When Asad Mecci walks on stage at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, April 8, he’ll immediately begin to size up the audience just like any performer would.
But as a master hypnotist, he’s looking for something more specific than just the energy in the crowd. From a pool of 20 volunteers, he wants to find the four or five who are the best candidates for stage hypnosis.
It’s the same physiological characteristics a poker player looks for to determine someone’s hand, he says: changes in rates of respiration; whether the person is breathing from their upper, middle, or lower chest; did their skin tone change when they stepped on stage; are their blood vessels dilated, giving them a different glow.
For the show “HYPROV: Improv Under Hypnosis” to continue its streak of critical acclaim, Mecci must find the right laymen to star alongside him and Colin Mochrie, who’s known for his improv genius on the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
“When you hypnotize somebody, the part of the brain that deals with self-reflection becomes disconnected,” Mecci says. “The person no longer reflects on their behavior; they just carry out the suggestion that I give to them. So, in essence, it turns them into really good improvisors, because when I say to them, ‘On the count of three, you’ll fall madly in love with Colin, you’re going to propose to him,’ they no longer are thinking about how their hair looks, are they going to look stupid, what’s the first thing they’re going to say. They’re immediately, without hesitation, without question, interacting with Colin and immediately trying to get that outcome.”
Once the volunteers are hypnotized, Mochrie says the rest of the show is pretty simple, “In that night we form an instant improv troupe and we put on an improv show.”
That’s why selection of participants is critical – and why hypnosis is essential.
Mecci says that without a way to turn off the part of the brain that brings about self-reflection, the show – with its array of games, fast pace, and act-silly-for-a-laugh premise — “would be an unmitigated disaster. That is a promise, because everybody thinks they’re pretty funny until they’re put in front of 1,000 people and they’re expected on the fly to come up with something witty.”
In one game, Mochrie sets up a skit involving a job interview and the volunteers must show through interpretive dance why they’re the best candidate. Mecci says that without hypnosis, a beginner or even intermediate improvisor would innately pause four or five seconds to consider the staged situation, what they’re going to do, and how they’re going to execute it. Hypnosis removes that block and offers instantaneous reaction.
Mecci and Mochrie created “HYPROV” at The Second City Training Centre in Toronto, taking the show throughout the U.S. and Canada and into the United Kingdom since 2016. This is the second time they’ll be at the Jorgensen.
“Like any group of improvisors, every night we have a star, someone who just immediately — for whatever reason, whether they already have that innate sense of humor or are open to listening and adding things – stands out,” Mochrie says. “When some people are hypnotized, their reactions become really slow. It’s almost like they’re stoned. For some of the games we have, they may not be the best subject for that particular game. While we’re working with them, Asad is also trying to figure out which of these people would be best for which game. I have to say we’ve been pretty lucky. There’s always been one person who can keep the show going.”
What’s ideal, especially during performances in a small town in a small state, is when one of the volunteers happens to be a well-known neighbor, community member, elected official, or otherwise high-profile person. Mochrie and Mecci say the audience responds well when they know the people on stage, in part because of their connection to the stars and assurance that volunteers are genuine.
Mochrie says that while he’s made a career out of improvisation and spent a lifetime on stage, he’s never been hypnotized in front of an audience, although it’s a bit the two have talked about.
But would he even be a candidate?
“We’ve never even done any kind of suggestibility exercise,” Mecci says, noting that’s a good question. “We haven’t ever done anything on Colin.”
“Except when you said, ‘Hey, do you want to do this show called HYPROV.’ I immediately went for that, so I think there was some hocus pocus there.”
Mecci laughs and says, “I’ve never actually calibrated him at all. It comes up in every single interview and we say we’re going to get to it, eventually we’ll get to it.”
The UConn crowd will not be disappointed as a large turnout is expected for the show that will seat students and the general public in the audience, putting a mix of folks in the volunteer fold.
“What could be more fun than improvisation under hypnosis,” Jorgensen Director Rodney Rock says. “Entertainers like Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, and Brad Sherwood have performed on the Jorgensen stage multiple times in recent years to sold-out houses. Each are hugely popular with students as well as the public. Although it is commercial entertainment, these improvisational comedians have developed their skills based on training in improvisational theater techniques created in the early part of the 20th century and the Great Depression era.”
Besides, Rock adds, “All inhibitions and bets are off and this really becomes the ultimate in an improvisational comedy show.”
“HYPROV: Improv Under Hypnosis” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, April 8, at the Jorgensen. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets range from $20 to $45. Visit the Jorgensen’s website or call the box office at 860-486-4226 weekdays for tickets.