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.