addition to currently starring in the CW Network’s reboot of “Whose Line,” Mochrie has toured the world with fellow Whoser Brad Sherwood for more than a decade, appears in the Second City Guide to Symphonies in front of orchestras all over North America and recently wrote his first collection of short stories, “Not Quite the Classics.” In 2013, Mochrie was named Canada’s Comedy Person of the Year.

“When I was first approached by Asad to do this, I thought, ‘Oh man, it’s going to be a night of me doing traffic control and all the heavy lifting,’ and I learned quite soon that (the hypnotized subjects) are absolutely pure improvisers, accepting immediately everything I suggest and going along with the piece,” Mochrie said. “One of the major rules of improv is just saying yes to everybody. So someone comes up with an idea, you agree with it and you build on it. And it’s the hardest thing for people to do, because it’s not, I think, what we do naturally in real life, to say yes. Someone will come up with an idea and people’s natural reaction is, ‘You know what? I have a better idea.’ These people don’t do that. They immediately jump in; they accept whatever situation we’ve put them in, so it’s made it a lot easier because they’re doing 50 percent — sometimes more — of the work.”

According to Mochrie, he and Mecci recently added a musical element to their show, thanks to the work of their musical director, John Hilsen.

“One of the games we do is, I do a duet with one of the hypnotized subjects, and the last couple of shows we’ve really hit our stride. They’ve been amazing — not only sounding great, you know, like a Wayne Brady or a Brad Sherwood, but also coming up with funny lyrics,” Mochrie said. “And to me, I already was a big fan of hypnotism, but to me it just hits home that these people don’t have any training in this and yet they’re doing ‘Whose Line’–worthy song improv. It’s just been fantastic to watch and be a part of.”

Mecci said it is sometimes difficult to believe that the entire show is improvised and that Mochrie hasn’t rehearsed with the others before the show — that’s how good they are.

“In reality, the show just comes together at that moment in time, so it’s very special because you’re seeing kind of a snapshot of a show that will never be replicated, because it’s all new volunteers, and we don’t know any of the people who come up on stage,” Mecci said. “We never use plants, we don’t know their personal histories, and there they are, singing with Colin onstage. It’s really fascinating to watch.”

Mecci explained that the people susceptible to hypnotism are usually people who are able to dissociate and fully immerse themselves in experiences, such as watching movies. As a professional, Mecci can look to physiological signs in the subjects to ensure they are truly hypnotized. From there, he can suggest almost anything to them and Mochrie, and watch them go.

“I’m going to count from one to three, and when I reach the count of three, you can create spontaneous amnesia, so Colin is no longer Colin,” Mecci gave as an example of the power of hypnotism. “So, either they forgot who that person is, or you can replace Colin with something else. In front of you is Brad Pitt.”

“It’s a common mistake,” Mochrie quipped.

When asked about the difference between performing improv with hypnotized subjects versus “Whose Line” comedians, Mochrie was quick to point out: “Well, the hypnotic subjects, their eyes are still filled with hope, as opposed to the dead eyes you see on ‘Whose Line.’

“This is not to insult the guys on ‘Whose Line,’ even though I just did, because obviously they’re very talented, but these improvisers are working toward making a complete scene even though they’re not doing it consciously. They’re just accepting everything. Whereas on ‘Whose Line,’ sometimes you’re trying to make another person laugh or you have a moment that you’re trying to take from someone else. This truly is an ensemble improv group,” Mochrie continued. “And they are just as surprising as the ‘Whose Line’ guys. I never know. I mean, even with the ‘Whose Line’ guys, we’re improvising, but I can sort of see where they’re going to go in a scene, I can see where they’re headed. But with these improvisers I truly have no idea, because they’re working from a totally different level. Everything they’re doing is a realistic thing for them. It’s not, ‘Oh, I’m trying to be funny.’ They are doing whatever we ask of them, and that’s where the humor comes in. They are so committed.”

Mecci agreed, saying he enjoys watching how immersed the hypnotic subjects are in the show.

“They’re absolutely in it. So, when I say they’re falling madly in love with Colin, they are madly in love with Colin. They are committed to that,” Mecci said. “If I say, ‘You are in love with Colin and you’re going to propose to him,’ they are ultra-focused on getting to that proposal.”

To get in on the fun, purchase tickets for “Hyprov” at UCPAC by visiting https://tinyurl.com/2j53pxfk. For more information about the experience, visit https://www.hyprov.com/.

“We’re excited to be coming to Union County to perform for you guys in New Jersey,” Mecci said. “It’s fast-paced, it’s action-packed, it’s high energy. The show is hilarious. I always say I have a front-row seat to the best comedy in the world, having Colin Mochrie perform comedy in front of me.”

“It’s a fun, fun show,” Mochrie said. “It’s good for the entire family. You have to be 18 or over to be hypnotized, but we’ve had kids come to the show and love it. It’s just fun, goofy entertainment.”

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cobb