What happens when a professional hypnotist joins forces with an improv comedy icon?
The result is a show like no other, where every performance is different.
By combining hypnosis and improv, audience volunteers can improvise without anything holding them back.
“HYPROV” starring Colin Mochrie and Asad Mecci will be coming to Bloomington at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29 at the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts.
But what exactly happens during the one-of-a-kind show?
“I bring up 20 volunteers. I hypnotize them, widdle it down to the best five or six hypnotic subjects,” Mecci said. “Enter, Colin Mochrie from ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’”
Once the best subjects are chosen, Mochrie improvises with those onstage while they are under hypnosis, resulting in an “absolutely hilarious” show.
Mecci didn’t just wake up one day with the desire to become a hypnotist. It wasn’t until a college friend of his had a hypnosis experience that Mecci decided to learn more about it.
“One of my friends during the first year of university went away to Hawaii over spring break. He happened to be sunburnt very badly, and he was travelling with his father and his father’s friend was a dentist who used hypnosis on his dental patients,” Mecci said.
“The dentist actually hypnotized him and took away all the irritation associated with the sunburn, and after he told me this story, I was absolutely fascinated by the subject.”
While he was studying business, Mecci spent most of his time in the psychology section of the library, trying to learn more about hypnosis.
“From there, I ended up doing university shows and performing at colleges and universities in Ontario, Canada,” Mecci said. “I ended up doing a lot of corporate shows, and then from there, I was hired by a large foundation group to perform my one-man act ‘Hypnohype’ on a cruise ship.”
That cruise director ended up loving the show and gave Mecci a job with Carnival Cruise Lines. Since then, Mecci has performed for Royal Carribean, Disney and celebrities.
“I had the opportunity to see the world with the cruise lines, so it’s been a blast,” Mecci said.
However, the hypnotist wanted to try something new with his performances.
“I wanted to get better at my craft, so I ended up taking lessons at the Second City in Toronto around improv,” he said. “They would always say ‘Get out of your head. You’re too much in your head.’”
Mecci adds that Second City didn’t want their students to “consciously construct a comedy because that’s not funny. They wanted a knee-jerk reaction.”
The improv school wanted an unconscious reaction from their students and for them to have an automatic response to what was happening on stage.
“With hypnosis, what you’re doing is moving the conscious mind aside, the critical-analytical part of the mind,” Mecci said. “Then, you’re working directly with the unconscious mind which controls everything else. It controls your nervous system, your breathing, your blinking and your heart rate.”
The introduction into improv is what set off a lightbulb in Mecci’s mind for what would soon become “HYPROV.”
“I thought, ‘Okay, wait a second. Could I hypnotize somebody who has no experience with improv whatsoever and turn them into great improvisers?’” Mecci said.
The answer to this question was a resounding yes. First-time improvisers will often, according to Mecci, “play to the audience, they will hesitate.” However, once hypnotized they no longer reflect on their behavior and they’re less hesitant when acting.
“They just carry out the directions that I give them, so it makes them really great improvisers,” Mecci said. “They are wholly unaware of the audience.”
With this determined, Mecci’s mind went to what else he could do to combine hypnosis and improvisation.
“If I can hypnotize people and turn them into great improvisers, what would happen if I put the world’s greatest improviser on stage with them?”
Mecci sent an email through Colin Mochrie’s website. Mochrie is best known for his work on the hit improvisational TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?”
Within 24 hours, Mecci received an email from Mochrie’s long time manager Jeff Andrews. Within a few months, Mochrie and Mecci were on the Second City stage testing out the show.
“We weren’t even sure if the show was going to work,” Mecci said. “Word got out after we performed at the Second City mainstage, packing the house.”
After that, the duo performed a sold out show at Just Laughs Montreal. Following that were more and more performances of their hypnosis and improv mashup.
Now, the two are in the middle of a 55 city tour across North America. Since its creation, the show has grown and changed as the duo have become more experienced and confident in their work.
“Since starting this tour with Asad, we’ve had some of our best shows in Illinois, from Glen Ellyn to Effingham,” Mochrie said “It must be the corn.”
“The bits at the beginning when we first started doing the show were pretty slapstick-y and really short, but now because we’ve been able to experiment on stage, we do intricate, elaborate experiments on stage,” Mecci said.
“We are at a place now where the show is really mature and really developed, and we’re pretty confident that we’re going to knock it out of the ballpark.”
At the start of the show, the two will play a song for Mochrie to sing. The song will change depending on the selection of volunteers on stage.
“So, it’ll be perhaps a love duet with a woman on stage whereas with a guy on stage it may be them battling over a woman of interest, depending on the vibe of the person,” Mecci said.
Sometimes it will be a Broadway song, a jazz duet or even a rock ballad. It all depends on who is on the stage with Mochrie.
According to Mecci, Mochrie says the experience is unlike any improv he’s done.
“Colin always says it terrifies him, and he’s tongue in cheek when he says it, but he always says that it keeps him on his toes,” Mecci said. “He has to get back to his roots of Improv because in the past, when he worked with Ryan Stiles and Wayne Brady, there is a set of rules with improv, and that kind of goes out the window when it comes to people are hypnotized on stage.”
When looking for the right audience members to be hypnotized, Mecci jokes that they have to “beat them back with a broomstick” since so many volunteers rush to the stage.
Mecci adds that he looks for physiological feedback to the hypnosis. This includes changes in skin color, skin tones, lacrimation of the eyes, dilation, muted voice and masked facial expressions.
One of his favorite experiences during the tour was when Mochrie was being proposed to by one of the hypnotized subjects.
“When they went to propose to him, they realized he had a wedding ring on,” Mecci laughed. “You can see the person’s immediate reaction because they were hypnotized and gave an honest reaction. They had a few choice words for Colin, and they also wanted to know why he had a wedding ring on, and it was pretty entertaining for the audience.”
Mecci adds that the tour and working with Mochrie has been a phenomenal experience.
“HYPROV” will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Ticket prices range from $25-45, with student tickets costing $10. Those interested in purchasing tickets can visit artsblooming.org or go to the BCPA box office.