Perhaps Colin Mochrie, who’s one half of the hypno-improv comedy hit “Hyprov,” isn’t the best person to give a ringing endorsement of the show.
“It’s terrifying,” the comedian says of the show’s format, which combines audience improv skits with hypnosis to outrageous outcomes.
But the abject anxiety that comes from performing with strangers is precisely why he likes it.
“My entire career is built on not being comfortable. I find that’s when I have the most fun and when it seems to work the most,” says Mochrie.
He says having a sense of security has never been a goal for him.
“I know everybody else seems to work towards being in a job where you feel comfortable, secure. You know what’s going to happen next. I need help, man,” Mochrie says.
In “Hyprov,” 20 audience members are invited onstage to be hypnotized by Master Hypnotist Asad Mecci, an entertainer who’s been seen on MTV, Maxim Online and “Entertainment Tonight.” Eventually, only the best hypnotized improvisers are left onstage, and that’s when Mochrie comes out and engages in improv situations with them to unique effect.
Mecci says he got the idea while doing comedy hypnosis shows at the improve theater group Second City. That’s where he discovered comedians searching for what he says is an “unconscious reaction” from students.
“They always use this term, ‘Get out of your head.’ They would always say, ‘Just let the comedy be a reflex. Don’t think too hard about it,’” says Mecci. “First-time improvisers, what they will often do is hesitate. They will look confused at times. They will play to the audience. But with people who are hypnotized, they just carry out my suggestions. So they become essentially really great improvisers.”
The Second City is also where he met Mochrie, and suggested this idea to him. Mochrie was game.
“We never had a chance to try it until we were doing it. So the first time we performed it was the first time we’d ever done it. I would ask Asad, ‘So, if I asked them to do this, will they do it?’ And his answer always was, ‘I don’t know. It depends on the subject. They might, they might not.’ Which doesn’t fill you with a lot of confidence when you’re about to go in front of a paying audience who expect to see some kind of show. But somehow it’s all worked out,” Mochrie says.
After “Hyprov” took a slot after the Second City main stage show, its popularity exploded.
“Once word got out, it was just packed houses. People were coming in to see the show because, you know, who wouldn’t want to see Colin Mochrie perform with a hypnotist, and I have a bunch of hypnotized people on stage, improvising them. It’s pretty wild show,” says Mecci.
Mochrie, an actor, Second City alumnus and improv comedian best known for cracking up audiences on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, says working with other professional comedians at least gives him a safety net if something goes wrong. But “Hyrpvo” has no such thing.
“When I’m working with improvisers like Ryan Stiles or Brad Sherwood or Wayne Brady — even though everything is improvised, we don’t have anything planned — I still know those guys have a foundation of improv skill. I trust them, and I can follow them if I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen. With audience members who are under a trance, I have none of those guarantees,” Mochrie says.
It’s up to Mecci to provide a mental failsafe.
“Luckily, Assad is there for the entire time so he can reinforce something. We’ve never had anyone out and out refuse to do something. Sometimes, it’s like they’ve misheard and done something just totally weird. There was one person, we were having a funeral for a pet, and she got really upset. Like, she was sobbing, and Assad had to sort of take her out of the trance and take her back to the audience. So that’s the beauty of this show. You never know what’s going to happen,” Mochrie says.
He says working with hypnotized people is a show in itself.
“Sometimes the participants are just so intense. They’re just staring at me, listening to everything I say. And then there’s some, it’s like working with stoned people. All their reactions are really slowed down. At no part during the show do I think, ‘Oh, I can just relax here and sit back.’ It’s like I constantly have to be on my toes and keep things moving,” Mochrie says.
Mecci says with the exception of performing the hypnosis, he and Mochrie interact throughout the show.
“We’re riffing off of one another. So for example, there’s a proposal scene where someone is proposing to Colin. Then I will throw in an obstacle. An obstacle could be that, when I snap my fingers, you’re gonna sneeze, or the only time that you can propose to Colin would be when you’re seated. So (there are) just small obstacles to kind of create a little bit more of a comedy tension within the skit.”
Still, Mecci says it’s Mochrie who swoops in and saves the day in a pinch.
“I have a front row seat to Colin Mochrie doing improv with people who are hypnotized. Every night it’s hilarious. He’s absolutely spectacular at what he does. He blows my mind every single time.”