Because he’s been doing it so long, Colin Mochrie makes improv – the art of creating comedy “off the cuff,” starting with a single suggestion and going from there – look easy. As an alumnus of Toronto’s legendary Second City comedy troupe, and a cornerstone of TV’s Whose Line is it Anyway?, Mochrie can take the germ of a whisk of a sprite of an idea and spin it into comedy gold.
And he’s always up for a challenge, which is why he’s touring with master hypnotist Asad Mecci in a show called Hyprov. At the Mahaffey Theater Friday, Sept. 6, these two canny Canadians will take volunteers from the audience to be put in a hypnotic trance state (by Asad) and subsequently participate in improv (with Colin).
As Johnny Carson used to say, hilarity will ensue.
Well, that’s the plan. Whose unconscious is it?
How did this all get started?
Asad: I was doing comedy hypnosis shows, and I really wanted to get better at the improv element of my show. I ended up studying at Second City, and I realized that they were trying to make the comedy unconscious to the students. And they did that through a lot of exercises that were essentially confusing … they were confusing the conscious mind, and then getting a kneejerk reaction, unconsciously, from people. Great improv is not contrived; it’s more reflex. And the reflex is what’s funny.
I thought, OK, then is it possible to hypnotize somebody and make them good improvisers? Can I shortcut this process that Second City is teaching, and just eliminate all this training, and just hypnotize people into being good improvisers?
Colin: I was intrigued. I had friends who had been hypnotized. Not for entertainment value, but to stop smoking or to help with flying. And it worked for them. This turned out so totally different from what I thought it was going to be. Every subject is totally different; some react as though they’re very stoned, or their reactions are slow … their speech is slow … and some people are just so intense. They’re totally in the moment, and just will not take their eyes off of you, ready for anything you can do. And then there’s people who just do what they want.
When we were getting this show together I would ask Asad “So if I ask them to do this or that, will they?” and his answer always was “I have no idea. It’s totally up to them.” All we can do is get them into this state where they’re willing to do things, but everyone reacts differently.
What if your audience volunteers are just not funny?
Asad: Everybody’s funny, potentially. Hypnosis just kind of unlocks the fun. That’s the best way of putting it. Here’s what I’m doing when I give somebody a suggestion, and I say: “You’re on a blind date with Colin. You’re nervous.” They’re not thinking; they’re not trying to be nervous. They’re actually carrying out the suggestion, and I’m getting an unconscious reaction, where they’re nervous. So the experience up on stage is authentic.
Colin: There are some people who, for whatever reason, aren’t funny. And we find a way to still use them in the show, perhaps as part of a group. We find a way to use them all.
If I volunteer, how do I know you’re not going to embarrass me?
Asad: You won’t do anything against your morals, ethics or cultural values when you’re hypnotized.
That’s assuming I have those to begin with.
Asad: The other way of putting it is: You’ll do things that you wouldn’t normally do, when you’re hypnotized onstage. But you won’t do anything that you don’t want to do. And people volunteer for a stage hypnosis show, only people who are willing to get up onstage and perform in front of a large group of people. No shy introvert’s gonna get up onstage – only people who are up for it. I don’t pick on anybody in the audience. And we don’t use plants; we don’t know any of the people who are onstage. This is truly an improv art form.
Colin: When I’m working with the guys on Whose Line, or with other improvisers, even though we don’t know what the show’s going to be, I can just follow along, or they can just follow along, and it’s all gonna work out.
With these guys, I have no idea. All of them are very good at the “yes” part of the “yes, and …” part of improv, where you agree to something and the “and …” is building on it. Not all of them are good at the “and …” part. So it’s up to me to keep things going.
It’s a great experience for me, because it really keeps me in the moment. There’s never a time during the show where I’m thinking ‘OK, I can relax for the next couple of minutes here and just let them go.”
Tickets and details here.