Pure Effect - Direct Mind Reading and Magical Artistry (2000)
I deeply, and widely, believe that performance is a very personal affair, and that one must pursue one’s own sense of integrity and remain a little detached from advice and precedent offered by tradition.
I decided that my magic had to change. That I had to give serious thought to presentation. That, in fact, my presentation of the effects is where my impact as a magician lies – I realised that it can turn a good effect into something artistic and stunning.
Absolute Magic - A Model for Powerful Close-Up Performance (2003) second edition
Magicians do not, as a rule, presume that their audiences are intelligent and sensitive enough to want the magic to be challenging and cathartic. This is not a healthy starting point, for it stultifies magic and leaves it too close to children’s entertainment.
Few things make me more livid than insulting bad theatre of any sort. Conversely, perfectly realised and exquisitely elegant performance can move me deeply and reduce me to sobbing like a big girl.
One minute she is a sweet old silly, knitting herself a set of syringe covers and talking about her favourite flowers, and the very next moment she has told you and your friends she has a ring supporting the back of her vagina.
Not believing in something is not in itself a belief or a philosophy: it is the 'ism' at the end that tends to cause the trouble. Both atheists and believers can be as arrogant and witless as each other in frustrated debate, and people may choose strong and unapologetic words to raise awareness of the agenda. But despite the name-calling, it is still a fair point that to not believe in God is no more a 'belief in itself' than to not believe in the Loch Ness Monster, Poseidon or anything else one might personally consider far-fetched. Beyond that, there is only how you choose to express yourself.
Uninformed strong opinions - and I particularly include religious ones, which for some reason get special treatment - are of course mere clusters of prejudices and no more appropriate than mine, yours or anyone else's are on topics we don't understand - as worthless as my opinions on hockey, Noel Edmonds or rimming.
One can be a true believer in anything: psychic ability, Christianity or, as Bertrand Russell classically suggested (with irony), in the fact there is a teapot orbiting the earth. I could believe any of those things with total conviction. But my conviction doesn't make them true. Indeed, it is something of an insult to the very truth I might hold dear to say that something is true just because I believe it is.
The appreciation of a painting or a piece of music, for example, or even falling in love, is all about our subjectivity. But to decide that the entire universe operates in such a way, let alone to go to war because we are so convinced we are right that others must agree with us or die, that surely should demand a higher level of argument than 'It's true because I really, really feel it is.
We are allowed to question people about their politics or ethics and expect them to defend their beliefs, or at least hold their own in any other important matter by recourse to evidence, yet somehow on the massive subject of God and how he might have us behave, all rational discussion must stop the moment we hear 'I believe'.
Moderate religious people may of course express distaste for such violence, pretending that the clear calls for grotesque and violent behaviour in their sacred book aren't there and cherry-picking the 'nice bits', but they are still guilty of not opening up the subject of belief to rational discourse, and in doing so are part of the machinery that leads to all the ugliness caused by fundamentalism.
Science is unusual in that it is cumulative. It is a system built over time, wherein useful information is retained and ideas that simply don't stand up are discarded, based on the confirmation of knowledge through testing.
If a piece of 'alternative medicine' can be shown to work reliably, it ceases to become alternative. It just becomes medicine.
For a while now I have concerned myself with engaging people’s beliefs. A large part of me wishes to have people retain a scepticism about what I do and apply that to other areas in life where our beliefs are manipulated in ugly ways.
If you concern yourself with telling or showing people how interesting you are, you will at best provoke a temporary response of polite interest until even that gives way to annoyance. If you let people find it out for themselves, you become a real source of fascination.
There is a real irony to the NLPers I knew who prided themselves on their communication skills yet because of their need to let everyone know how engaging they were, they were among the least engaging
The sort of ill-informed armchair moralizing that pours from the permanently outraged, Daily Mail-reading mentality is one of the more revolting and frightening aspects of our society.
In the same breath, one might add that the atheist is surely as religious as the Christian, in that he has adopted a set of beliefs to which he chooses to rigorously adhere. While it’s temptingly clever to make that claim, it is a nonsensical statement; no more logical than to say that a Christian is a type of atheist. Having a set of beliefs about religion is not the same as being a religious True Believer.
There’s Probably No God - The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas (2009)
All told, kindness is not fashionable
Most people think themselves kind enough, but rather like a magician thinking he is fooling an audience who can see through his trick, we are the worst judges of the effect we have on others. True, we can mentally point out various kindnesses we have committed and those pleasant aspects of ourselves. Yet by doing so, we ignore the real test cases: how we behave under pressure, how nice we are to people we don’t like, how we deal with other people who seem determined to not live up to our unrealistic expectations.
To forgive purely because it is nicer to forgive, and to do so when it’s a tough call; to try to speak only kindly of those we know because it is preferable to do so; to enjoy the successes of others because living thus is more enjoyable than the stress of living resentfully: such kind things make us better, lovlier people. And to try to live this way for its own merits, without invoking a supernatural reason for doing so, is to celebrate our humanity and to give kindness back its teeth.
Harry Houdini on Deception (foreword) (2009)
Dull magic is a collection of tricks: great magic should sting.
The capacity for self-deception, rarely acknowledged or understood by those who offer us supernatural answers to our problems, is huge: as easy as it is to make a medium’s cold-reading statements ‘fit’ our own situation and come to believe that he must have some paranormal insight, it is hardly any more difficult for a would-be psychic with an average ego, upon hearing frequently positive feedback, to believe over time that he must be blessed with a special gift. It’s harder to think you’re doing it for real when you’re tossing tambourines in the dark or have ready-made ectoplasm stuffed into your mouth or bottom.
The balls, the chutzpah, the gall, nerve and impudence of the successful lie that is huge enough never to be questioned is always a source of immense professional pleasure amongst magicians with any sense of the theatrical.
There will always be liars, swindlers and charlatans. Hopefully there will also always be the modern Houdinis and the seekers of the truth, snapping at their heels and holding them to account.
The potential for self-loathing comes from the unavoidable problem that one is engaging in a childish, fraudulent activity: although it has the capacity to delight and amaze, the performer is also a hair’s breadth from being justifiably treated like a silly child. It is, after all, just tricks.
Since the 1920s, grand illusion on stage has been synonymous with the restraint and mutilation of female assistants, as if the first act a lucky mortal, newly endowed with the ability to overturn the laws of the universe, would wish to carry out would be the casual torture of the fairer sex for our entertainment.
Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, the extraordinary father of modern conjuring, made the salient point that ‘a magician is an actor playing the part of a magician’. This is a very good description. However, an actor takes for granted how to create drama in every word, movement and look. The average magician is barely aware of its existence.
In magic, anyone with a shop-bought trick deck is a magician, and if people aren’t fooled they usually pretend to be, and they are understandably likely to mistake being fooled as a sign of being in the presence of an excellent magician.
The desire to impress is an efficient means of bringing out one’s least impressive qualities.
The single most valuable human trait, the one quality every schoolchild and adult should be taught to nurture, is, quite simply, kindness.
A diner having a row with a waiter in a swanky restaurant chills the blood in a way that a quarrel over a pizza order elsewhere would never do. Compassion is rarely the custom of the privileged.
When we are customarily annoyed by what we see as the failings of others, we are judging them by a ludicrous standard: we are assuming that they fully understand our desires, quite possibly better than we do, and that they have nothing to do but arrange things to fall seamlessly into place around our probably ill-communicated wishes.
Each of us is leading a difficult life, and when we meet people we are seeing only a tiny part of the thinnest veneer of their complex, troubled existences. To practice anything other than kindness towards them, to treat them in any way save generously, is to quietly deny their humanity.
There is a common response from people when they hear that in the absence of evidence to convince me otherwise I don’t have any particular belief in ghosts, psychic powers or an afterlife. It normally runs something along the lines of ‘So you think we just live, die and that’s it? Come on...’ There’s a clear implication there that this earthly life – the wonder of being human – is somehow worthless. That it’s cheap and disappointing enough to warrant that ‘just’ and the accompanying incredulous tone, which are usually reserved for sentences like ‘After all that it was just a little spider? Come on...’ I live, I am sure, in a fairly narrow band of life, and make an embarrassingly pitiful attempt to explore the world I find myself upon. I ache with guilt and conflict when I hear of people living as adventurers, abandoning mainstream lives and living each day with abandon. But I really hope I have a brighter vision for this life and a greater curiosity for its richness than one who can say, and mean, ‘You think we just live, die and that’s it?’
I cannot see the word ‘troubled’ prefixing the name of some poor starlet who has been dragged through the mire of tabloid spite without vomiting directly onto the newspaper. Troubled by whom? Troubled by you, you fuckwits.
The interest in Lego may have come later. Certainly the grown-up Technic variant, with it gears and cogs and motors, fascinated me the most, and presumably some way into adolescence, as I remember constructing a colourful mechanical Wanking Machine during long periods upstairs in my room. The inevitable problem of round pegs and square holes sadly rendered this particular project fruitless, on many levels, but the manufacturers might like to take note of the idea when planning other themed kits for their teenage boy demographic.
Any form of card-case, beyond the most battered and unassuming, is surely an aesthetic and social travesty. To withdraw, say, a silver case from the pocket before removing a card is surely to trumpet a ludicrous gaucheness and maladroit pretension. It is impossible for the intended recipient of the card to view the case as anything other than a misjudged piece of peacockery; unfeasible to avoid a brief inner commentary along the lines of oh, he’s bought one of those... he decided this would make the act of handing over a card a signal of his success as a businessman and a certain refined elegance as a gentleman... probably picked it out himself... please God it was a Father’s Day gift from a child who knew no better.
I have retained a belief that it is the popular sporty kids at school who grow up to have the least interesting lives, and the unhappy young souls who develop into the most extraordinary adults. Whoever heard of a creative genius being understood as a child and well loved by his class mates? Who like to imagine an artist who emerged into adulthood content with his lot? And, conversely, how satisfying to hear that almost without exception, the untroubled, popular kids at school have ended up blandly as accountants, solicitors or ‘in IT’. Hold on, misfits, your day will come.
Participant. A participant is active, a part of the process, and a necessary component of the magical experience. This is how it should be. No magic happens unless the participant perceives it as magical, so she can never be a mere spectator.
Magic means nothing. It has the potential to connect us to something wonderful, as does any performance, but it is not wonderful in itself, for it is inseparable from the particular performance in which it is experienced. A magician who is too fast, too slow, mumbles, shouts, smells, is unlikeable or incomprehensible will unavoidably taint his magic with his personal failings.
It seems silly and churlish to attack others for their private beliefs, unless one is entirely convinced of the greater view that harm is caused by the persistence of that belief in society; but when pressed into engaging on the matter, I recall the question I asked myself many times until I found my own faith breaking down: Bearing in mind we can all utterly convince ourselves of things that are not true – and that therefore important truths about the universe must surely always be based on more solid foundations than what my easily fooled, fickle feelings tell me – what is it that supports this belief other than my own already-existing conviction?
The most cursory look at cold-reading and suggestion tells us that Tarot cards are not evil; psychics do not ‘usher in’ the Devil or his minions; and even the creepy old Ouija board can be shown to operate via quite everyday, natural, physical forces.
Mind Control (1999–2000) or Inside Your Mind on DVD
(DVD introduction) Well, welcome to your very own DVD of me, DVB, and ‘Mind Control’. If you weren’t expecting me and thought you were buying Reginald Perrin, then press eject now before you begin vomiting. Otherwise, please, please ensure that you are sitting in an extreme level of comfort, preferably in pre-worn slippers and, I trust, with your extended family around you. If you have seen the film ‘Signs’ and would like to wear the pointy tin foil hats now would be a good time to put them on you can’t be too careful. Well, pphhh, goodness me, er, it’s been a meteoric rise over these last years. The money and sex are exhausting and I have you the viewer to thank. Thanks. We’ve put together some of the pieces from the specials and series in glistening digital format, each pixel hand picked and gently polished and brought to you in wide-sound, surround-screen enjoyment. I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I’ll enjoy the royalties from this, which is enormously. If you don’t like it and HMV won’t take it back because you’ve got sticky all over it then the disc makes an excellent beer coaster or wheels for a space truck or can be immense fun just putting it on your finger and [waggling it], like that. But I hope you do like it. When I first started developing these techniques I had no idea that they were going to prove at all popular and for all my nancing about and staring I’m actually really excited to have a DVD out and can’t wait to go and find it in Discount Books & Puzzles next to the Dizzie Gillespie CD box sets and disappointing erotica. I hope you like it and if you do, please go and buy another one.
Memory tricks, amongst other things which I’ll show you, have got me banned from a lot of Casinos in this country.
People are always saying, “Can you use your skills to get extraordinarily beautiful women into bed?” Well... yes, yes I can.
All of us can be influenced through psychological techniques. For example, if I say “don’t think of a black cat” what do you do? You think of a black cat because the command ‘think of a black cat’ was there in the sentence. Techniques like this can be used to influence people’s thoughts, behaviour, even their memory.
One of the techniques that I use to imitate psychic phenomena is photographic memory.
One of the reasons I enjoy going to the Opera is the spectacle of an audience enraptured. Their emotions are engaged, their passions brought to the fore, they become highly sensitive.
My techniques are concerned with reading signals from people, tiny unconscious clues that betray their thoughts. I tend to see it like a game...
For me, the most enjoyable aspect of going out and performing is that I never know how susceptible people will be to my methods.
Every day when you leave your home you give away more than you could ever imagine about who you are and what you do.
A good communicator affects our physiology. The power of voice can entrance us – even induce or remove pain.
Walthamstow Stadium: Where hundreds of men, who all look like my dad, come to watch some thin dogs running around.
Shopping Malls: Modern cathedrals to spending money. They’re designed to disorientate us and make us stay longer than we need to. Every brick is there to manipulate us to buy.
Some athletes use the mind to try and improve stamina and strength. Can I use my mind to take it away?
I control the conditions so my testers become my testees.
How would I describe what I do? I suppose a mixture of psychological reading and showmanship and a special form of poncing-about which kind of comes together to form the effect of thought reading and psychological influence but non, non-psychic... not ‘non-non-psychic’, non-psychic.
(In answer to the question ‘Were you at all scared of Chris Ryan?’) I wasn’t scared of Chris Ryan although I was a little bit put off by his white jeans. As a straight man that’s been in the SAS I found that surprising and it did throw me a little bit..
(In answer to the question ‘How would you describe yourself in three words?’) Short and balding.
I like my parrot, Figaro. Not in a wrong way – I mean, yes, he’ll do anything for a mouth full of seed but nothing tacky.
This program fuses magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship. I achieve all the results you’ll see here through a varied mixture of those techniques. At no point are actors or stooges used in the show.
There are three things I noticed about being thirty-three: Failing memory, hair loss and failing memory.
Performing the magic, for me, is not about convincing anyone I have amazing abilities. It’s about providing a journey which comes to a place where the brain starts spinning. And of course, the best brains spin the most.
Fingers: We’ve all got them and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about them.
I am embarrassingly incompetent at football or any kind of team sport. I’m so bad it would anger you.
Music is arguably the most affecting of the arts; intelligible to all people yet untranslatable into any other idiom. To Schopenhauer it was a direct expression of the ‘world will’... and was good when he had guests over.
We all get stuck in our belief systems, however sensible we think they are. To me, the New Age community is particularly guilty of not testing or challenging what it claims.
A lot is said about children having stronger psychic ability because they’re so unjaded and innocent. This excruciating view of children is generally expounded by people who think like children and perhaps can be forgiven.
(speaking in a solemn tone to a group of young school children) Now you know that your headmistress, Miss Davis, was going to come in here and just check that you were all going to be well behaved. She can’t do that because, as many of you probably know, she can’t be here today, er, because her pants fell down earlier on. It’s not funny. If any of you see her, don’t make a fuss because it’s a bit embarrassing for her, OK? Alright? It’s not funny.
Some people believe that a person’s spirit is captured when they are photographed. I invite those of you who don’t believe that to take a photograph of someone you love a stab it repeatedly with a pair of scissors. Maybe they do capture something of the soul.
How many powerful memories are triggered by smell and taste? Your mother’s old perfume, the smell your father’s breath, the taste of the soap they’d make you eat.
One area which shows how unknowingly predictable we are, is the way we decorate our houses. We all feel we make unique and distinct choices, yet we all conform to a cultural standard.
So, what I do is a mixture of genuine psychological technique as well as all the chicanery and showmanship of the magician but it was enormously tempting to see what a clinical psychologist would make of it.
Remember how you used to try and make kids turn round at school by staring at the back of their heads? And how they used to go home early crying with blood coming out of their ears?
Every week we go to the supermarket and every week we allow ourselves to be manipulated by the packaging and layout of the goods.
Many things we misread as meaningful are quite ordinary coincidences. For example, it’s not unlikely that occasionally someone will phone you after you’ve been thinking about them. But we give these things value to make sense of our lives.
(speaking of Blackpool) Ah, I remember I used to come here as a child and it’s still really... shit, isn’t it, let’s be honest.
This is the comforting and lovely Leadenhall Market, an accommodating inter-mammary cleft in the bosom of old Londinium.
In Victorian criminology there was an enthusiasm for spotting criminal tendencies in a person’s features.
Language is a gift that puts lyrics to the music of our lives. Without spoken language we wouldn’t be able to say, ‘I love you’. We’d have to say ‘uuurrrgghh’ or hold up a sign. And whether it’s one person’s gentle English or another’s muddy, arrogant French, it’s our language that makes us unapproachable and difficult to understand.
Some people like to talk of intuition as a way of knowing truth; that gut reactions are as good as evidence based facts. It’s a really silly way of thinking...
The Sun has come to represent enlightenment and salvation across many cultures. I think that if we remove such comforting concepts we are required to do more soul searching but eventually our eyes become accustomed to the dark and our lives become richer.
Do you think astrologists, palm readers and the like can really tell everything about you? That your personality can be read from your birth date, your hand or from sensing vibrations? Very possible.
In the nineteenth century, so-called ‘psychics’ were often tested by having to guess the details on a postcard sealed in an envelope. Often they did surprisingly well so i thought it would be worth presenting some modern day non-psychics with the same challenge.
I hated sports at school and hated my sports teachers. Still do in fact - especially Mr Broomfield. He remains an insult to retarded, overbearing megalomaniacs to this day.
What makes us dream of some things and not others? Why might we pick up on a trivial event from the day and not something more important? Would it be possible to have someone dream of specific subjects by subtly suggesting those ideas?
In 1883 a relatively unknown Italian magician and alchemist called Alessandro Donnini chose the streets of Venice for an incredible treasure hunt. He asked the count Giovanni Francesco to hide a necklace anywhere in the district of San Marco, and Alessandro's task was to find it. All of Venice was invited to watch and place their bets as to whether or not he could do it. Alessandro used a method called muscle reading. He had the count hold on to his wrist and felt for any tiny unconscious clues, as to which way to go. He found the necklace in just over an hour and a half. It was a triumph, and all the townsfolk went fucking mental.
Well, it took me over two hours to find Frencesco’s keys which was disappointing but I did go to Venice for free and I didn’t fall into the canal on the way home like a twat.
Our tendency to think that we're not predictable is probably one of our more predictable traits.
In 1957, James Vicary, a market researcher, conducted a six week test in a New Jersey movie theatre. A high-speed projector repeatedly and subliminally flashed the slogans ‘drink Coke’ and ‘eat popcorn’ over the film. I thought I’d make my own cinema ad to try something similar. According to Vicary, popcorn sales went up by 57.5% and Coke sales by 18.1%... Whether Vicary’s results were due to the subliminals can never be shown and the experiment has become shrouded in urban myth. This is the Genesis Cinema in East London, which kindly agreed to include our ad amongst the trailers for a screening of Ocean's Twelve, a carefully chosen film which, if the ad works, the audience will not be able to remember. Not a bad thing.
Vienna. It means nothing to me but to Orson Welles, it was the setting for one of his finest performances - and a place to get huge plates of cheap rich food. I followed the footsteps of my hero, which are still visible in the concrete, to the world famous Ferris wheel.
Canterbury Cathedral: The first ever pocket watch was found in the walls of its cloister many hundreds of years ago. I decided to come, in the rain, to play with the locals and, if time permitted, attend the evening service.
Séances lost their popularity with the invention of infrared photography when it became possible to see what mediums were doing in the dark. Nowadays, spiritualists’ fakery is more ambiguous and subtle.
Here's a place you'll never go: Monte Carlo on the French Riviera. As a massive celebrity, it's like a second home for me. If I just want to piss off somewhere for six months to a year to get away from tramps and fans I tend to come here in one of my big fucking expensive yachts.
It’s Derren Brown, it’s Derren Brown, it’s Derren Brown, it’s Derren Brown. He’s very kind, he’ll read your mind, even if you’re blind, your thoughts he’ll find,
(Whilst having his makeup done) This is the makeup process. I’ve been here since half past five this morning. So would you say you’re bringing out a beauty that’s already there? How does it work? How do we hide the bald patch?
(When asked about the method for a trick where a member of the public answers a public pay-phone only to immediately slump to the floor as if asleep) I was saying ‘there’s fifty quid under the phone book. Just pretend. You’re on TV’.
Even though it’s dark sometimes or it’s scary for the people involved, ultimately I always make sure they’re exhilarated by it. It’s genuinely a real pleasure to take people to that place.
This week, we’re in Whitby on the North-east coast where my great-uncle, Count Dracula, first touched British soil in the shape of a big dog.
We form many of our political opinions through reading papers and unconsciously absorbing the rhetoric of the journalists. Later, we spout the same opinions as our own. This parallels the way we respond to any authority and it’s something politicians understand well.
There are people who have the ability to wake up a minute or even seconds before their alarm goes off or to know what time they’ve woken up without even looking at a clock. Now, thank God, I don’t have to get up in the mornings but the potential of the body to keep such accurate time is remarkable.
In each episode of this series I will offer an applicant a blind choice of either a pleasant experience, a ‘treat’, or a darker ‘trick’. They won’t know which one they’ve chosen and they may not know how or when it will happen to them.
Derren Brown Plays Russian Roulette Live (2003)
Russian Roulette should not, under any circumstances, be copied. It is extremely dangerous.
The way that we draw faces says so much about the way that we see ourselves and the way that we see each other.
Under British law, you’re not allowed to fire a live round unless you are a qualified armourer. This is why the live game has to take place overseas.
Some people might think I could play Russian Roulette safely with a blank bullet. Our armourer took us outside to demonstrate the damage a blank causes at close range. (The demonstration showed the significant damage caused by firing a blank at a plastic bottle)
By the end of the tonight, all but one of these students will be dead. That’s not true. I'd give them about a week.
Séances date back to the 1800s after three sisters by the name of Fox claimed to be able to contact the dead. They toured America with their demonstrations and attracted the rich and famous and by the end of the century séances had taken off all over the western world. Spirits were manifested, tambourines flew, ectoplasm impossibly erupted from entranced mediums. Then, after forty years of this, rather embarrassed by what they’d started, one of the sisters, Margaret Fox, confessed that they were frauds. The miracles which had started it all off had been a scam. But her confession made very little difference and spiritualism continues to appeal to many people today.
I don’t believe in spiritualism. Personally, I find it quite ugly.
The Ouija board is a really interesting phenomenon. It works by something called idiomotor suggestion. You do actually push the glass yourself you just have no awareness of doing it.
Under the guise of a motivational seminar, in which I teach my skills to a group of middle-management business men and women, can I get any of them to steal one hundred thousand pounds in what they believe is a genuine armed robbery?
History is littered with examples of normal people being persuaded to act in deviant, criminal or irrational ways. How do you persuade someone to do something they would not normally be prepared to do? Some people might think of hypnosis. However, hypnosis isn’t really what it appears to be. It’s only a kind of play acting and no one would carry out an instruction to really commit a robbery any more than they’d murder someone if they were told to.
I’m going to teach them some genuine skills that I use, peppered with some spurious pop-psychology and quite a lot of bullshit.
[one part of the show is] a reenactment of a powerful experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram in 1963 to look at how normal people can commit atrocious acts, simply because they’re following orders. Milgram’s parents were Jewish refugees in World War II and his pioneering work speaks volumes about the nature of responsibility.
I’m here at Sandown Racecourse in Surrey. They’re expecting fifteen thousand people here today and half a million pounds to be exchanged in cash. I’m here because I’ve developed a guaranteed system for winning at the horses. This system allows me to predict twenty four hours in advance, quite openly, which horse will win in big, high profile races. Now to prove this, six weeks ago I took a woman, a random member of the public and I told her which horse was going to win in a certain race. It did win, she was intrigued. I then did it again and again and again and she started to bet larger and larger amounts of money. Now today that woman has scraped together every last penny that she can find and she’s risking it all on one final race. Is it really possible to accurately predict the winner of a horse race again and again and again? I’m going to tell you exactly how that’s done. Welcome to The System.
Something Wicked This Way Comes tour brochure
I remember reading about a story about a guy – and this was in England, and no more than a couple of years ago. He’d gone to see a psychic, and was told there was a curse on his family, and in order to release the curse, he had to bring with him the following week £5,000 and burn it... if he didn’t do that, either he or his son would die. The scam is quite a common one – the money is put in an envelope, and apparently burnt, but of course the ‘psychic’ secretly switches the envelope and burns an envelope full of newspaper. What happened was the guy went away, and he knew he couldn’t raise £5000, but didn’t want his son to die; so he killed himself.
Mind Reader – An Evening of Wonders tour brochure
[Magic] can be poorly presented and surrounded by naffness, and often amounts to little more than childish attempts to fool you. I guess it’s largely to escape those associations that I’ve gone the route I have.
If you have never been to a live show of mine, then expect almost a full hour of great songs interspersed with hilarious anecdotes about my career, and lengthy clips from my embarrassingly successful channel 4 television shows.
Paul [McKenna] and I have been working on making each other’s hair fall out for years now, with some success.
There is no hypnotic phenomenon, no matter how remarkable it may appear, which cannot be re-created outside of a hypnotic state through such ordinary devices such as suggestion, hype and the exercise of charisma.
Animals can also be ‘hypnotised’. Flip a rabbit on its back, hold it firmly in position with its head back for a couple of minutes, and you’ll find it will become perfectly motionless and unresponsive, until you clap your hands loudly above its head.
I can’t drive, play football without crying, or successfully use a PS3 controller.
Hello and welcome to Mind Control Night. Three hours of watching my smug balding head so make sure you have plenty of night time snacks, depilatory cream and really good drugs to hand.
Now I know what you are thinking; “how did he know what was drawn in the envelope?” Clearly, I must have detected in his voice the accent of my home town, Bristol, so he’s only going to be thinking of a tractor or marrying your own sister. A tractor's easier to draw so Bob's your uncle... and your Dad. And you'd be right.
I should point out that I don’t condone gambling of any sort unless you can cheat very effectively and stack the odds at least ninety percent on your favour, which is essentially what I’m doing here.
I had to get up at five in the morning to push that man around the market and the only reason why I do this job, my only motivation, is that I don't have to get up early - and I didn't even get a free apple. Bastards.
In the next episode you’ll see two people draw a picture of an angel and notice when they do that they draw the angel from a particularly secular perspective. And I’m certainly not one to begin to criticise the religio-artistic viewpoint of my two charming volunteers but it does make you stop and think what spiritually vacuous times we live in when two young people instinctively draw an angel with a halo attached to the back of its head with a stick.
(Speaking about Chris Ryan, ex-SAS) Charming! Sat there in his white jeans and wanted me to fail. I don't know what he had against me. I'm sure it was nothing to do with my over use of the word ‘podia’, which I hoped would irritate him a little bit more than it did. Some people...
’By a man’s boots, by his trouser knee, by his cuffs, by his coat tails, by all of these things a man’s calling is plainly revealed.’ Words spoken there by Sherlock Holmes, I believe... although it may have been Westlife.
Now for Heaven’s sake go to bed. Don’t worry about how it was done just go straight to bed. Leave the washing-up and get into bed fully clothed. If any of you want to know how any of it was done, please feel free to write in to me at my home address which will come up on the screen in a moment and I will give you a full and honest explanation of anything you may ask.
The Barnum Statements are very famous and well known about and there’s a great experiment... There’s a terrific experiment that was done on this with students. I’ve filmed this myself. We did it with three different groups of people across the world, where you have... everybody in the group is given a reading, a personality reading. Normally beforehand there’s some nonsense about asking for their birth date or getting some objects off them - so there’s some sort of process apparently involved - and they’re given a reading. And it’s a long reading, it’s a very detailed personality reading and they all get one individually, they’re all asked to read it and, invariably, they will all say afterwards that it’s very, very accurate, that it was not at all vague or ambiguous or what people might expect and they’ll give it 85, 90, 95 percent accuracy. I’ve seen this happen and people are amazed by it. And then you get them to swap with each other and say “perhaps you can identify someone else by their reading”. Then they realise they’ve all been given exactly the same thing which was written months ago before I even met them and the statements that fill those sorts of readings are generally Barnum Statements. Barnum statements are things which essentially apply to anybody – this is only part of the cold-reading skill but it’s a major part of it... PT Barnum... “something for everyone” and, famously “a sucker is born every minute”
A lot of the justification psychics give is that ‘well, it comforts people’ and my feeling on that is, well, if they’re lies, who are you to decide that your lies are what people need to hear to comfort them. I think it’s a twisted logic. And I think that the reasons... if you’ve lost somebody dear to you and I’m trampling all over those memories telling you that they’re here now saying this and that, that’s none of my business. And if I’m just doing it because I can earn some money out of it... and when you watch these people at work so much of it is ego. Some of mediums at these spiritualist churches – especially the ones that aren’t so good – they just look like second rate stage hypnotists that you might see in a pub in Corfu. It’s horrendous. That I find really quite ugly.
If you approach any psychic with any sort of scepticism you’ll see through pretty much all of it unless they happen to get lucky.
Just talking about the illogicality behind so many of these systems: Tarot cards, which are obviously very, very popular. The deck is mixed and you choose a number of cards, they’re laid out and then your fortune and fate is read from them. Of course, the interesting conundrum there is that if you did the same thing five minutes later you’d pick out very different cards so presumably your fate and the reading would be necessarily very different if it’s relying on those cards. Five minutes later it would be completely different and when there have been questions about this the answer is ‘oh, that’s because your fate changes from minute to minute’. But then you have to think, presumably, to get a Tarot reading you’d have to constantly be having a Tarot reading over and over again in order to know what the accurate situation is, if it constantly changes from minute to minute.
From psychics to spiritualists to palm readers to graphologists to astrologists, the ‘expert’ in question either just simply deluded and naive or they’re using a skill called cold-reading.
Being open minded isn’t about accepting things mindlessly. Being open minded is about having the information and then making the best decisions you can. A chap called Ian Rowland who wrote a good book on cold-reading made the point that if you’re a chef and you think, ‘well I know if I put poison in this soup and give it to these 200 people it’s going to kill them but, hey, I’ll be open minded’, that’s not being open minded, that’s just being ignorant. That’s just not working with the information you’ve got. So we have information on things like placebo effect and information about cold-reading. These things exists – false memories and anecdotal [evidence], all those things that are important – and taking that on board is just about being able to make better decisions. That’s about being truly open minded. Ignoring them and putting them to one side in this pursuit of easy answers and ‘intuition is the be-all and end-all of truth’, that’s not being open minded at all. I think that’s very narrow minded and certainly to laugh at people who say that evidence is important, I think that’s hypocrisy of the worst kind, to call them narrow minded.
It’s almost like a bad shock. You kind of think no, no. Your mind wants to think no, this is not happening, it’s not real, it’s not true, I reject it, I reject everything about it. Fantastic. Quite brilliant. I could sit down and try and work out how it was done and various elements of it. I just don’t want to. I just want to burn him at a stake and watch his witch's heart bubble. It’s extraordinary. Great trick. – Stephen Fry - Trick of the Mind", series 1, episode 1.
Brown’s real talent is for taking a single effect and turning it into a drama that has you on the edge of your seat. A lesser mind-reader would simply reveal the name, picture or number of which you’re thinking and take their bow. Brown stretches it to its limit, though at no time does it become tedious or tiring. His sense of timing is perfect and his comic asides at times produce belly laughs. Yet he ensures his volunteers are the stars of the show. – MagicWeek
While on TV Brown downplays his role in proceedings – which may be a sleight of hand in itself – here his personality is to the fore, helped by a witty script and some unobtrusive direction. And what comes across strongest, aside from the unfailingly impressive feats of memory and suggestion, is a wryly self-aware sense of humour. Here he knocks the ponderous, self-aggrandising stunts of closest peer David Blaine’s into a cocked hat. – The Stage
His greatest achievement is in taking the fusty world of magic and dragging it by its faded velvet lapels into the 21st century. For in many ways Brown is an old-fashioned illusionist, something to which both his set – with its vaudeville atmosphere – and his patter attests, but, by giving his tricks the veneer of science and psychology, he makes them appeal to a modern, and supposedly more savvy, audience. – The Stage
How wonderful that there are still people around who’ll put in the hours of thought and hard slog so that people like me can simply sit back and lap it all up without being blinded by fire and brimstone and a vast array of visible trickery. How wonderful that there are still those who rely on performance rather than props, on delivery rather than pure end-result. How marvellous to enjoy a mere handful of props and, to be crude, a truckload of talent. – MagicWeek
Yet what makes the show what it is - a truly mesmerising theatrical event that should live forever in the memory - is the magic and the variety, speed and dexterity with which Brown performs it. Looking around the auditorium of this sold-out theatre, with everyone on their feet at the show’s climax, it’s probably the most fun they’re likely to have this year. Derren Brown is simply astonishing to witness on stage. – The Stage
From the moment Brown strode energetically on to the stage, all thoughts of what he is – mystic or magician – or how he accomplishes such mind-bending feats are forgotten. Everybody is transported into a weird world of wonder. It’s spooky, but it’s also a whole heap of fun. The first half of the show is everything that Brown has become renowed for. His unfailing ability to work out in advance what people are going to think or how they are going to act is uncanny, drawing gasps from the crowd at every turn. It’s theatre and entertainment at its best. – Edinburgh Evening News