Interview: Colin Mochrie and Asad Mecci on Combining Improv and Hypnosis in Hyprov
Are you ready for a truly one-of-a-kind evening of theater?
If you want a truly unpredictable night of theater, head on down to the Daryl Roth Theatre at Union Square for Hyprov: Improv Under Hypnosis. The conceit alone may give some spectators pause — master hypnotist Asad Mecci hypnotizes a group of audience volunteers, and then they do scenes with beloved improv comic Colin Mochrie (of Whose Line Is It Anyway?) — but the result is a true one-of-a-kind experience. Here, Mecci and Mochrie tell us about how they came to put this show together.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you two meet and decide that your respective skillsets could form the basis of a theatrical show?
Asad Mecci: I sent Colin an email through his website, in which I outlined the concept of combining hypnosis and improv on stage together. Colin thought the idea was interesting, and within 24 hours, he asked to meet up. We had a drink, we had a laugh, we went through the idea, and within a couple of weeks, we threw it up on the Second City main stage in Toronto, not knowing what was going to happen. The show went great. We ended up performing the show at Just for Laughs Montreal, sold that show out; went to Just for Laughs London, did quite well there. The promoter was also working on shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and he ended up bringing us there for two years in a row. And then we toured it to 50 cities across North America, and now we're here, off-Broadway in New York City, having the time of our lives.
Colin Mochrie: It is a good time. It goes by so quickly. I'm sure it feels like the same kind of time lapse that our hypnotized volunteers have. It seems like it's over in a minute.
Colin, what kind of knowledge did you have about hypnotism before starting this process?
Colin: I probably had the general public's perception of what hypnotism was. You could hypnotize someone to kill your neighbor or something. This was a great learning experience for me. When Asad explained the show to me, I thought it was going to be me doing traffic control to keep these people in line, but I found out that they're aware the entire time. I guess that was something I hadn't known: when they're sitting in their chairs, it looks like they're sleeping, but they're totally aware of everything that's going on.
Asad: Hypnos was the Greek God of sleep. They thought that when somebody was hypnotized, they were asleep, but they're not. I give suggestions for relaxation, so their body observably looks asleep, but they're aware at all times. Some of the misconceptions are that you can be hypnotized against your will, you can't be; you can get stuck in a hypnotic state, you can't be. It's a normal, natural state you're cycling in and out of.
Colin: I'll do scenes with them and they'll reference something that happened three scenes before that they weren't in. I found that fascinating. I think I was wrong about everything I thought about hypnosis.
How does doing improv in this show differ for you, Colin, from when you're working with your professional crew like Ryan Stiles and the Whose Line gang?
Colin: Let me just say that their eyes are just as dead as the hypnotized people. [Laughs] I've known Ryan for over 40 years. We've worked together since the very beginning, so we have a very comfortable relationship on stage and I can generally tell where he's going in a scene, so I can follow along seeing how I can add to that.
With our hypnotized improvisors, there's no looking into where the scene can go with them. They're truly in the moment, reacting to whatever Asad and I give them. That makes it interesting for me, because if I've thought "this is where we're going to go," and they give me something that's totally against that, bye-bye to my previous thought.
I think it has helped me become a better improviser, because it truly has made me work in the moment. There's absolutely nothing I can plan at any time. And there's no point during the show that we can coast for a little bit. Asad is making sure they're staying in a trance, and I'm just trying to save my ass, basically. So it's a lot of fun.