Hypnotist Asad Mecci and comedian Colin Mochrie combine to put on an improvised show — with you!
By Cory Schachtel | November 8, 2023
You’ve been doing tours with this show, and a Vegas residency, for years now. How have the shows been going lately?
Mecci: One of my favourite recent bits is when Colin does a duet with volunteers who are hypnotized. Oftentimes, I’ll say to the people on stage, ‘If any of you have any singing background, raise your right arm.’ And what we now know is that people can totally lie under hypnosis. Now, this last show, I switched it and said to the audience, ‘If you’re with somebody who’s on stage who really does have singing talent, yell out a description of them.’ And one gentleman from the audience yelled out ‘Blonde hair, white cardigan!’ It was her husband, who said she had a singing background, and she sounded fantastic with Colin.
Colin, do you remember what you sang with her?
Colin: It was a love song. There was a woman from the front row, and I asked her what her job was — it was something to do with ways to use land. I believe the song was called “I Love Your Plots,” and it was a lot of singing about dirt.
Ah yes, that timeless love-song topic: dirt.
Colin: There’s no better aphrodisiac.
Speaking of love, looking back to your days starting out, which group gets more girls — hypnotists or improvisers?
Colin: Well it’s got to be hypnotists because you don’t get any lower than improvisers. I think humour groupies probably exist, but apparently I’ve never run into them. Of course, once you’ve seen the show, you can just feel the sexual tension, certainly by the time we get to the standing ovation.
Asad, when you say the people can lie under hypnosis, are they actually lying? Or are they so uninhibited that they’re just like, you know what — right now I can sing!
Mecci: That’s a good point. They can lie under hypnosis, but the part of the brain that deals with self reflection becomes disconnected when somebody’s hypnotized, so they no longer reflect on their past behaviour, so to your point, yes, it is possible that at that moment in time, they’ve sort of lied to themselves, because they’ve skipped that self analysis part.
The melding of improv and hypnosis seems like a great idea on its face. How’d you come up with it?
Mecci: I was taking some classes at Second City, and oftentimes the instructors would say, ‘Get out of your head, you’re too much in your head.’ And what I understood that to mean was to stop consciously constructing the comedy. They wanted a knee-jerk reaction, or they wanted unconscious behaviour and with hypnosis, you’re moving the conscious mind aside and working directly with the unconscious mind. So I thought: Is it possible to hypnotize somebody who has no experience in improv and turn them into a great improviser? And the answer has been a resounding yes.
I reached out to Colin, about marrying hypnosis and improv on stage together, and he thought it was unique and different. So we ended up throwing it up at the Second City main stage, where Colin and I performed for the first time together with no rehearsal. Since then, we’ve gone through a full development process, iterating our way through 80 cities across North America. We did 70 shows off-Broadway, and we’ve been back performing our Vegas residency at Harrah’s. So you either have to drive to Sherwood Park, or fly to Vegas to see us.
Colin, I assume when Asad first brought this up to you, at some point, you two met and discussed it in person. So how can you be sure that you haven’t been hypnotized into doing this?
Mochrie: You know, now that you mention it, I did say yes very quickly. So who knows? But the first time we did the show…was the first time we did the show. It’s not like we could rehearse. So there were a lot of questions, like, is this going to work? Will they listen to me or will they just focus on Asad? But we kind of figured out what we could do with the improvisers. When we started off, all the games were fairly simple, where I had more control. And then we realized, they’re actually improvisers, they’re coming up with stuff and getting great ideas. So we sort of expanded and made the games a little more difficult. They have to be simple enough that you can sort of explain the game to them in one sentence — like, in this scene, you have to propose to a colleague, or there’s just been a death and you’re at the funeral — but that’s it. And then it just goes in all kinds of directions.
Do you ever have people who are just bad improvisers, no matter how eager and excited they are to be hypnotized?
Mecci: About 20 per cent of the population are really good hypnotic subjects, so that’s why I’ll bring up 20 volunteers. But then sometimes, there are some subjects that are…slow and sluggish, let’s put it that way, which indicates a deep level of trance. So they may not give Colin the greatest offers, as we call them in improv, to start the scene. Or even midway through the scene…or at anytime during the scene. But Colin is such a master at improv, he is able to use those non-offers and make it absolutely hysterical, because he’s a genius at his craft.
How about how about the reverse, Colin? Are they ever too much up there, and won’t shut up?
Mochrie: No, they’re pretty good. I mean, every night I watch Asad do the induction, and every night I go, how is this possible? How is this going to work? There’s got to be a time where it’s like we have nobody [to work with], but that has never happened. And he is amazing. I always say he’s actually doing more work during the show than I am, because he gets them all in a trance, and then he’s sort of maintaining them. Because people go in and out of trance throughout the show. So while I’m really goofing around, trying to get a laugh, he’s seriously working hard.
How would you compare the typical hypnotized person as a scene partner versus, say, Ryan Stiles?
Mochrie: Well compared to Ryan, their eyes are much more alive — with Ryan, there’s just nothing there. But the main difference is I’ve known Ryan known for over 40 years, so even though we’re making something up, I usually know where he’s going ahead in the scene. But these people, I have no idea, because unlike a professional improviser, they’re not looking towards making a scene. They’re just reacting to everything Asad and I say. So that makes it exciting, trying to keep the narrative making sense. They’re not trying to be funny — they’re just caught up in the situation, going with their first instinct. And I don’t have to worry about the humour, because the things they say are just amazing. They say things that “real” improvisers would never come up with.
What would you say to someone who’s never been, or is kind of leery, about seeing a hypnotist — or an improv show, for that matter?
Mecci: We don’t pick on anybody. We only call for volunteers from the audience. So you can just sit and watch the show, and not participate at all, and just be a passive observer to the show. The other side of the coin is you can be very interactive, and we ask for suggestions from the audience, too, for the different scenes, so it truly is all improvised. The show is fast paced, it’s action packed and high energy, but above all else, it’s absolutely hysterical. And it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up on stage and improvise with Colin Mochrie!