Derren Brown randomly went to a hypnotist’s show when he was 18—and it changed his life. Here, the master illusionist reveals the fascinating psychology behind his incredible skills, and magic at large.
PSYCHOLOGICAL ILLUSIONIST / ARTIST / AUTHOR
ILLUSION / HYPNOTISM / MAGIC / AUTHOR / SECRET / BROADWAY / THE PUSH / SACRIFICE / NETFLIX / FAILURE / BRISTOL UNIVERSITY / MARTIN TAYLOR / STEPHEN FRY / JOE ROGAN / JIMMY FALLON
No spoilers, but: Derren Brown is not magic. And the magician tends to volunteer that information up front. He’s not a fan of “psychics” and fortune tellers and is fond of debunking his very act—or rather, calling it what it is. For Brown is as much illusionist as he is psychologist and apt student (master?) of human behavior.
After growing up in Surrey, Brown was studying law and German at Bristol University when he began to develop a taste for the type of work that would color his career. Card tricks led him to take a deeper look at the mind games at play behind all the sleight-of-hand, and that is precisely where Brown dug in and set himself brilliantly apart.
Twenty years ago, he partnered with Channel Four to develop his debut television program Derren Brown: Mind Control, and it became an instant hit—specials followed, and the U.K. followed along as Brown collectively blew the minds of everyone from cab drivers to celebrities on screen with his antics.
As time has passed, Brown seems to have eased back a bit from his swashbuckling bad-boy persona and into perhaps a more genuine version of himself—affable, charming, still terrifyingly talented—where we find the illusionist and artist today on Design Matters.
All told, his work must be seen to be believed. So here, we offer six ways to do just that—beginning with highlights from the shows that made him a household name in the U.K., and concluding with more recent appearances, and his stimulating TED Talk—where he reveals a bit of the process behind all of our magical thinking.
—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief
“Top 10 Unbelievable Derren Brown Moments” (Note: Most of these can be individually viewed in full on YouTube after)
Your mind can play tricks on you, but this is something else. For this list, we're counting down the best, weirdest, most incredible, most memorable, most amazing and mind-bending moments from Derren Brown's long list of fan-favourite TV shows. From kittens to zombies, with special guests in the shape of Simon Pegg and Stephen Fry, this illusionist is one of the most remarkable, inexplicable performers on television.
“Russian Roulette” (The No. 1 moment from the video above—in full, in all its frightening, palm-sweating tension)
Along with his chosen contestant, Derren plays Russian Roulette live on TV.
“Derren Brown Demonstrates How He Wins At Black Jack”
Not hard to understand why he's banned from so many casinos.
“Derren Brown Blows James Corden's Mind Again”
Psychological illusionist Derren Brown shocks James and the Studio 56 audience with only a pair of dice, a series of numbers, and 45 grains of rice.
“Magician Derren Brown Guesses Jimmy Fallon’s Crush and Hypnotizes Questlove”
Derren Brown shows how he reads minds and influences people by playing a magical version of Guess Who? with Jimmy and Questlove.
“Mentalism, Mind Reading and the Art of Getting Inside Your Head: A TED Talk”
“Magic is a great analogy for how we edit reality and form a story—and then mistake that story for the truth," says psychological illusionist Derren Brown. In a clever talk wrapped around a dazzling mind-reading performance, Brown explores the seductive appeal of finding simple answers to life's complex and subtle questions.
And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both. — Debbie Millman