JANESVILLE—Average Joe Schmoes such as you and I would do well to avoid joining a seasoned improv comic on stage.
Trying to keep up with a pro pulling funny bits out of thin air would no doubt leave us sputtering unfunny nonsense in response.
But what if we were under hypnosis, lacking all inhibitions and fear of embarrassment? How would we fair in the hands of one of the world’s best improvisers then?
A few members of a Janesville audience will soon find out.
So, too, will master hypnotist Asad Mecci and veteran improv comic Colin Mochrie, whose live show—”HYPROV: Improv Under Hypnosis” at the Janesville Performing Arts Center on Sept. 18—promises to be unpredictably absurd.
In a joint interview, Mecci and Mochrie said they do expect “a star” to emerge from the hypnotized volunteers that join them on stage.
For HYPROV, Mochrie trades his fellow cast members on the long-running improv comedy TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” for random audience members under hypnosis. The resulting show is “a comedy high-wire act,” according to Mecci, who mesmerizes the volunteers on stage before Mochrie acts out scenes with them.
Audience members under hypnosis, Mochrie says, “are truly pure improvisors. They’re just reacting to everything I say.”
“When I’m working with the ‘Whose Line’ guys, because we’ve worked together for so long, I can usually tell where they’re going,” he said. “And when I don’t, I trust them enough to follow along. But with these people, I have to get instant trust with them and hope it’s all going to work out.”
Mecci said he came up with the idea for HYPROV after honing his performance skills at the sketch comedy theater Second City Toronto (many years after fellow Canadian Mochrie trained there). The show took shape in 2016 after Mecci pitched the idea to Mochrie’s agent.
Their first tour of North America—which included JPAC’s annual gala event—was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic and is only now being resumed.
Mecci said people under hypnosis can do improv—and be hilarious at it—because they’re in a state that is neither self-conscious nor unconscious.
“When someone is hypnotized, they’re not asleep,” he said. “They observably look asleep. Their bodies are relaxed and they’re slumped over. But their minds are alert and they are aware of what’s happening. They’re just highly suggestible.”
Mochrie said the show has taught him that people under hypnosis are naturally primed to do what trained improvisers have learned to do, which is to go along with whatever scenario is put before them.
Mochrie said he and Mecci often talk to their hypnotized improv partners after shows.
“Ninety percent of them say, ‘I was awake for the entire thing. It’s just that everything you and Asad said sounded like a great idea, so I wanted to do it,’” Mochrie said.
Mecci said he wasn’t initially certain people he hypnotized would respond to Mochrie’s on-stage direction.
“Oftentimes, hypnotic subjects have tunnel vision and are really solely focused on the hypnotist,” he said. But after Mecci tells the hypnotized audience members “anything that I say will absolutely be their total reality,” they do interact and even converse with Mochrie.
Mecci says the show begins with 20 people coming to the stage, none of whom have previously interacted with him, Mochrie or their staff (except to show proof they have been vaccinated and tested negative for COVID-19). Mecci then hypnotizes them, and through improv games he plays with them, he whittles down the number to the “best” five or so hypnotized subjects.
People who fake being hypnotized are usually easy to weed out because their physical appearance and behavior gives them away, Mecci said.
“Usually they try too hard and play to the audience. They do more than I ask them to do.”
The duo said they have encountered people who don’t believe in either of their crafts; skeptics who doubt the people on stage are really unknown volunteers who are really hypnotized, or that they are witnessing a pure improv show, in which nothing is planned or rehearsed in advance.
“We have managed to combine two art forms that people don’t trust at all,” Mochrie said. “But I’m too lazy to have 100 different scenarios in my mind. We do what we can to show that we’re totally making this up. I think that’s really evident.”
In any case, the unpredictable behavior of hypnotized audience members means every HYPROV show is different.
“What I love is that every night we make a star. There’s always someone who is just amazing,” Mochrie said.
He recalled talking to one such star, a young woman, after a show.
“She said, ‘You know, I suffer from crippling social anxiety. I have no idea why I volunteered. But that hour on stage was the most relaxed I’ve ever been.’”
Mochrie added, “I didn’t think that there could be a medicinal aspect to this. But hearing that really felt good.”