Hypnosis and Improv — two art forms that have mystified and entertained fans, skeptics and everyone in between for decades worldwide – come together as two masters, Colin Mochrie and Asad Mecci, unite for a totally unique comedy experience, HYPROV: Improv Under Hypnosis.
The famous duo are headed to Southwestern Ontario for several shows in January, including St. Catharines on Jan. 23, Windsor on Jan. 25, Chatahm on Jan. 26, Brantford on Jan. 29 and Guelph on Jan. 30.
The duo checked in with 519 ahead of the Ontario tour and spoke about their individual crafts.
What is Hyprov?
Asad: It is improvisation under hypnosis starring Colin Mochrie and myself. I bring up 20 volunteers as the master hypnotist, hypnotize them, and whittle it down to the best five or six hypnotic subjects. Enter Mr. Colin Mochrie from Whose Line is It Anyway? Colin then improvises with the people who are hypnotized on stage while they’re under hypnosis, April.
How did you guys get together and come up with this?
Asad: I was studying at The Second City, and now I’d already been doing cruise ship shows, performing my solo act as a hypnotist doing a comedy hypnosis show. I wanted to get better at the show and I actually went to The Second City to take some courses. I realized what they were doing. They were trying to get an automatic reaction out of the people that they were training there, a.k.a sort of hypnotizing them, believe it or not. I thought to myself, “Huh, if I hypnotize somebody, tell them that they’re a great improviser, give them the suggestion that they’re in an environment with Colin and they truly believe it, could they actually become great improvisers?” And the answer has been a resounding yes.
Both hypnotism and improv have their own challenges. Does putting the two concepts together open up a whole new can of worms?
Colin: Well, no more than any other improv show. I mean, the subject can go in and out of hypnosis and Assad is really good at recognizing that and making sure that they stay the course. And from my end, it’s actually been fascinating. The very first time that we did the show was basically the very first time. It’s not like we could rehearse it. We had hopes for what it would be and those hopes were exceeded. I love the fact that these people who don’t come from an entertainment background, who don’t improvise, become really good improvisers. Because when Assad hypnotizes them, he gets rid of that part of the brain that deals with self-criticism and self-reflection. They are there to accept everything I say and go with it, and that’s basically what improv is.
Either united or solo, you guys are completely reliant on audience participation. You must have a love for having fun with people to do this for a living?
Colin: I don’t enjoy people in real life, but onstage I have a great time with them. It’s fun because a part of my career is being outside of my comfort zone and this show takes me so far out of my comfort zone. I’m working with people who I’ve met for the first time on stage. They’re hypnotized. We’re still learning what we can do with them, what we can sort of let them do. I mean, I do push the scene in a certain direction, but I have to change that if they come up with something great. It’s actually been a great improv refresher course for me.
Asad: There’s absolutely no preparation. We just walk in and do the show. We have no idea who we’re going to get up on stage. Nothing’s been prearranged. And I have to say, it’s amazing to watch Colin work because sometimes the improvisers are absolutely phenomenal, giving him great offers, entertaining the crowd, just absolute naturals; at times, not so much.
Has there ever been a night where things haven’t gone according to kind of a plan and how do you get out of a mess like that?
Asad: That’s every night, because there is no game plan, just so we’re clear.
Colin: Yeah. It’s just both of us being open to what’s happening and going with it. We’ve been very fortunate in that. Across the board, we’ve had at least one star of the night, and that’s ranged from an 80-year-old stroke survivor to a technician in a nuclear lab. We had one woman who suffers from social anxiety and she said, “I really don’t know why I volunteered, but I never felt as good as I did on stage. I felt relaxed. I felt open to everything.” And she was our star that night.
Colin, do you find the improv easier or harder working with people under hypnosis?
Colin: Oh, well, it’s both actually. I mean, it’s easy in that they’re accepting every idea I give them, which is the basis of good improv. It’s harder in that when I’m working with Brad Sherwood, who I tour with. Ryan Stiles or any of the Whose Line guys, I know they’re going to be doing half of the heavy lifting. I know that they also have all the foundations of improv at their fingertips. And if I’m not feeling on top of it, I know they’ll take the scene and bring in something new that will help. With this, I feel a little more pressure on me, but that might just be me.
Asad, you said they were volunteers, but is there something that you look for as a good candidate or what’s your process to hypnotize people?
Asad: I’m constantly looking for changes in rate, location and respiration, so breathing changes; skin color changes; skin tone changes; lacrimation of the eyes so the eyes start to tear up; vasodilation so the capillaries in the eyes become gorged slow; sluggish movement; muted voice, mask-like facial expression. There’s a checklist, right? If I see that I’m getting the right response from the people up on stage, I’ll keep them. If I don’t, I’ll remove them. It’s kind of what poker players look for when it comes to tells.
Colin, have you ever been under the influence of hypnotism yourself?
Colin: Not as far as I know, unless-
Asad: He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know.
Colin: Oh damn, I knew it. No, no, I haven’t.
Asad, I’ve heard that you use hypnosis with athletes to enhance their performance. Is it really as simply as the mind holding them back?
Asad: That’s a good question. I work with Brian Orser and I work with figure skaters in the area of peak performance, and one of the main techniques that we use is visual motor behavior rehearsal. What the athlete does is, in their mind’s eye, they imagine their perfect routine. And that actually helps them with increasing timing, motor coordination, strengthens neural pathways, vigilance and also helps with sleep hygiene. A lot of athletes, they’re keyed up before going into an event. Hypnosis just relaxes them and allows them to fall asleep more easily.
Hypnosis has been known for changing their lives in positive ways, but we don’t hear a lot of people talking about it. Why do you think that is?
Asad: I think the consciousness is changing. South Florida’s largest hospital, Jackson Memorial Hospital, they do hand surgeries with hypnosis as the only anesthetic. And since the 1970s, the LAPD has been using forensic hypnotists in their investigations. Like I mentioned before, I’ve worked with Olympic athletes in the area of peak performance. To kind of answer your question in a round about way, I think things are changing and hopefully with a show like Hyprov as we get it out there and as we continued to tour, I think people will have more questions about how hypnosis can help them for confidence and peak performance and stress management and chronic pain and smoking cessation and weight loss.
This show is going to help and not hinder the professional side of hypnosis then?
Asad: Oh, it always helps because what ends up happening is people who go to the show are always skeptical, right? They think, “Ah, they’re using plants, this, that and the other.” And by the way, we don’t use plants. We don’t know any of the people who come up on stage, but it’s always great when they have their friend or family member up on stage because they absolutely know that those people are not plants. As soon as that happens, then they are absolutely hooked. If they see their wife up on stage on a blind date with Colin and they’re absolutely, completely congruent in that they look 100% like they’re engaged fully in that date, and they sit back in their chair and say, “Wow, she’s not faking it,” or “He’s not faking it. He’s absolutely there in the moment on a date with Colin. How can this now help me for smoking, for weight loss, for stress management, for sales?” Immediately, they start thinking about it.
Colin, you’re a bit of a Canadian entertainment icon. You’ve been joining people in their homes on their TVs since the 90s. I bet sometimes it’s hard to go do regular things like grocery shopping without being recognized.
Colin: I guess. I do all the grocery shopping. My wife hasn’t cooked since 1990, so I guess it’s true. People, are used to it or they don’t really notice. I mean, not that I am wearing a false nose and mustache, but I have my baseball cap, my glasses on. They always seem surprised at first that, “Oh, there’s a guy I see on television who’s outside or something.” It’s very weird. But yeah, I do get recognized a bit. People, I have to say 99% of the time, are just great. They just go, “Hi,” or that’s it.
Asad: Just so you know, Colin’s being modest. I’ve toured now with him throughout the world and people are so excited when they see Colin. They say, “I’ve been watching you for years. We love you,”. And Colin’s always so gracious whenever he meets these people. But I have to tell you, Colin has a cult-like following. It’s like he’s a guru of this improv cult. These people are absolutely enamored when they meet him.
Colin, more on a local level, you were here last year in Windsor for filming Boys vs. Girls, and it had a little run on the film festivals sides. Can you tell me about that film?
Colin: Sure. I’m just trying to think. I think I was there for a total of two days, and it was fun. The director was great. Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall is also in the movie, and he’s a friend so it was nice catching up with him. I hadn’t seen him for a while. We had a lot of downtime where we just kind of were swapping stories and then working with all these young people. I actually could have fired everyone else that was in that movie. Kevin and I were the oldest by far, but it was a fun experience and it just went by so quickly.
Colin, I was looking at your IMDB list. You have a hundred different listings under “actor” and I wanted to go back to your very first credit. Do you remember anything from your very first credit at Space Hunter: Adventures the Forbidden Zone?
Colin: Oh God, yes. Are you kidding? Space Hunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone was a 3D movie. They were hoping to be the next Star Wars. They could not have been more wrong if they had tried. It wasn’t the best… I mean, I had a lot of fun. I think I was on set for like a month. I was one of the extras, then I got upgraded and got into a scene where I capture Molly Ringwald.
Colin: But my favorite all time movie story is from that shoot. There’s one point when the heroes Peter Strauss and Molly Ringwald go into this cave and they’re supposed to be attacked by fat people. And this was Vancouver in late 70s I guess, so it didn’t have much going in the way of filmmaking. They had to send to LA to get the fat suits, and I was so happy that I was there when they arrived. They opened the crate and they had five crates, a fat suits. If you see the movie, you see them going to a cave where there’s fat people hanging upside down. It makes no sense whatsoever, but it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life.