Derren Brown Reads Reporter’s Mind in NYT

Inside Magic Image of Derren Brown The New York Times has a very flattering portrayal of the always-interesting Derren Brown. The author, television star, mentalist, and media darling, has been on the fast-track over in the UK and now he’s brought his charm and magic to the States.

The female reporter appears to be taken in by the mysterious Brit:

Naturally, none of his clever tricks will work on this psychologically astute interviewer, who plans to use mysterious journalistic techniques to unearth his darkest secrets. But the coolly charming Mr. Brown decides to try anyway. He produces a sheet of blank paper and issues an instruction: draw a picture.

“Try to catch me out; make it a bit obscure,” he orders. “Don’t draw a house; don’t draw a stick man.” Walking to another room and out of sight, he decrees that the picture should be concealed until the end of the interview – whereupon he will reveal what it is.


Mr. Brown told the reporter that his special gift is an ability to cloud and lead spectators into thinking what he wants them to think or see what he wants them to see.

Mr. Brown, 34, describes himself as a psychological illusionist, meaning that he uses a mix of techniques like sleight of hand, misdirection, hypnotism and subliminal suggestion to perform feats that seem impossible, even supernatural. He has become a British media star, unnerving audiences with his “Trick of the Mind” television programs and sold-out stage performances. But he is no David Blaine, shrouding himself in smoke and mystique, no show-bizzy David Copperfield.

Mr. Brown tells the reporter he does not possess supernatural powers.

But he admits to possessing no magical powers. He is not psychic. He cannot read your thoughts by staring into your eyes. Everything he does, he says, can be logically parsed.

“I could sit someone down and take them through an episode of my show and explain everything,” he said recently. (He could, but he will not.)

The article makes several references to the distinction in style and substance between Mr. Brown and David Blaine. He was influenced as a young man by stage magic, studied hypnotism and moved into his current approach combining “magic and psychology, tricks of the hands with tricks of the mind. Each of his programs starts with a disclaimer in which he asserts, essentially, that he is not supernatural, only clever. He then does a series of stunts.”

Check out the article and read about his upbringing in a conservative Christian church, his search for meaning, and his almost obsessive desire to convince his audiences that he does not possess supernatural powers. (You’ll need a a free subscription to the New York Times).

By the way, we’ve enjoyed Mr. Brown’s books. He has a fun writing style and offers some genuinely new material. More about some chancy use of suggestion in a mentalism routine in a later article.

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