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New Harrah’s comedy show takes a chance on trance

Updated June 10, 2023 - 5:31 pm

Hypnosis and improv are comedy siblings. They both require audience participation. They do not follow a script.

And, when improv or hypnosis work, they are hysterical. When they don’t, the result is disastrous. Michael Scott’s work in his improv class during “The Office” series would bear this out.

The new stage show “Hyprov: Improv Under Hypnosis” double-dips into this risk-riddled comedy format. The show premiers at Harrah’s Showroom this weekend, alternating with headliner Donny Osmond (let’s hypnotize Donny one time, yes?). The show runs 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays; go to hyprov.com for details.

Veteran hypnotist Asad Mecci is the show’s dedicated host. The terrific improv comic Colin Mochrie of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” has been the first in a string of improvisational co-stars.

The pro performers send audience members into a suspended state, then create sketches, on the spot. Mecci and Mochrie are convinced that regular folks who are hypnotized are often funnier than comic actors working from written material.

“I just have always thought it would be an interesting element to elevate the show to marry hypnosis and improv together, on stage,” Mecci said in a recent interview, joined by Mochrie. “I loved the idea of a world-class hypnotist and an improviser performing alongside these people who are hypnotized.”

Mecci had headlined his own hypnosis act on Disney, Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruise lines when he contacted Mochrie. The two put together a show at Second City’s main stage in Chicago, which was “really well received,” as Mochrie said.

The show has since toured more than 50 cities in the U.S. and Canada, along with London and the Edinburgh Fringe. “Hyprov” is attempting to sell tickets on the Strip after improv-centric shows have fallen short. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant “Freestyle Love Supreme” never found an audience, aside from when Miranda himself appeared.

A bit from a show in New York involved inviting several audience members to the stage. Mecci put them into a trance, as their bodies sagged into their chairs. He then told them they had misplaced their belly-buttons, snapping his fingers. The group then frantically scoured the stage, with one ticket-holder exclaiming, “I know I had my belly button when I got here!”

Mochrie, who was originally skeptical about hypnosis, was impressed.

“I realized, I just realized, this show is really bad for my business as an improviser, because what it shows is anyone can improvise,” Mochrie said. “Absolutely, anybody on the planet. But as people we stop ourselves from doing the basic rules of improv, which is listening to people, and accepting what is being said.”

The key to the performance is to unlock what is behind the doors of an individual’s creative mind.

“Asad is not turning people into improvisers,” Mochrie said. “He’s getting rid of the parts that are stopping them from being improvisers which is themselves.”

Asad steps in with, “In this show, even the performers have no idea what’s going to happen. We don’t use plants. We’ve never met any of these people before. They’re just random audience members on stage for that night to make a show.”

Amber Nash, who voices Pam Poovy in the animated series “Archer,” steps into the show next week and performs through June 25.

Mecci says the show’s open-ended run will be good for the world of improv, drawing fans and even those who want to study the craft.

“We had one woman come up on stage one night, and she had critical, crippling social anxiety,” Mecci said. “For some reason, she just get up there and gave it a shot. She ended up becoming a superstar. We walk a fine line, courageous idiocy, and people love it.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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