Having been rather fascinated by the work of Derren Brown, I did a detailed breakdown of one of his routines. Here’s the video.

I wrote out all of the dialog for the four segments of the video. The subway noise makes it difficult to get every word, but it should be substantially complete with no meaningful omissions. I’ve also included (in parentheses) the physical actions that Brown is taking whilst doing his routine. It’s hard to write in every detail, but I’ve included what seemed substantial and meaningful to the routine.

Opening dialogue:

All of us can be influenced through psychological techniques. For example, if I say “Don’t think of a black cat.”,  what do you do? You think of a black cat because the command “think of a black cat” was there in the sentence. Techniques like this can be used to influence people’s thoughts, behavior, even their memory.

First subject:

(DB faces the subject and taps him on the shoulder. He is standing up, looking down at the seated subject.)

DB: Excuse me, sir. We’re doing a documentary on, ah, the underground. Can I ask you what stop you’re getting off at.

Subject: Warren Street.

DB: Pardon.

Subject: Warren Street.

DB: Warren Street, excellent.  Can I sit with you just for two seconds? Is that alright?

(DB sits down as he is asking the question, before the subject finishes answering, and touches him on the forearm. He sits sideways in the seat, quite close to the subject. He looks directly at him while starting the next line.)

DB: The documentary is sort of about how easily trains of thought (moves his hand in front of S’s face) can become confused and you can have a piece of information that you know that you should know (touches his forearm again with left hand and then moves the same hand up quickly in front of the subject’s eyes then with the right hand waves across S’s face a couple of times) and suddenly it’s just literally gone from your mind like that.

DB: So what was the stop you were getting off at? (waves his right hand, palm out,  in front of the subject’s face while saying this.)

DB: Look at me. What was the stop you were getting off at? (another hand sweep min front of the face.)

DB: You see it up there?

DB: What was it?

S: Don’t know. Ummm. Just trying to find it in my..

DB: Look, you’ve got it. What is it? (taps him on the forehead with one finger and does a tongue click.)

S: Warren Street.

DB: Warren Street. Very good.

Subject speaking afterwards:

I don’t know what he did. He just sort of got…ahh… and then I couldn’t remember where I was supposed to be getting off at.

Second subject:

(They’re both standing on the subway in this one. He starts talking to her, they are facing each other and looking at each other eye to eye. Her hand is on the subway pole (whatever those things are called that people hang onto to keep from falling over). His hand is on the same pole, above hers. In this segment the cameraman is shooting from behind his shoulder, so it’s a bit harder to see all of his hand movements and expressions.)

DB: May I ask you what stop you’re getting off at?

S: Euston.

DB: Euston, excellent. You know when you have something  (he waves his right hand below eye level) on the tip of your tongue and you know that you should know what it is and then it just goes. Now if you think about it, what stop thinking about it now, what stop were you going to get off at? (waves his right hand in front of her face from right to left.) What stop thinking about it now, what was it? (another wave, right to left again.)

S: Hyde Park? Just…

DB: What is it?

DB: Leicester Square?

S: It’s on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t remember it. It’s near…central…

DB: Yeah, or King’s Cross?

S: Na, I can see the sign.

DB. Yeah.

S: But I can’t…

DB: Is it weird?

S: Yeah.

DB: Look, there it is. What is it? (touches two fingers of his right hand to her forehead.)

S: Euston.

DB: Euston. What was that like? Was that strange?

S: It ‘s strange, I usually have a good memory.

DB: It was on the tip of your tongue wasn’t it?

Third subject:

(DB is standing up and the subject is seated.)

DB: May I ask you what stop you’re getting off at?

S: Charing Cross.

DB: Charing Cross? What are you going to go and do there? Anything interesting?

S: Take the train.

DB: Take the train? Yeah, so do you mind if I sit here for two seconds? (DB sit down as he asks, before the subject can answer. Rests his hand briefly on the guy’s shoulder. He sits sideways, quite close to the subject.)

DB: It’s a documentary about how easily trains of thought can become confused. (DB looks away in the same direction as the subject, no eye contact, and waves outstretched hand back and forth.) You can look at the signs, just kind of literally would go past, (re-establishes eye contact with the subject.) too quickly to literally spot what it says and when you think about it, (puts both hands together in front of the subject’s face and moves them quickly apart.) it’s just gone, far too quickly. So if you really think about it now, (puts his left hand on the guy’s shoulder.) what stop, thinking about it, what stop thinking about it, were you getting off at? (moves right hand from right to left across the subject’s field of vision.) What was the stop? (repeats the movement of the right hand.)

S: Charing Cross.

DB: Charing Cross? Excellent.

Fourth subject:

(In this segment DB is seated directly across from the subject, facing him. The cameraman is seated right beside DB so it’s not always easy to see all of his movements. DB is leaning forwards towards the subject.)

DB: The stop you were getting off at was?

S: Archway.

DB: Archway, excellent. And you’re, sorry, visiting a friend there?

S: Yeah. Visiting a friend there, yeah.

DB: You got a good memory?

S: Yeah, I have a very good memory, yeah.

DB: So, ah, what stop thinking about it now, what stop thinking about it now, what stop were you getting off at? (DB seeps his right hand with two fingers extended across the subject’s field of vsion three times.)

DB: What was the stop? (repeats the same movement once more.)

DB: Do you remember why you’re going there?

S: To visit a friend’s…

DB: To visit a friend? And where is it, what stop?

DB: Is that weird? It must be strange.

S: Spooky.

DB: Yeah, you remember your friend?

S: Oh yeah.

DB: can you picture his house? Where does he live? Look. (DB taps him on the forehead with three fingers and makes that tongue click noise.)

S: Archway.

DB: Archway. Oh, this is Archway now. You better get…

DB: Sorry you missed the stop. Will he wait here if you catch a…

S: I’m supposed to meet him at quarter to 12. I‘m late as it is.

From what i can tell it’s all about leading distracting, confusing and suggesting. There’s no magic invisible hand that reaches into the center of anyone’s mind and yanks things out.

It’s also interesting to note that he never repeats the routine exactly the same way. He adapts the routine to the changing circumstances that he faces (within the limits of a subway) and manages to give it a certain amount of naturalness, of flow. Charmless, rote repetition of this sort of routine is pretty unlikely to work, even though a certain amount of repetition and practice would be required.

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