April 16, 2012 Chris Cox

The New Current: Interview about Fatal Distraction

Going to see Chris Cox, the ‘mind reader who can’t read minds’ has become a TNC tradition during the Edinburgh Fringe festival. His type of show is pure magic to see with a packed out audience who become willing players in his great delusion. The show’s magic stems from Cox’s professionalism and beauty as a performer who makes it seem effortless even though you can be assured he has given his soul to the show.
Sitting as far back away from the flying teddy as I can get I watch the show hoping that I can pick holes and see ‘how he does it’, but after seeing him three times – once even making the stoney-faced Amanda Holden look amazed – your 100% guaranteed leave his show puzzled and bemused.

Chris Cox has youth on his side but the maturity of an act who has been playing the circuit for years and he gives his all to his audience. There are only a few acts I have doffed my cap to, Cox is one of the best! And you can catch Chris Cox’s Udderbelly Festival show two times this year details can be found at the end of his TNC EXCLUSIVE interview and on the Udderbelly Festival Website.

Hey man how are things going, you had much rest since Edinburgh?

Things are going good thanks for asking, how nice and polite of you. Rest since Edinburgh seems to have been lacking, I finished my successful sell out run then pretty much went straight out on tour till the end of the year. Then this year started with me filming in LA, I’m just about to head out to do a big load of shows in New Zealand and some more LA filming, and then I’ll be back to do the two Udderbelly shows. Those props are going to have a lot of air-miles on them.

We have seen you twice now and there is a hell of a lot of energy how do you put your show together?

Why thank you. I can only assume the second time was due to a terrible administrative error when booking tickets. Shows take me ages to put together, it’s why I only do Edinburgh every other year now. Fatal Distraction was about a 18 month process. For me it starts with ideas for tricks, what sort of stuff would I like to see done, what would be entertaining, what would I do if I could really do this stuff, that sort of thing. Then I try to work out how to do those tricks. I really want to create stuff that no one has seen before. If you go see a few magic shows you very quickly start to see the same tricks, props and methods, and I want to avoid that, so spend forever coming up with my own stuff. The big difference with Fatal Distraction is that I wanted to do a narrative based mind-reading show themed around love. So for this one I wrote it originally as a one-man play.. and then turned it into the show which you saw and hopefully others will come see at the Udderbelly.

It is an easy process to start producing a new show?

Nope. Far from it, the ideas come quite quickly, but turning them into something that’s good, now that’s where the struggle is. I love theatre so try to put theatrical production values into my show, set, lighting, direction, narrative threads, highs, lows, laughs, tears all that. I want to make it as entertaining as possible so put a heap load of pressure on myself to try do that.
60% of the show is the audience and how you interact with them, how much can you do without them?
You’re right, the show is so audience dependent, if anything the audience is more important than me, and the audience is the real star of the show. There’s not a huge amount I can do without them, because it’s their thoughts and their minds that I’m playing with and influencing. Everything relies on those responses. There’s a whole section of the show where I have nothing planned, I just ask my audience to think of things for me to do, and I start doing them. That would be a very quiet bit if they weren’t there.

For a young performer where do you get the confidence from to work an audience like you do?

I suppose there are a few reasons why I have the confidence, mainly because although I’m young, I’ve been doing this forever. I’ve always wanted to perform and entertain, I always wrote in to get on TV shows when I was young, I ended up on Run The Risk and Live & Kicking oh and The Big Breakfast. I used to perform in shows and plays, so I am never happier than when I’m on stage. I adore it, it’s where I feel most at home. I’ve done 5 years worth of Edinburgh shows, a couple of UK tours and international tours, so I think the confidence shines through now because I am so use to what I’m doing and so comfortable doing it. I’m sure if you’d seen me a few years ago it’d have been very different, but I feel I know who I am, who my audience think I am and what I want them to do, to be able to control and play with them. Also on a purely psychological level if they aren’t comfortable watching me and don’t see me as confident and knowing what I’m doing… then the whole show is kind of lost.

For those who have not seen you show tell us a little bit about what you do?

I’m a mind reader who can’t read minds, so the same as all those other mind-readers, but a bit more honest. I use various techniques including a bit of magic and psychology to make people think that I know what they’re thinking. So basically I’ll read your mind, but promise you that I can’t actually read your mind. The current show has a lovely theatrical narrative, and is loosely themed around love, there’s loads of fun audience participation and no two shows are ever the same.
Because you use the audience quiet a bit in your shows do you ever get nervous that they might be a little too quiet?
That’s always a worry, I’m only as good as the audience, I don’t shine, if you don’t shine. Normally I’m quite good at turning a quiet audience round to be the audience I want them to be. Often at the start of shows they are a bit quite, but quickly realise we’re all in this together and end up getting really involved. In fact, it’s always nice after shows when people say to me that they’d normally never want to go on stage, but sat there hoping to be picked.

How did you get into magic and not being able to read minds?

Like I said earlier, performing has always been what I want to do and magic kind of joined in with that. I got a kit for my birthday when I was young and always used to perform tricks to friends and family, then in my mid teens I got into mind-reading, as I felt it was all about theatricality and performance and instantly loved doing it and haven’t really looked back.

What was your first show like?

My first Edinburgh show was somewhat scatty, but the basics were there. I used my student loan to put it on and I hadn’t quite found who I was on stage, but enjoyed playing the, I might be shit, but I’m not, card. I think there wasn’t the expectation of, well this should be good, then, so it came as more of a surprise when stuff actually started to work and was impressive. I had this whole section involving me interacting with versions of myself on a screen which I remember really enjoying performing, but it never quite working the way I wanted it to… I’d like to find a way to re-work that in the future. However there were two very early versions of my two favourite and most performed tricks in that show.. so it wasn’t all bad.

Would you ever give away any of your secrets?

Some of them yes, some of them no. I don’t mind giving some away if it enhances the trick and the experience for an audience. I hate to think people sit there watching trying to work out how stuff is done, because it means they aren’t living in the moment of the show.. I try to build in things that means when you go home and talk about or think about the show, methods appear to you and you might see how certain bits were done.. and I think that’s a really good thing to do. There’s an old saying of magicians guard and empty safe, which is true, because the actual secrets are boring, you don’t really want to know them, it’s much more fun enjoying it for what it is and trying to work it out yourself.

Your taking part in the Udderbelly Festival this year, what can we expect?

You can expect to see the award winning, multi 5 star show Fatal Distraction in the best shape it’s been after the Edinburgh run, a UK tour and I’ll have just come back from playing to 600 people a night in New Zealand. Expect to laugh, to go wow, to think that was amazing, to be able to control me, to get a bit emotional and to have a bloody good time. Oh and you might get your very own I Love Cox badge.

And finally, what advice would you give someone who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t. Find your own path to walk in… it takes a while but when you truly find who you are as a performer and entertainer then you will be the happiest you can be. Alternatively offer me enough money and I’ll tell you exactly how I do it all.

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