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Improv meets hypnotism in Mochrie, Mecci show

Wagon Wheel hosts two shows on Feb. 15


Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published February 6, 2020

After he decided to shift careers from therapist to entertainer, hypnotist Asad Mecci took a course in improvisational comedy at Toronto’s famed Second City.

What he learned is that the goals of hypnosis and improvisational comedy are similar.

“I realized that what the instructors were doing was trying to get unconscious comedy from the students,” Mecci said in a phone interview with Whatzup. “They didn’t want it to be consciously contrived. They often said to us, ‘Get out of your head. You’re too much in your own head.’”

Drills and exercises were aimed at coaxing Mecci and his fellow students to the point where “you weren’t thinking about what you were going to do,” he said. “You just did it.”

Mecci started wondering if this goal could be accomplished through hypnosis.

Eventually, Mecci cold-called the management of improv comic Colin Mochrie and, after much brainstorming and workshopping, a tour was devised.

Getting Mesmerized

Mecci’s and Mochrie’s Hyprov will come to the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw for two shows on Saturday, Feb. 15.

If you have seen one or more of Mochrie’s and Brad Sherwood’s live performances, you know that they unfold much like an episode of their long-running TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Mochrie and Sherwood play improv games that sometimes involve volunteers from the audience but always involve Mochrie and Sherwood.

Hyprov is different.

Hyprov starts with volunteers from the audience who are assessed by Mecci for their suitability as beneficiaries of his mesmerism.

The group is winnowed down and a remaining four or five are deeply hypnotized by Mecci.

Then Mochrie comes out.

It isn’t typical for Mochrie to be the only professional improviser on any stage, but that’s what happens during Hyprov.

Mochrie must improvise with five amateurs whose misgivings about such activities have been removed or greatly curtailed by Mecci.

“The part of the brain that deals with self-reflection and self-criticism, the activity there really diminishes,” Mochrie said. “So what you get are pure improvisers who are just reacting to what you give them and who are truly saying the first thing that comes out of their mouths.”

New Kind of Improv

The tour has been a voyage of discovery for Mochrie. One of the things he came to understand is that he didn’t have to be in charge.

“I actually do just play off what they’re doing,” he said. “A lot of times, they give great suggestions. It actually does become more like an improv troupe instead of me leading them.”

The games are simpler than the ones you see on TV, Mochrie said, because hypnotized people can only grasp so much.

But they are potentially more intense.

Every night, Mochrie receives one or more proposals of marriage from hypnotized audience members and the ardor of the amour can be quite convincing.

“I have had such tender scenes of love with these people,” he said. “The last one we did, the guy was — I almost ran away with him.”

Mochie said the tour has made him a better improv comic.

“Sometimes when I am working with Ryan (Stiles) or Brad, I get lazy,” he said. “I just kind of go with it. With this show, I can’t take any time off. I have to really get back to the basics of listening and really accepting everything that they give me.

“It has given me a better work ethic and got me back to being more creative,” Mochrie said.

Hypnotism facts

Stage hypnotism has its skeptics, so here are some bolstering facts.

Only 20 percent of the population can be hypnotized to the extent required by Hyprov, Mecci said.

“That’s why I bring up 20 volunteers and whittle it down to the best,” he said. “If I bring up 20, I know I am going to get at least one that’s going to be great.”

The rate of successfully hypnotized people is higher in a clinical setting, Mecci said.

“It’s very hard to pull off a stage hypnosis show,” he said. “A hypnotist has to be quite proficient. You’re dealing with all kinds of factors. Lights are in the eyes. People are on stage. The person next to you on stage might not smell too good. There might be someone on stage who is a complete distractor. There is constant coughing, laughing, and conversations in the audience.”

Mecci is so adept at this that Mochrie said his wife was very nearly hypnotized while sitting in the audience during an early incarnation of the show.

There are audience members who so badly want to be involved in the hijinks that they pretend to be hypnotized.

Mecci has many ways to root those folks out. If you are planning to fool him, you will not be successful.

People who are pretending to be hypnotized have, to borrow a poker term, many “tells.” Mecci listed them for me, but I won’t reproduce them here.

It isn’t likely that a faker could fake the grief that one Hyprov participant expressed while “attending” a pet funeral.

Mecci had to escort her back to her seat. Mecci said he removed her more for the audience’s sake than hers.

“I always ensure that when the people up on stage leave the stage, they are in a much better mental state than they were when they got on stage,” he said. “They’re relaxed, they’re alert, they’re calm, and they feel good. The audience might be a little freaked out while watching someone experience a suggestion that I have given them. But for the person on stage, the experience is really no different than watching a tearjerker.”

Which is to say: Any sadness a person feels is equivalent to the sadness they’d experience while watching a sad movie as opposed to the sadness they’d experience living life.

A pet funeral sounds like an awfully heavy scenario for the purpose of begetting shenanigans, but Mochrie added further details that should ease readers’ minds.

“That one was extreme because she was extremely upset,” he said. “We do that scene and tears are flowing for the most ridiculous reasons. A platypus killed in a plunger accident?”

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