Magic ticked all the boxes for me — I felt in con­trol. The sort of peo­ple whom I had been in­ti­mated by, re­sponded to it very strongly. That gave me a real im­pe­tus

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His “gim­mick”, he feels, is that he doesn’t re­ally have a gim­mick. Ma­gi­cians who in­vest in their stage per­sona are doomed, Brown is in­clined to think, to a short ca­reer. Peo­ple may ini­tially en­joy your shtick — the cos­tumes and the melo­drama. Even­tu­ally they see through it. And then what do you have?

“You can’t re­ally talk about the stuff that makes it in­ter­est­ing — which is the method [i.e. the tricks]. Most of them try to play the part of be­ing in­ter­est­ing,” he elab­o­rates. “There’s a lot of pos­tur­ing in magic — try­ing to be the se­ri­ous fig­ure. Which is silly as peo­ple know it’s pos­tur­ing.

“The ones who have had real longevity have never suf­fered from that. Penn and Teller, the Amer­i­can ma­gi­cians, have had an in­cred­i­ble ca­reer and it’s never been about them­selves — they’ve never tried to look mys­te­ri­ous or in­ter­est­ing. Their agenda has al­ways been about other things.”

Hav­ing achieved suc­cess in Ire­land and Bri­tain, Brown has re­cently looked to the United States. He’s work­ing on a spe­cial for Net­flix, due later this year. The stream­ing Go­liath re­cently repack­aged his 2016 Chan­nel 4 one-off, Pushed to the Edge, which ex­plored the phe­nom­e­non of “so­cial com­pli­ance” by con­sid­er­ing whether a mem­ber of the pub­lic could be talked into bundling a man off the roof of a build­ing.

Pushed to the Edge — re­named Der­ren Brown’s The Push for Net­flix — was con­tro­ver­sial. The guinea pig, a sin­cere, anx­ious type named Chris Kingston, is shown un­der enor­mous strain as he is pres­sured into giv­ing the stranger a lethal shove (when he ul­ti­mately re­fuses to, it is re­vealed that three pre­vi­ous par­tic­i­pants went all the way). Watch­ing it, you might be sur­prised he and Brown, who is ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for his or­deal, have since be­come friends.

Along with ev­ery­thing else, The Push also feels creep­ily pre­scient. In 2016, so­cial com­pli­ance was some­thing we as­so­ci­ated with the past.

How­ever, Brown’s tacit warn­ing against al­low­ing oth­ers do your think­ing for you has ac­quired an edge in the age of Don­ald Trump and Brexit, with its chill­ing mantra “the will of the peo­ple”.

“It was orig­i­nally done a cou­ple of years ago, be­fore the world be­came a much stranger place,” he nods.

“So­cial com­pli­ance didn’t quite have the res­o­nance it does now. The po­lit­i­cal res­o­nances were at the time very faint and his­tor­i­cal. But now it feels much more rel­e­vant.”

Brown is, for once, not the only ma­gi­cian in the head­lines. David Cop­per­field was re­cently in court giv­ing ev­i­dence in a case brought by a Bri­tish man who claims he was hurt dur­ing one of Cop­per­field’s il­lu­sions. When it comes to vol­un­teers, Brown says he feels a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity and main­tains an on­go­ing re­la­tion­ship — first be­cause he has be­come friends with th­ese peo­ple but also be­cause he be­lieves he owes it to them. They’ve gone through a lot — it would be wrong to sim­ply cut th­ese in­di­vid­u­als loose.

“There are jour­nal­ists out there who are al­ways con­vinced the whole thing is fake,” he says.

“They try to get hold of th­ese peo­ple and ask what might seem like a per­fectly in­no­cent ques­tion and then turn the story around, which is frus­trat­ing.

“You want to pro­tect them from all of that in­tru­sion. Though the shows look quite dark, peo­ple al­ways have such a great time. That’s why we keep in touch af­ter I’ve put them through th­ese ex­tra­or­di­nary things.”

The Best of Der­ren Brown: Un­der­ground runs at Dublin’s Gai­ety Theatre May 15 un­til May 19 and at Cork Opera House May28un­tilMay31

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