Enigma: Derren Brown's new live mentalism and magic show on UK tour

Mentalist and conjurer Derren Brown's taking a new show called "Enigma" on tour across the UK. Derren's a terrific performer who does an absolutely baffling mentalist act that combines applied psychology, prestidigitation, and a fabulous performing style that'll have you scraping your jaw off the theatre floor. We caught him in London last year and were just delighted. All the stuff you've seen him do on TV and YouTube? He does stuff that's that cool, except there's no camera, no edits -- nothing that could be used to simply trick you. The fact that he's a "psychic"-busting skeptic only makes it all cooler, since you know that there's a trick in there somewhere, but damned if you can find it. (Or at least, if you can, you're a lot smarter than me!)

Tour 2009


  1. Yes, he is entertaining, but it’s nothing more than lies. Sure, he tells you that the audience isn’t in on it, but he has his plants.

    Consider one episode (in the art museum?) where he says he will choose the person after a ball of paper has been thrown three times, it is thrown *more* than three times until it reaches his plant.

  2. Your objection is that the magician is misdirecting you? As opposed to all those magicians who actually send stuff to the astral plane, right?

  3. #1, No, he doesn’t. Just because you don’t understand how he is creating the illusion of impossibility doesn’t mean he’s using plants.

    I wish I could travel to the U.K. to see the new show. Brown’s two previous live shows were two of the best theatrical magic shows ever put on anywhere, IMO. Even most magicians have no idea how ground-breaking and sophisticated those shows are.

  4. Cory, I think the anonymous was being upset about shoddy misdirection….

    That said, I’ve never seen his act, and if there’s any chance he shows us how it’s done, I never, ever will. That just takes all the fun out of it for me. I don’t believe they’re performing real magic/using real psychic powers, but the “how the hell did that happen!?” part is what it’s all about. People have got to stop sucking all the mystery out of life.

  5. @#5:
    He shows how it’s done..sometimes..but the one thing you can be sure of is that he’s lying.

    If he tells you it was hypnosis, it was probably slight-of-hand. If he says it’s illusion, it’s NLP. Etc.

    Never trust a thing he says, the only thing you can believe is when he says that he is tricking you, he’s just never tricking you in the way he says he is.

  6. @#7: Whatever he may be doing, it’s not likely to be NLP. In his book he states flat out that he considers NLP to be largely a sack of crap.

  7. Derren Brown is the magician’s magician because he doesn’t ask for suspension of disbelief. The joy of his performances doesn’t lie in pretending the tricks are not artificial; it’s the joy of confusion over what parts of the presentation are real. His occasional digressions into backstage talk are just as much misdirection as the tricks themselves, and he is the better performer for it.

  8. you’re all wrong, he’s an alien – just look at the size of his forehead, it’s a blatant tell. probably venusian (his real name most likely babyfark mcgeezax)

  9. @#8:
    Well, he does a lot of what other people call NLP, although he doesn’t call it that… He doesn’t follow a lot of the bull philosophy that NLP usually get’s tied up in, he’s more of a pragmatist who uses what works and ignores what doesn’t.

    So maybe I shouldn’t say he uses NLP, he uses some of the same techniques as people who claim to perform NLP.

    Quote from Derren:

    I am often dishonest in my techniques, but always honest about my dishonesty. As I say in each show, ‘I mix magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship’. I happily admit cheating, as it’s all part of the game. I hope some of the fun for the viewer comes from not knowing what’s real and what isn’t. I am an entertainer first and foremost, and I am careful not to cross any moral line that would take me into manipulating people’s real-life decisions or belief systems.

  10. #2, Cory: No, my objection is not the misdirection, it’s the implied truth, “I’m not like other magicians, everything I’m doing is truthful.” He is no better than Sylvia Brown. He is selling snake oil too. Or do you believe he was able to make people rob a bank truck by playing music too? Read the Simon Singh article: http://www.simonsingh.net/Derren_Brown_Article.html

    #4, PeaceLove: And just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean he isn’t. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In this case, the most probable answer is that he is lying. Either that, or he is light years ahead of modern science. Hmmm, I wonder which it could be?

    #13, LiloMar: I don’t believe he is being honest about his dishonesty.

  11. I saw some of his video of card tricks once that was supposed to be just for magicians once and for me when he explained how he did the amazing tricks that made them even more amazing.

  12. Aahmyeyes @14: Misdirection IS implied truth. I’ve never heard a stranger complaint in my born days: this is like complaining that the fiction writer is making it all up.

    Conjuring is a lie. An entertaining, explicit lie. Derren lies. He tells you he lies. Then he lies.

    Sylvia Brown claims that she has mystical powers. Derren claims that he can fool you into thinking that he’s demonstrating mystical powers, all the while cheerfully copping to the fact that it’s all a shuck.

    Simon Singh clearly suffers from the same weird notions about magic that you do.

    This is how stage magic works:

    There’s the fiction: “I am making a handkerchief appear out of thin air, drawing it from the astral plane.”

    There’s the metafiction: “Actually, I’ve used NLP to make you think that the handkerchief appeared out of thin air. I was exploiting your cognitive blind spot. I could do this all day long, for I am an ascended master of human brain-hacking.”

    Then there’s the actual truth: “REALLY actually, the NLP is midirection. I am performing a conjuring trick, and I’m using both my hands and my patter to trick your brain into seeing something that’s not there, a kind of whole-body trompe l’oeiul. Bet you can’t figure out how I did it!”

    If you don’t like that kind of thing, that’s fine, but this is no more “dishonest” than composing a random-dot stereogram, or Dickens making you sympathize with the fictional personage of Little Nell.

    Here’s a traditional magician’s trick: learn how to perform the same effect using three or four different techniques — for example, vanishing a coin with a sleeve-drop, a lap-drop, a palm, and by moving it to the back of your hand.

    Announce that you are going to perform the same trick four times, so that the audience will get to see it over and over again and spot the gimmick.

    Perform the same effect in four different ways, all the while keeping up the pretense that you’re doing the same thing over and over again.

    You can even misdirect the audience further by “making mistakes” that hint at revealing your technique (say, overcupping your hand to give the impression that you’ve just palmed the coin after dropping it on your lap). Now the audience is convinced that you’ve let the gimmick slip and they’re watching even harder — in the wrong place.

    @1 talked about how Derren said he would pick the Nth person who was holding an object being tossed around the auditorium to be his helper and then picked the N+3rd person instead.

    Well, it’s possible that he was waiting for the ball to reach a stooge.

    But it’s likewise possible that the identity of the helper was totally irrelevant to the effect — that he could perform exactly the same effect with no helper — or with thirty of them.

    But by having this business about the helper (a bluff) and then by “cheating” the helper-selection (a double-bluff), he effectively directs all the audience attention to the helper — especially those eagle-eyed watchers who think that they’ve caught him in a “lie.”

    This is how magic works. Complaining about it is like complaining about optical illusions. If you don’t like optical illusions, don’t look at them. But don’t complain that Escher’s hands can’t possibly be drawing each other.

  13. How about “implied capital”, not many complaints about this fiction until recent events.

  14. For those reading through the comments that would like to know, as I did, NLP stands for neuro-linguistic programming apparently.

    Fun read otherwise, thanks Cory..


  15. He SAYS that he is cheating. He SAYS that he is lying. He SAYS that his main goal is to entertain and that his only guarantee is that it will be entertaining.

    I don’t understand what the problem is, except for someone feeling like they had a magic trick figured out (Because the magician told you how he did it? And you trust him? HE’S THERE TO FOOL YOU!) and found out it wasn’t done that way.

    Just sit back and enjoy the magic.

  16. I am disgusted with the new Battlestar Galactica. It turns out that the spaceships weren’t real, they were actually some kind of computer-generated fakery. Even the characters in the show were apparently played by actors!

    They lied to us, people. They lied.

  17. #16, Cory:
    “This is how magic works. Complaining about it is like complaining about optical illusions.”

    I disagree, if the vast majority of his “illusions” rely on stooges, then they are not particularly clever, nor entertaining. It does not take talent, it does not show proficiency at his craft, it’s more like a movie, or a play, than a display of skill and misdirection.

    That’s my view, anyway.

  18. pretty much every single thing Derren Brown does starts with the words “This ### fuses magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship. I achieve all the results you’ll see through a varied mixture of those”

    The nutjobs who seem to think D.B is claiming cosmic powers have obviously not been paying attention. He repeatedly says “this is just a trick, showmanship, misdirection, etc.”

    Of course he pretends to use NLP when he is infact using a popular magicians technique instead. The NLP is part of the ‘misdirection’ that he repeatedly mentions. He has a book where he outlines his ideas on this misdirection, in it he posits: in the knowledge that modern audiences will try and guess ‘how it is done’ and thereby remove the sense of wonder – why not lay a few red herrings to prolong that feeling?

    If people want to see magic then they are paying for a ‘sense of wonder’, the more of it the better. He prolongs that sense for a good amount of time, and so he wins.

  19. ok, just for the heads up, here in the UK, the word ‘mentalist’ means ‘someone who suffers from mental illness’, as popularised by Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character. Referring to a stage magician/ hypnotist etc as a mentalist over here will be greeted by guffaws, just FYI.

  20. @fosta
    ‘mentalist’ has always been the term for an illusionist who uses mental gimmicks, and in the UK too. It’s just that Armando Iannucci used the word out of context to humourous effect in the Alan Partidge show. Well done to him, but mentalism was once very popular in the UK.

    “Mentalism” as a magic act was unfashionable for ten or twenty years, so that many people lost track of the primary meaning. That doesn’t mean it lost that meaning to magic fans and practicioners, just that the general public were unaware of it.

  21. I love Derren Brown. He is an incredibly funny and cleverperson. I’d love to see one of his shows, but I’d be too scared of being included in one his tricks.

  22. @22 If you disagree with that then you have a conception of magic that varies greatly from that of most other people using that term. I have an extensive magic library and the use of stooges (or at the very least a partner) is so common that it could be considered a foundational aspect of most magic and particularly mentalism.

    Regardless of whether or not he is using a stooge (I would prefer the term shill) is pretty irrelevant to the cleverness or entertaining value of his performance – those things come from the scripting and execution of the performance of the effect. Doing a billet switch is just doing a billet switch, but writing a clever story involving the switch and then acting it/creating the situation perfectly is clever and entertaining.

  23. I’m going to see him, in London. Can’t wait!

    I like the ways that he always tells his audience that he doesn’t believe that he has magical powers, so you shouldn’t either.

  24. @lizardman
    That Derren Brown intro one more time

    “This program fuses magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship. I achieve all the results you’ll see through a varied mixture of those techniques. At no point are actors or stooges used in the show.”

  25. @29 Angstrom

    One more time:

    Magicians may lie (misdirect) at any given time, protesting that they lied in an alleged disclaimer is just as silly as protesting that the levitation is really done with wires.

  26. This thread is a very telling example of how some people simply don’t understand how to approach the majority of magic shows – which may or may not be a failing on the part of magicians to create the mood in the viewers but that is another tangental discussion.

    Most magic shows are not meant to be a game of catch me trying to fool you and if that is how you approach them by looking for the wire or the stooge then you are bound to be disappointed because what the magician is trying to do is tell a story or make a point or create an experience that wherein you may be fooled but that is not the point. You will find that a great many performing magicians have a disdain for people who just do tricks to fool people rather than putting on a show where the effect is simply a theatrical tool for the story. The greatest magician ever would be one with true mystic powers who claimed to simply be doing slight of hand because as has long been said there is no such thing as a magician only actors who play magicians on stage – and DB is a magnificent actor.

  27. Just realized my numbers are all wrong in previsou posts – my one one about the definition/concept of magic was meant for what appears to be 21 now posted by AAHMYEYES

  28. so you basically want to believe that D.B uses stooges, despite his saying that he does not.

    You basis for this is your “extensive library of magic books”.

    I think that despite what you said, you have not got an extensive library of magic books, I am right about this because other people also have no magic books.

    Your logic is perfect

  29. I was once lucky enough to have a look at some Magic Circle member’s magazines from the Fifties and Sixties. Some of the tricks used audience plants, followed other very clever (and insanely hard to do) stuff. Some began ‘force your card’ i.e. make a member of the audience pick your card, followed by more very clever stuff. All required massive skill and capacity for bluff. There weren’t many easy to do ones.

  30. I saw him live and I wouldn’t be able to explain how he did some of the tricks even if the ENTIRE AUDIENCE were stooges. Really. You might think you’ve just about worked out one aspect of the trick, when he goes and turns everything upside down and leaves you gaping.

  31. Angstrom,

    I don’t want you to believe anything. I am simply pointing out that the use of stooges is fundamental to a lot of magic and particularly common for mentalism – though some very good mentalism can be done solo. My initial post on this was simply to point out that the use of stooges does not take away from magic as an art and should not be a criteria for judgement.

    I referenced my library only to support my claim that I can show a huge repository of magic that spans centuries where the use of a stooge is essential. Stooges are as much a part of magic as thumb tips. I will send you a list of titles and authors if you want or you could just get some of the basic texts yourself and see how much of mentalism tends to be billet switch or stooge.

    I do not believe that DB uses stooges having seen his some of his performances and read his published works (both the public and semi-private ones aimed at professional magicians and enthusiasts) however a magic performance disclaimer is no evidence of anything other than an attempt to get inside the audiences heads.

    You can believe what you want but if you look closely you will see we actually mostly agree in this thread

  32. No, it’s not a slight about the magic books. Magic books are cool. He’s pointing out the logic of believing something because he says something else.

    I think he’s an utterly scary man, the expressionless way he rolled a woman tied up in a sack into a lake put a shiver down the spine. He’s definitely someone to watch from a distance and avoid volunteering for ;).

  33. I saw the enigma show last night (20/4/09)at one of the chatham previews. The show was thrilling, entertaining and baffling in equal measure. He is an illusionist – define that how you like, but one way or anthoer, what appears to be happening in fact isn’t. For me, that’s what magic/so called mentalism is all about. It’s a brilliant show – buy, beg, borrow or steal tickets – he is much better live than on TV. He uses so much audience participation that I can’t see how stooges would work – I saw his last show three times – didn’t recognise any of the people. He must force choices on people, I accept that, but Derren himself claims influencing people is one of his key skills, surely that’s all part of the art?

  34. @ lizardman

    your first post to me said

    @22 If you disagree with that then you have a conception of magic that varies greatly from that of most other people using that term.

    I’m not sure what you meant by this, as my post (which you referenced) was the one where I say : Derren Brown states categorically that he does not use stooges

    So your point seemed to be: that I was wrong, and Derren Brown DOES use stooges. The reasoning being that other Mentalists use stooges.

    I also don’t understand your next comment

    Magicians may lie (misdirect) at any given time, protesting that they lied in an alleged disclaimer is just as silly as protesting that the levitation is really done with wires.

    You seem to suggest that I am “protesting he lied”. What?
    I have no problem at all with his disclaimer, are you confusing me for someone else?

    I assume that his standard disclaimer means exactly what it says no more and no less. I am neither ‘protesting’ nor ‘disappointed’ by it, because I still assume it is generally true. So, I have no idea why you are painting me as ‘disappointed and complaining’ about his disclaimer, when I actually choose to believe it.

    I referenced my library only to support my claim that I can show a huge repository of magic that spans centuries where the use of a stooge is essential

    Yes, but lets not forget that in those many centuries of magic the ‘clipboard’ was not so popular as it is now, if you get my drift.

  35. I wasn’t aware that most of what he does was trickery. I bought an ebook called “Mindreading Exposed” last year and although it was informative, it has spoilt the illusion of most of what he does.

  36. Angstrom

    as I pointed out later I used the wrong number in that post – my first post was not to you, it was to aahmyeyes in #21 but I messed up the number.

    As I said – look closely. You missed my attempt to fix that typo and our positions actually resemble each other quite a bit.

  37. I saw him lat night in bournemouth, some of his tricks were totally mind blowing! Every part of the show is fixed, highly funny! Love to know how he does it now!

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