How to perform surgery on your friends

It certainly looks gruesome, but remember folks: it’s NOT REAL!

Would you let someone operate on you with their bare hands, even if you were totally relaxed and told you wouldn’t feel a thing? Nor me – but weirdly, some people believe ‘psychic surgery’ is real. It’s one of the few daft practices that is genuinely dangerous; if the patient believed the practitioner really had removed a tumour, for example, they could miss out on life-saving surgery and get very ill indeed.

It can look quite convincing. But as realistic as the blood and guts might seem when the ‘surgeon’ apparently plunges their hand deep into the subject’s abdomen, I can assure you it’s all sleight of hand!

And it can make a powerful impression even if you know it’s faked. Watch the effect I had on some of the onlookers in this video:
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Could you do the firewalk?

You’ve probably seen performers doing the ancient firewalk routine – they get a bed of coals burning hot, then stroll over it like it’s nothing. It’s one of those tropes that turns up everywhere and has almost become a corporate team-building cliche. Remember this, on The (US) Office?

 

It was an empowering experience from Pam, just as it’s still a rite of passage for dozens of cultures around the globe.

But what’s really going on? There’s quite a lot of debate about how firewalking works. Some scientists say it’s all about water: if your feet are wetted before the walk, you could get ash building up to create a protective barrier. Or maybe years of practice just make for hard calloused feet that can’t feel pain. However it works, it’s definitely not one to try at home! Look at this Mythbusters clip – and weep! Continue reading

Magic’s great seducers

TOWIE’s Mark Wright is a modern day Casanova

Why do birds suddenly appear every time Lance Burton is near? (There are some videos around of me doing worse things to doves). Magic and romance have often gone together, and the results are usually pretty cheesy I have to say… from David Copperfield’s billowing blouses and wind machines to pick-up artists with their ‘peacocking’ mantra, which seems to involve wearing a giant hat and dressing like a pirate while doing conjuring tricks.

Luckily it is just about possible to create enchanting and mysterious art without being (too) weird and creepy. Check out Lance Burton’s amazing dove work in this video…

The Art of Influence

Don Draper: selling people things they didn’t know they wanted

A big part of magic is understanding how people think, so most magicians are really interested in psychology – and I’m no exception. People are always going to be unpredictable, that’s why they’re so interesting! But understanding why they do the things they do, and guiding their thoughts in certain directions – on or off stage – is sometimes just a case of knowing the techniques. And it can be especially useful if you have something major you’re trying to sell, like a house or a car.

Every hypnotist knows that in the battle of willpower versus imagination, imagination will always win. Have you noticed how estate agents always say things like “When you have friends round you could sit out on the patio here,” and “This could be your kid’s room”? It’s all about getting us to vividly picture ourselves in the house and is not too far from what a hypnotist does. Appeal to their imagination every time, and you can get people feeling positive about almost anything.

If you’re trying to sell something, it’s really important to tailor your pitch to the person you’re selling to. People like different things about cars, for example a gadget geek might be interested in the tech while someone else might prefer the speed or the finish. Listen to what they’re telling you, rather than making assumptions.

I’ve found that body language isn’t really a great guide to what people are thinking. In my experience, staying in the moment and being intuitive is much better than trying to analyse physical signals.

You can read more tips like these in this interview I did with WIRED magazine last year. The Wikipedia page on Persuasion has a lot of interesting stuff on it, too.

Penn And Teller: Fool Us Friday 7th Jan 9:00pm ITV1

This Friday Jonathan Ross hosts Penn and Teller: Fool us on ITV1. The idea is Britain’s best magicians are invited to do a trick which will fool Penn and Teller. Any magician that can fox them will get to perform in their Live Las Vegas show.
Obviously it’s a good hook to get a variety magic show back on primetime telly. In my case they rang me up and said they had a shortage of unusual stage magic and they’d heard about my chicken and duck routine. So I dug out the Bill Smith boxes, gave them a clean and got down to business.
 
They also asked if I’d do my water tank routine for the VT section of the show. So we shot it in my mum’s garden and it was minus four outside!!! Bloody freezing:
 

Actual photo of Dedi performing his version of Derren Brown's Russian roulette routine - Well prepared should it go wrong.

 
The Chicken and duck routine is based on the oldest recorded magic trick in the world performed by ancient Egyptian magician, Dedi.  In the Westcar Papyrus he reattached various severed heads of birds and then resurrected them.
 
The idea of swapping the heads over was apparently  performed in the middle ages where the method was: they actually chopped the heads off the animals!!! I’d liked to have seen that.
 
The tongue in cheek comedy routine I performed on the show was first evolved by Servais Le Roy when he worked with Bosco who used to swap the heads over on two Doves: One white and one black one. Apparently it was the strongest layman reaction trick in the show and when they teamed up  Le Roy  suggested using a cockerel and Duck to make it more visual. And so evolved this shocking yet funny routine.
Very few performers have done the act which is exactly why I wanted to do it. I love researching ancient ideas and making them work. Mind you, after touring with a duck and a chicken and three assistants I now know why people don’t do it. It plays big but packs massive!! I had to change cars to take it on tour. Also as a routine it requires loads of co-ordination between the performer and assistants who have to be as “on it” as the magician. Luckily I have my wonderful assistants Tia and Charlotte.
 
During my Edinburgh show I performed this routine as my opener and did it as “The Enchanter” character  – A seventies cruise ship magician.

The Enchanter

Of course it’s a bit alternative to do the routine as that character for prime time ITV1 but I think I still managed to do it in an ironic cheesy way – inspired by Steve Martin’s character ‘Tony Flydini’.
If you watch carefully I even drop in a little  “De Matos skip” as I shimmy to the boxes. Penn and Teller: Fool us,  ITV1 Friday 7th January 9pm

Magicians and their Fashion choices

What is it with magicians and fashion? The two just don’t go together. Most magicians struggle to look even remotely stylish. It’s all about the uniform of dinner-jacket and white shirt and occasionally a wacky coloured bow-tie if the magician is feeling “zany” . I guess magicians are too busy practising in their bedrooms to keep up to date with “the new black”.

David Copperfield Polar neck chic

The only alternative to the dinner jacket is the David Copperfield polar-neck (mind you, credit to him -David can really work that look!)

And I know jacket sleeves have to be rolled up so the audience can see we’re not “cheating” but that’s why we all look like we’ve stepped off the set of Miami Vice.

Don Johnson working his magic in Miami Vice

Actually Miami Vice is wishful thinking- it’s more Eighties Game show host- think Les Dennis Family Fortunes circa 1982.

Now I’m not saying that I’m any different- I’ve been wearing the same outfit since 1997. Although I would like to have a go at the David Copperfield  polar neck look …maybe this year…

Coming Down to the Farnham Maltings

Hey all,

I’m gearing up for tomorrow’s show in Surrey. I’ll be performing for an hour at the gig; it’s great, the feeling of tour mode is beginning to kick in for me! Come and check out my new tricks tonight at the Farnham Maltings @ 8pm!

Ali x