Staring blankly into space, a row of hypnotized students slowly raised their arms in front of their bodies to mimic zombies, mindlessly following the commands of hypnotist Chris Jones. The students then began to wander offstage towards the crowd, placing their hands on the shoulders of a random audience member and opening their mouths to pretend to eat their “victims,” prompting roaring laughter from the audience.
Sophie Smith ’17, one of the hypnotized students, said, “I’ve seen videos of [the performance]. I don’t really remember. It was definitely really bizarre to see videos of myself and have no recollection of what I was doing, but I could still recognize that it was myself. I felt completely normal after [waking up], just a little bit confused because memories weren’t really adding up, and I thought that I wasn’t hypnotized, but I also couldn’t remember what the people around me were saying. Just things didn’t add up.”
Throughout the performance, which took place last Friday evening in Kemper Auditorium, Jones “took control” of the students’ minds, commanding them to perform various humorous acts, such as a riding a broken rollercoaster, acting casual at a party in front of the police, and attending a prom dance with a random audience member.
“I think what was unique was that [Jones] wasn’t really trying to embarrass people as much as just make people laugh, and I thought that that was a really good approach to the hypnosis… Everyone was really involved, whether or not you were hypnotized,” said Sarah Stack ’19, an audience member.
Students who were initially conscious and sitting in the audience also became hypnotized as the show progressed. According to Georgia Ezell ’19, who was hypnotized from her seat, she began to gradually go into a trance while enjoying Jones’s show.
“Even though I was finding things funny, I couldn’t laugh, and I couldn’t move my face. Just progressively I lost the ability to even express myself. Even when my friends asked me if I was okay, I began to cry because I couldn’t let them know that I was fine and safe. I was sort of in denial that anything was happening. I cried even though I was happy and fine. I just couldn’t control my body. My heart beat really really fast, and it was just a surreal experience because I’ve never been the kind of person that is susceptible to things like that,” said Ezell.
Jones, who originally studied magic in graduate school, was inspired to explore hypnosis instead after witnessing its validity and benefits first-hand.
“I was shy and magic was my way to make friends… I was a magician first, but I wasn’t very good at magic because I kept telling the secrets. And, in [graduate] school, I saw a doctor help a woman give birth without pain, without shots and pills, through hypnosis, and I was like, ‘Maybe it’s real.’ And then I saw a show in college and said, ‘I’d like to try that.’ And in grad school I wrote my thesis on hypnosis. After that, I did it professionally,” said Jones.
Jones is best known for his appearance on the tenth season of the reality television series “America’s Got Talent.” On the show, Jones hypnotized television host and “America’s Got Talent” judge Howie Mandel to temporarily overcome his mysophobia, or his fear of germs and contamination.
“[Being on the show] was fun. It was [also] stressful because I didn’t know if it was going to work or not, but when it did, that was a really incredible feeling. I don’t want to sound cliché, but I feel like that might have been what being born felt like. Like I walked off stage, and I was a whole new person,” said Jones.
Currently, rather than focusing on clinical work, Jones travels around the country performing hypnotist shows in high schools and universities all over the United States in order to raise awareness of hypnosis. According to Jones, his favorite aspects of performing are meeting new people, seeing different places, and eating good food.
“I like meeting new people. I’m still an introvert, so I like being the center of attention for a little while, and then going offstage and no one knowing who I am, like being left alone. And it’s fun, after the show I’m going to eat whatever I want to eat, and then I fly back to Chicago, [my hometown, and I] get to see family. But traveling is cool, especially if I travel with a person. Like I just came back from Montreal and that was fun. So seeing new places is the fun part as well as eating,” said Jones.
After seeing the performance, many students in the audience who were originally skeptical of hypnosis were convinced of its validity.
“I was kind of wary about it [before the performance]. I wasn’t really sure if it’d be real or not because I’ve seen hypnotists before, but I never really believed it because I didn’t know the people’s personalities who were on stage, so I didn’t know if they could keep a straight face for a long time or if they could actually act it out. But, here, seeing people that I knew and went to classes with and see around, I know what they usually act like, so I feel like after this show I believe in [hypnotism] 100 percent,” said Anya Zhong ’19, an audience member.