Another Derren Brown post
March 3, 2015 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Infamous was a 2014 magic show from Derren Brown: This is an hour long Youtube video with a fantastic finale.
How does he do it, on Quora.
"...look like you are witnessing true magic": A positive review from a fellow magician.
posted by growabrain (32 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
I thought this special was great, as a Derren Brown fan, but also notable for the first time he mentions on stage that he's gay. Though perhaps that fact has been known about him for years, it was the first time I've seen him address it on one of his specials.

As mentioned in the quora comments, his two books on magic are also great.
posted by Catblack at 1:16 PM on March 3, 2015


Nice, I've had a resurgence of interest in magic since watching Penn & Teller's "Fool Us", so I'm definitely up for a new video.

Without having watched it yet, I see a lot of people in the comments on the Quora link talking about him using hypnosis and NLP techniques. Which is interesting, because it's my understanding that hypnosis (in this context) is unreliable at best, and NLP is essentially just bunk. He has to be using traditional mentalist techniques, because in a stage show you need to be 100% certain of the trick coming off. But by talking about scientific-sounding stuff like "neuro-linguistic programming", he's gotten a lot of people who no doubt think of themselves as skeptics to buy into the routine instead of looking for what he's actually doing. Whereas if he'd claimed to be psychic, as Uri Geller and others did back in the day, these commenters would simply scoff.

So he's found the new thing to call it instead of "magic" or "psychic powers". Very nice misdirection.
posted by rifflesby at 1:53 PM on March 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


The very first trick in the video is guessing the woman's dog's name.

Anyone know how he does that?
posted by andoatnp at 2:14 PM on March 3, 2015


It's a shame but the video isn't available in Canada.
posted by dazed_one at 2:34 PM on March 3, 2015


The very first trick in the video is guessing the woman's dog's name.

Anyone know how he does that?


The first thing that comes up in nearly every book I've read about mentalism is how some magicians gave audience members interested in participating in the show a short set of questions well before the show, asking for some information about themselves. Magicians will draw from these to appear to read information from the audience - individual audience members might forget they filled these out, and most of the rest of the audience would be totally oblivious to the use of that technique.

I can't claim that that's how Derren Brown does the trick, but working off information people have given you is definitely the easiest way for a magician to read minds. It's got to be even easier in the age of Facebook - have your team internet-stalk an audience member who bought tickets in advance (of course they had to give you their name), get an interesting tidbit, and read it off during the show.

He's also wearing an earpiece, so he doesn't even necessarily need to do any of that in advance - his backstage team can do basically whatever they want and feed it to him.
posted by LSK at 2:41 PM on March 3, 2015


It's got to be even easier in the age of Facebook


Right. Derren Brown is kind of like the Bizzaro Penn & Teller. He'll play off that he just knows every 20-year-old woman in England with a father doing electrical work has a dog named Xena, but the trick isn't him guessing "Xena", it's him completely lying to us about how he did it and us buying it. See "How to Win the Lottery".
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 3:02 PM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Of course, now at 42:22, there's a caption stating:
No actors or stooges are used and no research has been done on any audience members
And now he's showing that he doesn't have an earpiece in either ear.


so... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 3:19 PM on March 3, 2015


I watched a couple of his earlier specials and really have enjoyed them. I can't wait to watch this as well. One thing that his specials always make me think about is the notion of magic and trickery and where the line of what's magic is. The bmx trick for instance we have to take on faith that it's something that's been set up and that Simon Pegg isn't actually in on it. Otherwise that's just acting. But on the other hand there's a use of what I think are instant stooges in a fool us trick that seems more like a legit trick to me.
posted by Carillon at 3:33 PM on March 3, 2015


Did a caption also say he had nothing up his sleeves?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:48 PM on March 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Any mentalist could tell you how 99% of what Derren Brown does is achieved, but less than 1% could give it perform it as well as he does. He really isn't doing anything particularly difficult or arcane, especially in his stage shows which often make use of some of the oldest and most basic mentalism methods, but his immense presenting talent just takes it to a whole new level.

And the fact that he's managed to convince so many people that things like NLP exist (despite him never once using the term "NLP" or "neuro-linguistic programming" to describe what he does) is the greatest trick of all.
posted by Savvas at 4:02 PM on March 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


celebheights says he is five foot nine inches tall.

How does he pull off the trick where he looks like he is five-five?
posted by bukvich at 5:36 PM on March 3, 2015


In the last few years he's been really quite explicit about his anti-NLP etc feelings, actually. Not so much in some of his shows where it's not a sensible part of the narrative structure, but in his more skeptical productions and investigative style shows and in his writings, certainly.
posted by edd at 5:36 PM on March 3, 2015


" No actors or stooges are used and no research has been done on any audience members"

Is there any reason to believe that?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:13 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Derren is certainly my favorite magician. He creates a sense of wonder that exceeds anyone else I've seen.

A friend of mine who is a magician also is a big fan of Derren. He believes that mentalism is the only 'true' magic left; magic that we are all left wondering about. People are pretty savvy to a lot of slight of hand (although Derren does use this in various tricks) and big stage props, and using technology. While Derren uses all of these things in his mentalism, his presentation leaves everyone wondering if magic NLP is really possible.
posted by el io at 9:09 PM on March 3, 2015


>Is there any reason to believe that?

Regarding stooges first: Brown does dozens and dozens and dozens of performances when he tours, and coordinating that many stooges (you'd need a different one each night) would be impossible, not to mention the risk that one of them would break their silence (which hasn't happened once in a career that spans a decade, incidentally.)

Regarding research: it's a specifically worded claim, no "research". What has happened, what visibly happens in front of you as you're watching the show, is that people are literally writing down the things he's repeating back to them during his various oracle routines. That's not research.

But in any case, stooges and research are entirely unnecessary to do the things he does. Not only would it be risky given that one single slip-up would completely end his career, but the tricks he performs (especially the ones on stage) are standard mentalism effects dressed up with amazingly convincing psychological patter. Hell, some of his effects are ones you can just buy online and perform for yourself, like the Losander floating table in Evening of Wonders.
posted by Savvas at 10:54 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the NLP woo is misdirection. Brown's interview with Jamy Ian Swiss:
Years ago the issue was whether or not you told people it was psychic because people were prepared to believe in psychic ability–and how far down that road do you take them. Now we’re in a situation where we’re into pop psychology, and NLP [Neuro Linguistic Programming], all these huge industries, and people are prepared to believe in that, and maybe in a way that’s the new psychic realm.
posted by pw201 at 1:19 AM on March 4, 2015


Regarding stooges first: Brown does dozens and dozens and dozens of performances when he tours, and coordinating that many stooges (you'd need a different one each night) would be impossible

It's not impossible; it would just involve an incredible amount of management. But that exactly what magicians do. They want you to think that that level of micromanagement is impossible, so you'll discount it. I think it was Penn who said most magician tricks involve a lot of careful micromanagement but are actually really boring and blase. Audience members dismiss the possibility that the magician would "stoop to that level" or would bother going through all the boring trouble that would be involved.

I don't doubt that most magicians use plants. You need some tricks with audience selection criteria that are genuinely random (e.g. David Copperfield throws frisbees over his shoulder... that's essentially chaotic). And you need some that only appear to be random (e.g. he also throws a ball over his shoulder, which can be practiced, and close misses can be finessed with some patter). The audience best remembers the genuinely random selection criteria and confuses them with not-so-random-ones; the audience thinks that he wouldn't bother practicing throwing a ball over his shoulder and coordinating dozens of stooges; and the audience thinks he wouldn't stoop to that level anyway. But that means he can use stooges and get a couple of otherwise-inexplicable illusions in for free.

And it's easy to avoid leaks if you make people sign extremely punishing NDAs. Most big-name magicians are incredibly litigious. I also think stooges use wigs and accents and padding so that they can repeat performances in the same city; you don't as many stooges as there are performances. (Photos aren't allowed at magic shows, and I think that's often primarily to avoid people photographing the "audience" members.)
posted by painquale at 8:08 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


The mobile phone number effect at the end is pretty impressive, and I can't see how he does it without a stooge. Well, I guess watching pen-tip movements to get the number, plus trying to force the random ten-digit number?

Technical stuff aside, what a showman! The paranormal bit with continual disclaimers that it was all lies was powerful and quite disturbing. I kind of wish he'd done it with living Grandmothers rather than bringing up sad memories for the participants.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:13 PM on March 4, 2015


Honestly, and I don't intend this to be insulting, the "it must be stooges" claim is ultimately just lazy thinking. Just because you can't explain it, doesn't mean it's inexplicable.

All I can give you as evidence is my personal assurance as a former performing mentalist is that all of the things you think can only be done with stooges are perfectly workable without them, and don't rely on anything other than some fairly standard mentalism methods. Wrinkled Stumpskin, if you send me a private message I'll explain the mobile phone number effect from beginning to end, but I don't want to post the method publicly.

If you can find a copy of Corinda's 13 Steps to Mentalism, plus basically anything written by David Berglas (from whom Derren Brown borrowed a LOT in his early days), then you'll have a pretty good grasp of 90% of what he's actually doing.
posted by Savvas at 4:52 PM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Savvas: "the "it must be stooges" claim is ultimately just lazy thinking. Just because you can't explain it, doesn't mean it's inexplicable."

"It must be stooges" is the opposite of "I can't explain it", and it's the opposite of "it's inexplicable". It is an explanation. I believe you when you say that as a former mentalist, "it's stooges" is a wrong explanation, but there's a big jump between "Your guess is wrong" and "You're just lazy".

That said, while that was a cool performance, with some really neat parts, it seemed to me that the phone number effect was just...math? I mean, multiplying two huge numbers is hard, but I imagine you could get really good at adding in your head with practice, especially as it's not two ten digit numbers, but a ten digit number and an eight digit number.
posted by Bugbread at 5:26 PM on March 4, 2015


I disagree, "it must be stooges" isn't an explanation, any more than "a sky wizard made it happen" is. You still have a hell of a long way to go to explain the effect even if someone's in on it - how are the stooges sourced? How has their confidence been kept for, at this point, more than a decade? And so on. It really is the epitome of lazy thinking when it comes to magic, it's like those YouTube commenters who just comment "fake!" on every video they see.

Re the phone number effect, no complex maths necessary, at least nothing that Derren had to perform himself in his head. Remember he's got almost the entire show between the woman first writing down her phone number and the reveal at the end to prepare all of the other elements necessary for the effect to work.
posted by Savvas at 5:38 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Savvas: "Remember he's got almost the entire show between the woman first writing down her phone number and the reveal at the end "

Ah, sorry, I thought Wrinkled Stumpskin was talking about the part where the audience used their phones to add a 10 digit number and an 8 digit number.

Savvas: "I disagree, "it must be stooges" isn't an explanation, any more than "a sky wizard made it happen" is. You still have a hell of a long way to go to explain the effect even if someone's in on it - how are the stooges sourced? How has their confidence been kept for, at this point, more than a decade?"

Seriously? Magicians have had assistants since the dawn of time. How has Copperfield managed to source his assistants and keep their confidence for over three decades? How has pretty much any illusionist with a "lovely assistant" managed it?

Plus we've had people go into explaining that the number of stooges is probably low, because you don't need a different person for every show. We've had people talk about how stooges can be selected while appearing random. How show policies prevent audience taping. How costumes can be used to disguise the fact that the same folks are in various shows. That's way different from "a sky wizard did it". It may all be wrong, but it's not lazy; quite a lot of thought has been put into it. A lot more thought than your dismissal based on the idea that...it's impossible for magicians to have assistants?
posted by Bugbread at 6:19 PM on March 4, 2015


Come on, don't put words in my mouth. Assistants are nothing whatsoever like stooges. Nobody goes into a show thinking the pretty girl in the sequin dress being sawn in half is a bystander chosen at random. There is a huge difference between David Copperfield making some people vanish into a photograph, something literally impossible without the use of a stooge, and Derren Brown ultimately predicting a phone number that was written down on a piece of paper.

Proposing a stooge requires absolutely no thought beyond "I can't explain it, therefore stooge" - sure, you can do some post-hoc reasoning after drawing that conclusion, but actually getting to the stooge claim doesn't require any real thought at all.
posted by Savvas at 7:08 PM on March 4, 2015


I'm not putting words in your mouth, I'm putting them in my own mouth. A stooge is a type of assistant. If you can find someone who can wear a sequin dress and stand on stage and know how you do your tricks and never break confidence, then why do you posit that it's impossible to find someone who can wear jeans and a t-shirt and sit in the crowd and know how you do your tricks and never break confidence?

I still don't understand why you think "stooge" means "I can't explain it, therefore stooge" and not "I can explain it, stooge".

Like, the "first words at the top of each page" thing: My guess is that every ten pages contain the same text, so he learns the first and last sentences of each - a total of 20 sentences. If the audience participant flips to page 233, it will have the same text as page 193, or 363. Likewise, pages 124, 244, and 394 would all have the same thing.

So, would that be seen as "I can't explain it, therefore the pages largely have the same thing, so you don't actually have to memorize that much", or would that be seen as "I can explain it, in that the pages largely have the same thing, so you don't actually have to memorize that much?"

(Also, again to reiterate: I'm not arguing that it is a matter of stooges. I'm not arguing that there are only a limited number of pages which repeat. I'm probably totally wrong about how the tricks are done. I just don't get which solutions are the kind that should get their proposer called "lazy" and which aren't.)
posted by Bugbread at 7:58 PM on March 4, 2015


Wait, no, the pages are determined by dice, so the last number can only be 1 through 6. So he has to memorize 12 sentences, assuming (probably incorrectly) that that's how he does the trick.
posted by Bugbread at 8:07 PM on March 4, 2015


>I'm not putting words in your mouth, I'm putting them in my own mouth.

I was referring to the last sentence, that my dismissal is based on it being "impossible for magicians to have assistants", which isn't what I'm saying at all. My dismissal is based on an understanding of how the tricks are actually performed, I know with certainty that stooges aren't necessary to do anything Derren Brown did in Infamous (or any of his stage shows for that matter.)

Everything else I say about stooges, about it being difficult or impossible to maintain a lie over a decade-long career and so on, is just supposition to support what I'm actually claiming (that they're not stooges) - obviously it *could be* possible to do those tricks using stooges, it just seems so incredibly unlikely when it would be (a) easier to just actually do the tricks as mentalists have done them for a hundred years, and (b) risky given that one single leak would completely end Derren's career.

>I still don't understand why you think "stooge" means "I can't explain it, therefore stooge" and not "I can explain it, stooge".

It just seems to me to be the equivalent of "a sky wizard did it", insofar as it doesn't really take any work to get to that conclusion - you just have to *not* think about other ways in which it could be done. Once you presuppose a stooge, you've effectively closed off any thinking required, you have an answer that doesn't lead you anywhere or illuminate anything. It's like someone seeing lightning and just saying "well obviously that's God".

It's interesting to read your thoughts about how the mobile number effect was done. I'd categorise it much more as "I can explain it" than "I can't explain it", because the things you're describing are indeed methods a mentalist would use, and you're applying reason to figure out how it was done. I hope I'm explaining the distinction between that and just gunning straight for "stooges" well enough, I don't seem to be communicating this point very well so far.

Anyway, in this case they're not the methods Derren Brown actually used, because he's reading from a standard edition of Shakespeare's plays, and all it would take to expose your method is for someone to get a copy and say "wait a minute, that's not what the first sentence on page x is". Same applies to the bus timetable. I can tell you right now that from the moment the lady wrote down her phone number, the pages that would be chosen by the dice rolls were immutably set in stone.
posted by Savvas at 8:35 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, on a tangent, when you know things are done, it's so utterly delicious watching Derren insert little convincers into his patter. When he's standing on stage reading out the values of the dice before they've been rolled, for instance, or when the spectator reads the word "film" from the paper Derren had in his envelope which has apparently been in full view the whole time. It's just pure magic.
posted by Savvas at 8:42 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anyway, in this case they're not the methods Derren Brown actually used, because he's reading from a standard edition of Shakespeare's plays [...]

I'm surprised that people imagine that it's hard to memorise things. I've seen people with quite mediocre intellects recite (and apply) facts and figures that they find interesting or useful. Most people have the ability; it just takes an incentive for them to actually do it. Brown, obviously, gets lots and lots of incentive every time he does a show.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:50 PM on March 4, 2015


Memory techniques are pretty easy to learn, when I first started it took about a week to get to the point where someone could give me a list of thirty objects that I would memorise as I was writing them down, and then be able to reel the list off in any order without looking at it.

Derren Brown has an exceptional memory, and he does actually use it in that performance, just not by memorising the complete works of Shakespeare or the bus schedule.
posted by Savvas at 8:57 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear: by no means do I think that stooges are the main technique. Just that if I were assembling an amazing series of deceptions, I would use every means possible, and I would lie about them. I see "no research, no stooges" as a piece of misdirection on a par with hinting it's NLP. I certainly wouldn't take it at face value.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:01 AM on March 5, 2015


I was at an event (a Microsoft press launch, ISTR) where there was a magician on at some point in the evening, and got taken to one side by an assistant during the pre-show melee. They asked if I'd mind helping out with the performance, I said no, as long as it didn't involve deception, so they asked me to do something in a particular way when asked, and to respond appropriately later in the trick. (I can't remember the details: it was a pick-something-and-hide-it sorta thing.)

So, I did it and it looked good. Afterwards, a few people came up to me and asked "Do you know how he did it?". "Yes. If you guess right, I'll tell you."

Some tried really hard with multiple guesses. Nobody, but nobody, guessed the simplest explanation, that I'd just been told what to do beforehand. No misdirection or deception, not even bolstering people's assumptions, (I was listening closely to the exact words used - "I'll need someone from the audience. You, sir?" Did anyone say that was random?) but knowing exactly how people take as given what is never stated.

I was a stooge, but an honest one. I know there's an explicit disclaimer against that on this video, but I'm sure the principle is sound.
posted by Devonian at 6:46 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was having a conversation with my dear friend, a teacher, musician, composer. He told me how he taught young kids…interestingly. After many years of doing this, and, it only worked with about thirty percent of the students, about the same percentage of people susceptible to Mr Brown's techniques, he found a switch that turned on, what he calls “Knowledge soul.” so that the child could be able to absorb the particular information. Finding the switch depended in part on the empathy he felt with the student.

I have an inkling of what my friend meant based on my own experience. I was a plumber for more than thirty years. Many a Monday morning I would wake up with the thought . "I don't know how to be a plumber". But, invariably, when I got to the job and looked at the work, I would just start working automatically....as if the skill had become subconscious.

My friend had other information from teaching and sales. You don’t go past the third negative reaction. Up to twenty five and after sixty are the susceptible years…those are the group you pick from. You need to recognize a high I.Q. that will react quickly in a situation. Darren Brown reads people very quickly.
posted by eggtooth at 4:02 PM on March 14, 2015


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