“Putting down roots in Vegas is my dream, but its always great to come home”
He is banned from every casino in Las Vegas. Fact. He can, medically proven, I might add, make his heart stop. Fact. He can send people to places they’d never dream of – at least in front of a full theatre, that is. Fact. And he’s damn good at what he does.
Keith Barry asks me to draw a picture of a household object at the end of our interview at the Tower Hotel on Wednesday last. I duly oblige, then, at his behest, scrumple up the page I’d torn out of a notepad he had produced from his coat pocket.
“Now close your eyes,” Keith asks, shining a mini-torch over both of my lowered eyelids.
He then asks me to open my eyes and look directly at him, raising his left hand towards my temple. It’s the first time that a cynic like me has had his mind read.
He opens a fresh page on his black-covered notepad and begins to draw, glancing at me as he does, which he completes in about 90 seconds. I’m then asked to uncrumple my drawing – which is of a clock, with its hands roughly in the three o’clock position.
“Any reason you had them in that position,” Keith asks. “No,” I reply. “I did it without thinking, to be honest.”
He then hands me his drawing, which leaves me dumbfounded. Keith has drawn a clock, its hands in the three o’clock position.
“That’s pretty amazing that you drew that time,” he adds. “Because my daughter was born at a minute to three.”
With my tape recorder and pen decommissioned prior to the trick, the most interesting moment of our half-hour chat had just transpired. It leaves me stumped; something audiences at Keith’s shows have become well-accustomed to in recent years.
His ‘Direct from Vegas’ show, which he performed to Waterford audiences to great acclaim back in January, has been packing them in around the country in recent weeks.
Last weekend alone in Portlaoise, some 1200 punters (this reporter among them) took in a show which, during his six-week Vegas residency in Planet Hollywood last year, left US audiences wowed.
This month-and-a-half long run also caught the critics’ eye and in Las Vegas terms, this is big news. Big, big news.
“I’ve just been named the ‘Best Magician in Vegas’ and that’s awarded by the Las Vegas Review Journal and, actually I’m more happy about that than the Merlin Award I was presented with in January,” said Keith.
“Now there are magicians that have been based out there for years, guys like Penn and Teller, Lance Burton and so on – and they were all officially nominated for the award, and I was thrilled to be in their company.
“Shows in Vegas are made or broken based on the Vegas Review and I was named the critics’ choice, which is great as I’m not even there at the moment. I’m due to go back later this year but it’s nice to think that my six-week stint made such an impact.”
When Keith returns to Vegas, his residency comes with an ‘open-ended’ run. This is, potentially, the big career break that he has striven for since the early days of his magic career.
“When I go back out there in August, I’m going to able to put on my billboards ‘Officially, the best magician in Vegas’, which is just huge because there’s 30 different magicians over there at any given time. To be able to claim that title is huge for me.”
The Vegas award is the second gong which the Waterford magician has picked up this year, the other being the aforementioned Merlin Award for ‘Mentalist of the Year’. Keith also explained the significance of this award.
Continued on me7
“It’s huge,” he continued. “You don’t even know that you’re nominated, that’s the funny thing; it is almost like the Oscars of magic.
“But unlike the Oscars, no one knows who has been nominated or who hasn’t been – it’s all kept very secret, very much in keeping with the secretive world of magic.
“The International Magicians’ Society, which presents the Merlin, is the biggest society of its kind in the world – it has 37,000 members and its board of directors internally nominate a few people from around the world for the award.
“And then, out of the blue, it’s presented to the winner – and that happened to me in the Olympia back in January. We had a packed house, about 1200 people in and [Society] President Tony Hassini set it up with my manager Eamonn [Maguire].
“He came on halfway during the show and presented me with the Merlin Award for Mentalist of the Year. By the way, a mentalist is someone who specialises in mind magic, so that’s the easiest way of putting it. So yeah, I’m Mentalist of the Year, which sounds very nice even saying it now!”
So what does ‘Direct from Vegas’ hold in store for its destined to be captivated Forum audience this weekend?
“Well, there’ll be a lot more hypnosis-type stuff and one or two really strange things,” Keith told The Munster Express.
A real heart stopper
“For instance, I stop my heart on stage. What’s funny is I did a promotion lately for the Irish Heart Foundation about defibrillators and I was just saying to Eamonn that I could do with one of those on standby in case I don’t come back!
“I genuinely can slow down my pulse rate and stop my heart. I’ve learned how to do it. I get a doctor or nurse up from the audience – there’s always one or two at every show.
“They take my pulse, take my heart rate, I slow it down and then I tell them all sorts of stuff about a dead loved one of theirs that I couldn’t have known in advance, which is a bit spooky and weird for them.”
Keith is adamant about his ‘heart stopper’, which is a far cry from concealing a card or playing a mind trick.
“People wonder is it a trick or an illusion. It’s not. Every day I’ve had to train to slow my heart rate down, to stop it. I can genuinely do it…
“I actually flatlined in Cedars Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles on one of their machines, which proved I was doing it for real.” Rather you than me, Mr Barry!
While Keith is now growing accustomed to cheating death in front of an audience, he is not afraid of sending one or two audience members to heaven, so to speak.
“I did a show in Limerick last week and I decided that, whatever came in to my head, I was going to get people on stage to do whatever I wanted them to do.
“So I had people having full-blown multiple orgasms on stage; there were girls screaming their heads off. Anyone whose hand I shook, I told them they were going to have an orgasm and it was just hilarious. The only thing was I got men to have orgasms as well, which wasn’t so great for me – so every night is different from that respect!”
And what’s this about being banned from casinos in the world’s gambling capital?
“I show why I’m banned in the live show,” Keith explained, his card trickery soon to be played out to me.
“I demonstrate how it’s possible to memorise a shuffled pack of cards in order in less than 20 seconds and then explain how to do it to the audience so that they can go home and start practicing. Memorising the cards is probably the most difficult thing; it’s really, really hard and it all comes down to practice.
“It took me about a year to perfect and that means practicing every day for two hours. My days are structured. I mean, I never take a day off.”
Never taking a day off must be quite tiring, but there’s got to be something he does during his day to steer his mind away from all things magical. Right?
“Well, I find it almost impossible to turn off. It’s like a lifestyle; it’s not really a job. I do find myself working more than anyone else I know.
“Eighteen to 20 hour days are nothing unusual to me – it’s my normal day. I’d never get more than six hours’ sleep.”
Keith continued: “At night-time, when everyone else is going to bed, I’m up developing stuff, taking conference calls to the States as I’ve got to keep that moving along. I’m always coming up with new material.
“As for the only time I ever really switch off? After about 17 years, I’ve taken up fishing up again over the last 12 months. The other day I went to Kilcoole in Wicklow with my Dad and for six hours, all I thought about was catching a fish!
“I’ll be bringing down the rods with me next week and I’ll be hoping to get out to Tramore or Dunmore.
“I know I need to switch off. I’ve got a seven-month-old at home as well now so between work and herself, I’m on the go constantly, so it’s nice to be able to switch off every once in a while. Now I’m not very good at it mind you, I have to admit that, but I really enjoy it.”
As our conversation proceeded, one thing became abundantly clear: Keith Barry doesn’t do boredom. There’s always something occupying his mind, be it the upcoming shows, his Vegas ambitions or a new trick.
“My days are spent practicing, rehearsing and coming up with new stuff,” he said.
“For example, the latest thing I’m working on is to solve a Rubix’s Cube, but then I want to solve it blindfolded, but then I want to solve the Rubix’s Cube blindfolded whilst memorising a deck of cards at the same time. And that’s just to prove one simple point: that men can multitask!”
Homework is a big part of a magician’s business, with research a vital component for any competent practitioner. For an entertainer of Keith’s acumen, it’s a given.
“Let’s just say if you know where to get things, you can get them. I researched CIA brainwashing documents that I shouldn’t even be able to get my hands on!”
He then takes me back 17 years to an Irish class of his in Mount Sion and a moment that literally altered the destination of a friend’s life.
“I hypnotised a classmate called David Burke, and there and then he decided to be a hypnotherapist, and now he’s practicing as a full-time hypnotherapist, a very good one too I’m happy to add.
“He’s got some underground stage hypnosis DVDs ago that some guy from America did 30 years ago which I’ve never even heard of so I’m going to collect them today.”
Constantly researching, constantly practicing, Keith is constantly honing his act and he feels his powers of hypnosis have improved considerably over the past year.
“You’ve got to see what works for people and then alter those techniques because hypnosis is a very personal thing,” he said. “You need to alter all the techniques to make it fit your own personality.
“That’s why a lot of people who try hypnotherapy and get nothing out of it say it fails, that it doesn’t work. I don’t see it like that.
“It doesn’t work if the hypnotherapist isn’t that good because they just learn it online on a six-week course and then go out and label themselves as hypnotherapists.
“But they don’t actually understand the ins and outs of human psychology and how to use it. Whereas somebody like me, who has been at it for so long, now I understand what works and what doesn’t work and then I can apply it to what I do onstage.”
Speaking of the stage, and given his considerable experience in front of US and domestic audiences, Keith conceded that there are differences between audiences on either side of the Atlantic.
“Definitely a difference,” he begins.
“The main difference, I feel, is that American audiences are, I think, more gullible. They’re willing to swallow any old bullshit that you sell them, that’s being straight with you.
“Whereas here we’ve got a healthy level of scepticism; like I’m sceptical of everything. I don’t believe in psychics, I don’t believe in tarot cards, any of that kind of stuff so I’m sceptical myself.”
A magician who is himself a sceptic? Good grief. As a punter, and a somewhat glass half empty kinda guy, I’m relived to hear such an admission.
“So when I go out in front of an audience I actually hope that they’re not going to believe anything I tell them as I enjoy a healthy level of scepticism,” adds Keith.
“But then I like bringing them to the other side and leave them sitting in the audience wondering ‘what the hell just happened there’, ‘did you see that’, when they can see a doctor on the stage freaking out when he can’t get my pulse, etc.
Dealing with sceptics
“I like seeing the transition from scepticism right over to someone almost becoming a believer.
“Now I’ve also got to deal with anyone thinking I might have stooges or plants in the audience. Well, over the course of the show I’ll have 35 people on the stage – if I’d that many plants I’d need a bus to bring them around the country with me.
“I throw a frisbee into the audience to select a participant so if a frisbee lands on you, near you or next to you, you’re up on stage, whether you like it or not and that’s to prove I’ve got no stooges. So if you come to the show, you should anticipate ending up on the stage.”
So, to anyone attending one of Keith’s shows for the first time this weekend, you have been warned!
Due to film next month with the Discovery Channel in the States (”I’d love to do more with RTE – but the ball is firmly in their court”), Keith doesn’t socialise too much with fellow magicians. And he’s got his reasons.
“There’s a lot of talk in the magic world about a brotherhood, ‘one for all and all for one’ and all that. But to be honest, that’s a load of nonsense. It’s the biggest back-biting industry you’ve ever come across in your life.
“I don’t really socialise with magicians at all. Now I do go to the odd magic convention but because they’re so big you can pick and choose who you’re hanging out with.
“Now don’t get me wrong, I love magic and I love interacting with certain magicians but for the most part I do my best to steer clear of them.”
The dream to set up a permanent base in Vegas remains Keith’s ultimate ambition. But if that does transpire (and fingers crossed it will), he won’t be forgetting where he came from any time soon.
“I don’t think I’d ever not tour or entertain at home as long as people are interested in seeing what I do,” he said.
“It’s always great to come home and especially in front of a Waterford audience. But I think it makes sense to eventually base myself there as opposed to the other way around.”
Keith continued: “My dream has always been to play Vegas on a permanent basis and that dream is getting closer and closer.
“August looks like being my big chance to make it in Vegas or not, to break it properly and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll come home, if it does, I’ll still be coming home to perform.
“So this year and next year are shaping up to be very exciting years for me to see if I’ll end up breaking the States or not.”
And if Keith does make it? Sure it’d just be magic, wouldn’t it?
‘Keith Barry: Direct From Vegas’ runs at the Forum on April 17th and 18th.
For full story see The Munster Express newspaper or
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