Ex-Bristol University student Chris Cox makes a living out of not reading people’s minds. Hailed as a ‘contemporary, multimedia, mindreading magician’, he still claims that he can’t actually do the mind-reading bit. No, says Chris, a self-styled ‘mentalist’: it’s all a big act, a mix of applied psychology, magic, misdirection and showmanship. He’ll be performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but you can see him first next Sunday, at a one-off warm-up gig in his home town of Backwell.
Both Bristol Uni alumni, both mind magicians… are you sick of people calling you the next Derren Brown?
I knew you were going to start with that question.
You are resident magician on R1’s Chris Moyles Show. What does that entail?
It’s like being a magic bitch! I basically provide entertainment to anyone who’s bored. It also means I get to do cool things like try out new stuff and bits of mind reading on star guests that come in, you know, people like … David Hasselhoff.
Oho! What was he like then?
A legend. The conservation ran as follows:
Me – “Urr, hi David, it’s very nice to meet you.”
Him – “Hi, I’m David Hasselhoff, you can call me The Hoff.”
So I did.
You describe yourself as a ‘mentalist’. Can you explain further?
A mentalist is the traditional magical term for a mind reader. It comes from the world mentalism, which is the traditional magical way of reading minds, and is not to be confused with the Alan Partridge “No way, you big spastic, you’re a mentalist” quote. It’s tough to describe myself; I often say a contemporary multimedia mind reader, but it ain’t too easy on the tongue, so sometimes mentalist will suffice.
What’s the UK magicians’ scene like?
There are so many magic geeks about these days, who instantly criticise any magician other than themselves, and who spend hours working things out in front of the mirror at home, but never actually entertain or work with an audience. I see myself as an entertainer who happens to do magic, not a magic geek who spends his whole time online in magic forums and never performing. That said, I do spend a load of time online – but not on magic forums….
What’s your best trick, then?
One of my favourites has me on a TV screen. A punter selects a celebrity, then finds themselves getting engrossed in talking to me on the TV. Then I tell them what celeb they’ve picked. It’s all about influencing the spectator to select the right celebrity through what I say and how I say it… it’s like pushing them down an alleyway and kicking them in the mind-bollocks. I also used to do a Russian roulette thing using knives, bare feet and stamping… but
it scared me too much, and was too… Derreny, so I stopped doing it. So,
I’ve got to ask. Can you really read minds?
No, sadly not… hence the show’s name, ‘He Can’t Read Minds?’, although the question mark causes all sorts of doubts. Most mind reading is about making the audience think they have a free choice, but actually influencing that free choice so that it matches up to a prediction that I make. The language that I use is very important. It deceives an audience and makes them suggestible. The power of words is amazing: for example, if you were to scream as loud as you can in a library, people would look at you oddly. Do it on an aeroplane, and people will join in. What you say, how you say it, and where you say it can cause all sorts of different outcomes.
And is there anything in mind reading, or is it just a load of mumbo-jumbo spouted by charlatans?
Personally, I think the latter. It’s all bollocks. I know that I could do exactly what any psychic could do, without using any psychic powers. When you see me, you’ll laugh, you’ll be amazed, I’ll tell you what you’ve drawn without seeing it, and the whole audience will blow me away by creating a hugely memorable ending. Psychotic, perhaps. Psychic? Hell, no.