Sunday, December 16, 2007

How Derren Brown Broke Into Television

In an excellent 2003 interview, Derren Brown describes how his early UK TV specials came about.

In 1999, Brown was performing magic and hypnotism shows. He was beginning to experiment with psychology-based illusions, but with no intent of becoming a mentalist.

His manager called him to London to meet with Andrew O'Connor, a television producer. Brown performed a few tricks and impressed O'Connor. In November 1999, he signed on to do the first special.

Production did not begin until September 2000. The show took eight weeks to film, and DB claims he was not paid much.

Even after the special aired, Brown continued to perform in small venues. He recalls that he would perform in restaurants and people would come up to him and ask if he had seen the mentalist on television the night before. "I'd say, 'Well, that was me!' and they just couldn't quite ...they just didn't expect to see me in a restaurant working the tables."

The second TV special was much more successful than the first, and DB seems to have realized his days as a small-time performer were over. He released a video of his old magic tricks, entitled "Devil's Picture Videobook," and then virtually abandoned magic in favor of mentalism. He reveals in the interview that he initially stopped doing card tricks (even of the mind-reading variety), because he wanted to distance himself from traditional magic.

A third special followed, and the rest is history.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Uri Geller is a Psychic...or IS he?

Mentalism has received some media attention recently because of the NBC contest show, Phenomenon. Three weeks ago, Mike Super won the contest with his mind-reading / suggestion tricks. None of the acts featured on the show reached the Derren Brown level of mental illusion, but they were entertaining.

I just learned today of a controversy surrounding Uri Geller. In the final episode of Phenomenon, Criss Angel (of Mindfreak), Geller's co-host on the series, held up an envelope and offered $1 million to any psychic who could tell him what was inside. He specifically asked Geller to make a prediction.

Uri Geller made some rambling statements, but was cut off by Angel who announced that the envelope contained the number 911, referring to the September 21, 2001 terrorist attacks. Angel explained that if psychic powers really existed someone would have warned the world about the attacks in advance.

But here is the strange part: If you listen to the statements Geller made before the envelope was opened, he stated the number 119 (i.e., 911 in reverse). Watch the video on Youtube.

I do not believe Uri Geller has psychic powers, but after the cavalier way in which Criss Angel insulted him on national television, I almost wish he did.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Derren Brown and Embedded Commands

While searching on for references to Derren Brown, I came across a self-published book called "Ad and Jo's Guide to Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy."

The book calls DB a "master of indirect suggestion," and discusses various methods of making such suggestions.

For example, it discusses "embedded commands." An example given in the text is the following statement: "You may feel that it is better to take your medicine now," which includes the imbedded statement "Feel Better Now."

If you have watched DB, there is no question that he uses embedded commands and other methods of indirect suggestion.

What struck me most about this self-published book is its comment that the more obvious an indirect suggestion is, the more likely it is to work.

That certainly has been my experience. By the way, I have continued to try my mind-reading trick using subliminal suggestions. I have had mixed results, but it seems that my failures all come when I try too hard to be covert. When I am blatant to the point that I think someone will catch me (though only one person has so far), the technique works.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Derren Brown Is Not on MySpace

I am not now, nor have I ever been, Derren Brown. Apparently, I am much more candid about that fact than other people who run DB fansites.

As I reported in October, DB's official website issued a stern warning to a particular individual who ran a MySpace-based Derren Brown fansite, and who was deceptively representing that he was, in fact, DB.

Now the official site reports that the MySpace site in question has been shut down. The official story is that the MySpace impostor engaged in e-mail communication with DB fans, posing as DB himself. When contacted by representatives of DB, he refused to cooperate.

The MySpace site, which I had visited, actually did provide some good information. The notice on Derren Brown's official site promises that the official site will do a better job of providing DB news in the future.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Actor Daniel Craig Says Derren Brown Converts People to Catholicism

In an interview this week about the upcoming movie "The Golden Compass," actor Daniel Craig made a cryptic reference to Derren Brown:

I don’t actually consider the [His Dark Materials trilogy] books to be anti-religious. Mainly they’re anti-misuse of power whether it be religion or politics that uses it. The opposition is always going to be there.... It’s good that it has that controversy but it’s a debate. And that’s what maybe there needs to be more of. I actually think these books, and these movies if they all succeed and come out, will actually do the church the world of good. I think that Derren Brown’s book proves this point. I think there have been more Catholic take ups because this book than from anywhere else.

I think Craig is suggesting that Derren Brown's book, which explains why DB is an atheist, has inspired people to join the Catholic church (or increased the devotion of existing members). That seems obviously not to have been DB's intent. Among other things, his book praises Richard Dawkins' pro-atheism work.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Skeptics Are Wrong About Derren Brown

Here is an interesting discussion of Derren Brown's subliminal suggestion techniques by a group of skeptics.

Members of the discussion suggest that DB's psychological explanations of his trips are completely bogus, just a part of the act. They go so far as to suggest that his book, "Tricks of the Mind," is also part of the act -- designed to dupe the public into believing his acts involve psychological phenomenon.

A few posts ago I considered the idea that the psychological aspect of DB's act was simply misdirection. In some of his tricks it might be.

But given my recent experimentation with subliminal suggestion, I know for a fact that it can work. Whether or not DB relies on it in his act is impossible for me to say. (By the way, I am going to try subliminal suggestion on another friend tomorrow night; so I should have more to report on that front soon.)

The skeptics might be partly correct, but based on my experience I have to believe that at least some of the time Derren Brown's mental illusions work just the way he says they do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How I Mastered Derren Brown's Subliminal Suggestion Technique

The most popular Derren Brown techniques include achieving "mind-reading" effects by subliminally suggesting an idea to a subject, and then getting the subject to regurgitate the idea back.

For example, DB might suggest to someone the shape "circle." Then he asks the person to choose a shape. The person chooses a circle, just as DB expected. DB produces the paper on which he wrote his prediction - circle - and looks as if he has read the subject's mind.

DB uses a variety of techniques to subliminally suggest ideas. Sometimes he's very obvious, stating his instructions in plain English, but buried inside of a distracting monologue.

I decided to try this type of obvious technique for myself. Last night, I asked a friend to choose one of four shapes I had drawn on a piece of paper. Before he looked at the paper, I explained a little bit about Derren Brown, something like this:

"...and he does lots of tricks with people. For example, he guesses the cards people pick out of a deck of cards, he hypnotizes people, choose square, he makes people forget their names, and so forth..."

My instruction to "choose square" was embedded in my monologue. I thought it was obvious, but my friend did not consciously notice it. And when I asked him to pick a shape, he chose the square.

I repeated this experiment three more times, with different shapes and similarly obvious subliminal suggestions. It worked each time. The odds of this result happening by chance are 1 in 256 (i.e., 4 x 4 x 4 x 4), so I am quite confident that the technique worked for me.

O.K., I probably haven't mastered the technique yet, but I am thrilled that it has worked. And obviously I will experiment with it more.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Derren Brown 2008 Tour Dates

Derren Brown's tour dates are now posted on his official site. His upcoming tour will run from February 26 to April 29 of 2008.

As I anticipated, all the performances will be in the U.K. If you plan to attend, you need to contact individual venues to find out when tickets go on sale.

The show is called "Derren Brown, Mind Reader - An Evening of Wonders." He has already done one tour of this show. Many reviews are available on-line -- here is a personal blog account of the show.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Where Is Derren Brown More Popular -- U.S. or U.K.?

Today I was using Google Analytics to review statistics about visitors to this Derren Brown blog, and I began wondering: Where is Derren Brown more popular - the U.S. or the U.K.?

DB has been popular in the U.K. since his show began airing there in 2000, while he made his debut in the U.S. only a few months ago, in July 2007 (on the Sci Fi channel).

Since at least 2003 he has talked about becoming popular in the U.S. So has he done it yet?

Admittedly, my blog is not a perfect scientific test. The overwhelming majority of visitors, however, come from the U.S. or the U.K., with a smaller number from other European countries. And I think this blog provides a rough indication of how many people are interested enough in DB to go poking around on the internet for a while.

I was amused to find, therefore, that precisely the same number of visitors came from the U.S. as from the U.K. over the past six weeks.

For those of you unfamiliar with geography, the U.S. is much larger than the U.K. and has more residents. So, the density of Derren Brown interest in the U.K. is apparently still much greater than in the U.S. But I think a solid faction of DB fans has developed in the U.S., and will continue to grow.

DB seems content to focus on his U.K. audience (note, e.g., that his 2008 tour will apparently be confined to the U.K.). Sooner, or later, though NBC or some other American network will host "An Evening with Derren Brown," and we'll see a sudden spike in his U.S. popularity.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

What if Derren Brown's Psychology Is Just Part of the Trick?

In response to my October 20 entry about Derren Brown's alleged use of NLP Anchoring techniques, "Stanton Carlisle" commented that:

Derren doesn't like or use NLP. You may think he uses it, he may imply he uses it however, he doesn't.

SC's comment got me thinking. In his book, Tricks of the Mind, Brown criticizes the cult-like behavior of NLP devotees and expresses a good deal of hostility toward NLP itself. At the same time, though, he directs the reader to try a couple of NLP exercises which he recommends.

DB's attitude toward NLP is, at best, ambivalent. So it's hard to believe that NLP is the secret weapon in his act.

What if he intentionally implies that he uses NLP and other psychological techniques, but is in fact doing ordinary magic tricks? i.e., what if the psychological talk is just part of the act? I am not the first person to consider that possibility.

Ultimately, I think that conclusion is a little too conspiracy-theory. In one of my favorite segments (from the British Trick or Treat series), DB teaches an elderly woman to play poker by reading body language, and she comes in second place in a professional poker game (without DB being present). That seems clearly to be about psychology, not trickery.

In some cases, though, I think it is likely that Derren Brown is performing ordinary magic tricks in the guise of psychological illusions (e.g., in his card tricks).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How Derren Brown Makes a Woman Stick to the Floor

In Episode 2 of his U.S. series, Derren Brown makes a woman believe she is stuck to the floor in the middle of a room. During the performance, DB makes it look as if he is stopping her in the center of the room by making a gesture with his hand.

An interesting analysis of this trick that I found on the web argues that the hand gesture is simply showmanship (DB does admit to using showmanship in his tricks), and that the entire trick is accomplished with his choice of words.

The analysis (which is actually referring to the British version of the show) is worth a read, though of course I have no idea whether it provides a full explanation of the trick.

On an unrelated note, tonight's episode of Phenomenon (which will presumably be available in its entiry on-line) featured some good acts, but nothing to compete with Derren Brown.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is a Derren Brown -- David Blaine Collaboration in the Works?

In an interview back in 2003, Derren Brown suggested that he might do a show with David Blaine if he (Brown) became popular in the U.S.:

Interviewer: Blaine. You mentioned in the past the possibility that you might do something together. Do you think that's likely to happen in the foreseeable future?

DB: We've spoken about if the show hits off over there - there are talks underfoot, if that's a word, to get a US version of Mind Control underway. But you know, Blaine is at the top of his tree... and for us to do anything together, and for that to feel right, we'd have to be at a sort of level pegging. But I'm in no rush to do that,...

Finally, four years later, Brown is becoming popular in the U.S. I wouldn't say he's reached the David Blaine level yet, but he's getting there.

Maybe intially he could play a minor role in a David Blaine act. For example, he could be the one who buries Blaine alive. Then, later, after that event and the attendant publicity, they could stage another show where both illusionists are suspended in the air in an ice box for several days.

Seriously, though, I would like to see Derren Brown do a high-profile special on U.S. television, with or without David Blaine.

Monday, October 29, 2007

See Derren-Brown Like Effects on NBC's Phenomenon

This past week, I complained that I had missed the premier of NBC's Phenomenon. I later realized that I could watch the entire premier at, and so can you.

The show was good, and some of the acts were reminiscent of Derren Brown's tricks. Unfortunately, many of the performers insisted that they actually have supernatural abilities. Uri Geller is one of the hosts and he, too, has claimed mysterious mental abilities for years.

Phenomenon is worth watching. It will remind you of how refreshing it is that Derren Brown does not claim to have special powers.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Be Like Derren Brown, Part 3: The Handshake Induction

Here is a nice write-up about the "handshake induction," a technique Derren Brown and others use to create a state of waking hypnosis.

The techniques works like this: You go to shake hands with your subject. Instead of a normal handshake, though, you either interrupt by grabbing the subject's wrist with your left hand (that's how DB does it), or by doing something unusual with your shaking hand (as described in the link above).

The subject's subconscious mind is initially on autopilot, having shaken hands with thousands of people before. By altering the handshake, you break the subconscious mind's pattern and create confusion and a state of suggestibility. At that point you begin giving suggestions, with which the subject complies.

This technique can clearly be seen in Derren Brown's segment with Simon Pegg, and in the episode where he convinces people on the street to voluntarily give him their wallets.

For more "Be Like Derren" info, see the list of Recommended Materials.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Phenomenon Apes Derren Brown?

Unfortunately, I was not able to watch the new NBC series Phenomenon tonight. Hosted by Criss Angel and Uri Geller, it is a talent show for mentalists.

Reportedly, tonights premier episode featured at least one very Derren-Brown-like trick. This series might be a good opportunity to see less subtle performers give away the techniques behind some of DB's tricks.

An even better way to examine DB's techniques would be for the Sci Fi channel to air more episodes of Mind Control with Derren Brown. After the initial six episodes, the series ended. Sci Fi's DB website gives no indication of whether we can expect new episodes (though it does provides downloads of some prior segments).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Derren Brown Embroiled in Height Controversy

How tall is Derren Brown? If is to be believed, that is a matter of serious debate. Although the site officially deems DB to be 5' 9", comments in the user feedback section have him as short as 5' 7".

On a more serious note, DB is the first to criticize his physical appearance. In his book, Tricks of the Mind, he admits that he is balding, mocks the way he used to dress, and generally belittles himself.

While other magicians/mentalists seem overly concerned with physical appearance, DB seems primarily concerned with authenticity. In fact, appearing ordinary is an important part of his act.

Looking like an ordinary person helps him establish the rapport necessary for many of his hypnosis/nlp/mind-reading tricks. It is also part of his unique brand -- the I-don't-really-have-special-powers-I'm-just-smarter-than-you approach.

He begins every episode of his TV show by announcing that he does not have supernatural powers. But he does have unusual skills, and we will examine them further as this blog develops.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Derren Brown, Mentalist for Hire

A few days ago I complained about Derren Brown not (apparently) bringing his stageshow to the U.S.

I learned today that if the price is right DB will do a private show. You can book him through

How much will it cost? They're not telling -- at least not on their website.

I'm guessing I won't be able to foot the bill myself, but maybe if a few readers chipped in we could make it happen....

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Penn & Teller Comment on Derren Brown

Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) reportedly made the following comment about Derren Brown back in 2001:

There's a fascinating avant-garde movement afoot, too, with very smart people like Derren Brown in England, who are trying to smash the conventions of mentalism, expanding what drama it can lead to while mining the sophistication of mentalism's methods.

Obviously, Derren Brown had an international reputation among magicians at least six years ago. Why did it take so long for him to appear on U.S. television?

DB apparently reciprocates Teller's admiration, by the way. On page 30 of Tricks of the Mind, Derren Brown refers to "the always brilliant Teller."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Be Like Derren Brown Part 2: Practice Anchoring

In his book, Tricks of the Mind, Derren Brown is somewhat critical of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming).

For those who don't know, NLP is a movement/school-of-thought within psychology. It focuses on individuals' subjective relationship with the world, emphasizing that humans experience the world through the lens of their own beliefs. NLP practitioners tend to be pragmatic, using techniques derived from various other methods of therapy.

NLP has a cult-like following, and that seems to be DB's main problem with it. There's no denying, however, that he uses many of NLP's techniques. One technique he uses routinely in his shows is anchoring.

Anchoring is the process of attaching an emotion to a sensory input. For example, if every time you feel sad you rub your elbow, you will eventually find that when you rub your elbow you feel sad. Your mind creates a connection between the emotion and the sensory input, and that allows the sensory input to evoke the emotion.

DB has developed numerous creative ways to use this effective technique. In one excellent segment of his show, DB uses anchoring to convince Simon Pegg (star of Shaun of the Dead) that he wants a red BMX bike for his birthday.

To do this, DB asks Pegg to vividly imagine how it feels to find the perfect gift you have been looking for. As Pegg is doing this, DB touches a specific place on his arm. Throughout the ensuing conversation, DB touches the same place whenever he uses a word relating to a BMX bike (e.g., saddle, wheels, bar, etc.). Pegg unconsciously associates the feeling of finding the perfect gift with these BMX words, and ends up claiming that what he really wants is a BMX bike.

You can practice anchoring easily. First, do it on yourself. Create an emotional state in yourself and anchor (e.g., by touching a spot on your arm). Later you will find that you can use the anchor to recreate the emotional state. Second, try using anchors on others. As long as you are not too obvious, there is little risk of detection.

Even if you're not interested in developing the skill of anchoring, understanding it will help you appreciate many of Derren Brown's mind tricks.

For more "Be Like Derren" info, see the list of Recommended Materials.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Watch Derren Brown On-Line

Reading my Derren Brown blog is in inherently good thing to do. But to really understand the topic of this blog, you need to watch DB in action.

Visit Channel 4's DB website, which features several clips from his UK show. Each clip is accompanied by an article that provides an explanation of how the trip is done.

This is a very helpful introduction to Derren Brown's mind tricks.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Be Like Derren Brown, Part 1: Have a Superhuman Memory

In Tricks of the Mind, Derren Brown explains a complicated memory system he uses in his tricks. The system he describes is almost identical to one I have used, which you can find here.

This method of memorization requires you to associate certain letters or sounds with the numbers 0 through 9. You can then create peg words for each number, 1 through 100 (or however high you want to go). To remember lists of information, you simply associate each piece of information with one of your peg words (through mental visualization). You can then go through your list and recall each piece of information. If you have 100 items memorized and someone asks you to repeat item number 47, you can do so instantly and with little effort.

I first discovered the system in an audiobook about ten years ago. Later, I was surprised to find the exact same system in a 19th-century book about memory. It is apparently very common. The system helped me pass college exams with little study time. It is amazingly easy to use.

Derren Brown has made excellent use of the system by applying it in creative ways. On page 102 of his book, for example, he lists his peg words for the 52 cards in a deck -- helpful for both magic tricks and card games. In one interview, he described his plan to memorize every name and phone number in a local phone book where he was performing -- audience members could then ask him what their phone number was, and he would tell them.

His memory tricks sound impossibly difficult, but with the memory system cited above, they really are not too hard. This is only one of many skills Derren Brown uses to perform his tricks, but it is one that you can easily acquire for yourself, and which will immediately impress your friends and family.

For more "Be Like Derren" info, see the list of Recommended Materials.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Covert Use of Mental Powers by Derren Brown

Yesterday I reported that Derren Brown had not used his powers of suggestion in the courtroom. That would be unethical and, at any rate, he never practiced law.

He has, however, admitted to the following covert uses of his powers (in each case, only before he became successful):

1. He cashed in losing tickets at a dog track. Source: Episode 2 of Mind Control with Derren Brown.

2. He convinced waiters that he had already paid them for dinner, when in fact he had not. Source: DerrenBrownInfo Interview.

3. He used his powers to attract women. Source: Metro interview. He has stated, however, that he does not use his persuasive powers in romantic relationships.

It's a good thing most people can't do what Derren Brown, because it would obviously be difficult to avoid misuising those abilities.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Derren Brown's Law Career

It has frequently been reported that Derren Brown studied law at Bristol University (where he also studied German). He acknowledges that fact in his book, Tricks of the Mind.

I found myself wondering whether he had actually practiced law. And, if so, did he use his powers of suggestion in the courtroom?

I found a transcript on-line in which an interviewer had the same type of question. DB answered:

If I had pursued law, I probably wouldn't have got into this [mentalism] in the same way. I decided this was where I was going to go and I put the effort in. I can't imagine ever wanting to go into law now, it's such a soulless and unpleasant job.

From that answer it seems obvious that he chose not to practice law. Elsewhere in the interview he states that he was not interested in the subject of law when he was in school.

Now the only question is, why did he study law to begin with? Regardless, it seems to have benefitted him. He credits his legal studies with honing his logic and skepticism, and thereby contributing to his eventual success as a mentalist.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I Am Not Derren Brown

I discovered Derren Brown's official website today -- It is a typical, slick entertainer's website.

What caught my attention was the "news" section, which states in part:

It has come to our attention that there are people claiming to be (and posing as) Derren on a number of "social networking" sites such as MySpace....
One individual in particular has emailed members of the public posing as Derren. We would like to make it clear that this practice is illegal and we are considering legal action against that person.

In case there is ever any question, I am not Derren Brown. My prior blog entries would be non-sensical otherwise.

Another interesting section of the website comes under the "tour" heading. Dates and locations for his 2008 tour are not listed. It sounds like it might be a UK-only tour. I wish he would bring his stage show to the U.S. The show is called "Derren Brown, Mind Reader - An Evening of Wonders."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Darren Brown - UK Shows

Although he is new to the U.S., Derren Brown has been a TV celebrity for years in Great Britain. His show originally aired there in 2000.

Series 1 and 2 of his British show, Trick of the Mind, are available at, as is a dvd called Inside Your Mind. Unfortunately, all of these dvds are formated for Region 2, and will therefore not play in most American dvd players.

I have an old dvd-rom drive which I am considering switching over to Region 2 for the sole purpose of watching the British Trick of the Mind series.

Another blogger has posted a clip from the U.K. show here, which is more shocking than anything Derren Brown has done on the American version.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Derren Brown, the Mentalist / Mind Control Expert

I discovered Derren Brown, the British mentalist, a few weeks ago. Beginning July 26, 2007, the U.S. SciFi Channel broadcast a series called "Mind Control with Derren Brown." I have watched all six episodes that have aired so far, and I think his work is fascinating.

Brown uses hypnosis, suggestion, and psychological principles to get people to do some pretty amazing things. For example, in the second episode of the series he places bets at a dogtrack and then successfully cashes in his losing tickets. On a subway train, he makes passengers forget what stop they are going to get off at. In one episode he convinces a woman that the color yellow is actually the color red.

He really must be seen to be believed. I am currently reading his book, "Tricks of the Mind," and am awaiting new episodes.

This blog will explore his career and techniques. I hope to shed some light on both what he does and how he does it. Stay tuned for much, much more about Derren Brown.