When the BBC released Sherlock in 2010, I became obsessed with emulating the title character’s powers of deduction.
Using observation as the public-method to my magic.
It’s easy to explain mentalism away as just reading someone, or being observant.
The spectator will exclaim that it’s body language, and many mentalists profess that it is, but it rattled me to see the reactions of people when you take that away… and observation becomes the method, instead of the scape-goat.
I’ve had burley men stunned to silence and women claim they can actually feel a spiritual connection between us.
I used these newly acquired powers for evil. Blagging VIP Areas in clubs, free bottles of champagne, girls numbers and larger tips at my gigs.
When you leave no explanation, the audience chooses their own. Your refusal to dismiss it merely confirms it.
They convince themselves, and it feels more true than it ever could of been if you’d just told them.
WHAT IS OBSERVATIONAL MENTALISM TO ME?
Many men greater than me have far more work in this area than I could dream of.
To me, it’s natural and obvious. Born, like most of my original effects, through a challenge.
Often at gigs I was asked “Tell me what I’m thinking then” and I could shush that micro-heckle with a “You were thinking that you hope I can’t actually do this, so your wife doesn’t find out.”
The rest of the group would cheer and laugh and I could continue with my set.
It’s only when I started to place myself two steps ahead of my audience that gave myself an incredible advantage.
What if I told you to stack a deck of cards and perform nothing? Get a peek during performance and fail. To find a spectators card and never reveal it. You’d think it’s pointless.
Observational Mentalism, to me, is doing the dirty work for 5 effects, and performing none of them – Until the right moment.
Tailoring each reveal into an effect you’ve never performed before.
When performing at a wine bar in Swansea one evening, my next table was a group of friends that had clearly come from work. During my first 2 tricks none of them swore/cursed… Which is VERY unusual for a crowd in Swansea if you catch my drift.
I took a mental note.
Then during a key effect, I asked to borrow some keys and I noticed an owl keyring on a lady’s set of keys.
Knowing that my mother was a Teacher, and all of her gifts from her class each year were wise owl cards, keyring’s and mugs, I decided this woman must be a Teacher.
I was right.
Saving that information until after the key effect was over. I asked her to write down what she did for a living in her phone notepad.
Then moving on to performing 2 other effects for the same group… I waited.
A shark can smell a drop of blood 1 mile away, and your audience will hunt you in the same way if you wet their appetite with a trick that never comes.
Finally someone courageously comes forward as I finished my set.
“Wait, you didn’t tell us what she did for a living?”
I wrote it on a blank-backed business card and left it face down in their hand. “This doesn’t always work, so before you look at this I just want to thank you for being so lovely tonight. I have to perform for the other tables now, but feel free to grab me later if you want to see more. Have a great night.”
I walked away like a cool guy avoiding an explosion and they went nuts.
Peter Turner always says “Be bold”, and like him I was never afraid to fail.
Most of my gigs were for alcohol-infused patrons in cocktail/wine/champagne bars. They wouldn’t remember 1 failed trick out of 5 incredible ones.
I had no fear of turning a guess into a trick. Arming myself with ANY information I could to close with a moment more sincere, more real than the double lift I started with.
Forcing the situation became the answer. What tricks could I perform that made people unknowingly give me all the information I needed.
Could I ask them to make one action during an effect as a smoke-screen for another?
I began interrogating the innocent without them ever even knowing.
HOW DO I FORCE THE SITUATION?
The example I’ll use here is phones. They’re everywhere.
Observing a restaurant and you’ll see couples who look at their screens instead of into each other’s eyes.
When someone’s on their phone, others subconsciously reach for theirs too, as if they’re missing out.
Go out for dinner with a friend. Set a timer on your phone for 4 minutes and wait. When it rings pretend to deny the call and text the caller quickly to say you’re busy and will get back to them later.
Your friend will grab their own phone whilst you’re busy texting, 9 out of 10 times.
Before finger-print iPhones, they used to have to enter their passcode and I’d shoulder-surf them for it while they assumed I was too busy to notice.
Every friend, magician at a convention and family member had their passcodes saved in a notepad in my phone for the right time to reveal.
Alan Rorrison’s passcode was in my phone for an entire year before I chose to reveal it on my Eden Project DVD.
I had Pete Turner’s passcode before I’d even met him.
When performing Non-Toxic, (my version of the classic add-a-number method – follow the link to learn it) I started to force spectators to give me their codes without them ever knowing it. The trick has 2 phones in play. Theirs and mine. During the routine I was able to shoulder-surf their passcode as they opened their phone to make the call.
With the correct time-misdirection, they’ll never put 2+2 together to guess the method that you “just saw it” when they got their phone out earlier.
Revealing their passcode I swipe up on the iPhone control panel and view what song they were last listening to. Saving that information for later also. Sneaky, sneaky!
Routining your set to gather information for potential reveals is essential to getting the best from an audience. It’s often the trick that affects them the most.
Leaving an indelible mark on their perception of reality.
Can you peek the last 3 digits of a serial number on a bill in their wallet as you borrow their credit card?
Can you peek the last song they were listening to on their iPhone as you use their torch for an effect?
You’ll surprise yourself on how much more you can achieve from your performance when you force situations for observational mentalism.
HOW DO I USE IT THOUGH?
So I’ll give you 3 examples of how I use it in my current sets to give an added boost to my performance.
If I spot a passcode in performance I’ll get 2 other spectators to get their debit cards out and think of the last 4 digits of the 16 digit number on the front of each card.
Those that are familiar with mentalism will know how I reveal the first two spectators numbers.
For the 3rd spectator, I escalate and ensure their phone and purse is away. I say “What do you want me to guess, the numbers on your bank card like these 2, or your phone’s passcode?”
Everyone will dive in to tell you to guess the phone’s code and I go from there.
For all those that have attended my lectures or have the Eden Project DVD, you’ll know the way in which I reveal this. For those that don’t, and don’t know 1 of the 3 people that did attend my lecture (JK – it was more like 15) to ask them, you can learn it in my Digital Lecture Notes HERE.
Or y’know. Forget what I think and use this opportunity to take charge and create your own presentations. I believe in you.
I personally always gesture towards the middle of 4 numbers with my hands and force them to think of the third number when saying “Just think of one of the numbers in there”. Even Derren’s writer Stephen Long went for it, and he thought he was throwing me off.
Voilà. A passcode reveal using your observation that they’ll never reverse engineer.
TIP: To force someone to type in their passcode, instead of using their fingerprint, simply give them something to hold in their dominant hand. A drink, prediction or deck of cards you were using from earlier. It absolutely works and was something suggested to me by Lloyd Barnes years ago to force spectators to type their passcodes slower. (Some people were too fast to observe)
Double-tapping the home button on an iPhone when locked will give you a glimpse at the Apple Wallet.
When revealing a passcode during a routine, I do this when ‘attempting’ to gain access to their phone.
If their bank card is installed it will give you the last 4 digits of their debit/credit card. Without you ever going near their wallet.
This is something I thought I created, but it seems to be dormant information that stayed in my subconscious after a call with Lloyd Barnes. Google ‘Fourtress Lloyd Barnes’ after reading this article and he goes into detail on Youtube if you need to see it done to understand it.
Or I did create it and he stole it… Where’s my pitchfork?
Now you could turn your back, ask them to take their card out and remember the last 4 digits before putting it away. WOW.
Last Xmas at an event I saw someone had a TicketSource pass for Ice Skating coming up in November.
My reveal was “You’ve recently been wanting to get in the Xmas mood after Halloween and you’ve booked something. Something you don’t think you’re very good at. Something you don’t do often. Does this make sense?”
They nodded and I wrote down Ice Skating for the reveal, which was mind-blowing to them.
Years ago I had a routine in a PDF called Fate. I’ve adapted the routine and started to ask people to listen to a song on headphones. Any song.
Thanks to Apple Music & Spotify, this is now possible.
They pause it, lock the phone and pull the headphones out.
Promising to come back to it, I ask them to remember the song and artist as I perform a few other effects.
One of those effects is Angle Z by Daniel Madison, but with a special £5 note gimmick that reveals the corner inside the bill.
Using their phone I swipe up to access the torch and get a peek at the song they are merely thinking of. Saving that for the denouement.
I shine the torch into the bill to show the corner is clearly inside, much like holding it up to the sky to see the Queen’s face on UK bills.
Then I give them their phone back to put away. Taking the phone and any suspicion that I peeked the song away for my reveal later on.
The truth is that those tricks are presented as forgotten ones.
“Oh sorry, I almost forgot, do you still remember the song from earlier? … Let’s try this”
It’s a task or challenge that I never give an explanation for. In their head it’s not a trick I was confident in like the others I presented so surely.
For me it’s the only way to get my spectators invested in me as a person. They want me to succeed, but it’s re-framed, so in their head – they challenged me.
From now on you need to embody this ethos. A way of life that sees you noticing the car badge on a man key’s to know what car he drives. Guessing a lady’s profession by the fact that she’s wearing flat dolly shoes in Las Iguanas at 7pm on a Thursday or checking your friends pin code when he’s paying for coffee to reveal in a trick 3 months later.
The chicken and the egg paradox suggests there is no one without the other.
But the Chicken is ‘actually’ a chicken, and the egg is ‘potentially’ a chicken.
In philosophy, actuality trumps potentiality, so the Chicken came first.
Wait! What was I saying? Mmmmm Chicken. Who else it hungry now?
Anyway… In mentalism potentiality wins, hands down.
You might perform it, you might not, but you ALWAYS have to arm yourself as if you are.