Interview | Keith Barry Talks Conspiracy Theories, Sceptics and New Show Insanity
Keith Barry has hacked into my mind twice now. While priding myself as a person of logic, I believe in his brand of magic.
The first time was at a press event a couple of months ago. Barry had asked me to think of something completely random. Then by just staring into my eyes and telling me to imagine further objects related to my first thought, he correctly intuited what was in my head.
The second time was as Barry was promoting his upcoming show Insanity – touring across Ireland from December 27, 2019 to March 14, 2020. Heading into the interview, I assumed he would not remember me as our last encounter was only in passing. Instead, I’m greeted with: “We’ve met before. Come in.”
A consummate showman, Barry has a magic trick ready for me. On the desk between us is a scrabble board. He asks me to spell a word with the letter tiles and to conceal it from him. “Focus on the word – the last letter,” Barry tells me. “Can you think of an animal starting with the last letter? Don’t tell me.”
Looking at me intensely, he says: “This animal has four legs. It’s a large land-based animal. It’s grey. Are you thinking of an elephant?” I am. “Now. Focus on the word again. The scrabble pieces have numbers on them because you get points when you add them up. Do you know what your’s adds up to?” I do. Running through the numbers from one to ten quickly, Barry correctly lands on six.
“Now in your mind say the word out loud over and over again.” I comply. “More more more. Was it ‘more’?” It was. Flabbergasted once again by the mind hacker, I say: “Insane. That’s literally insanity,” to which I get reply: “Well in Insanity, I’m getting electrocuted and lobotomised. It’s a bit madder than that.”
A household name on account of his frequent appearances on TV, his 20 years touring and his work as a magic consultant for the popular Now You See Me film franchise, Barry is a different kind of magician. Rather than play up the mystical element of his profession, he is more logic driven.
On this topic, Barry says: “There’s too many people willing to be deceitful for their own gain. I’m not one of those. I am an entertainer. I use a whole load of different techniques. I use magic techniques, deceptive techniques and real techniques – hypnosis, NLP (neuro linguistic programming) – to create an evening of entertainment. I’m telling you I’m going to fool you and then I fool you. I’m not telling you I’m using any mystical powers.”
Speaking about how he developed Insanity, Barry says: “I always come up with the title of the show first. Then I do the research afterwards. I don’t like having just a potpourri of stuff thrown together. I like themes and a story arc.”
Barry landed on the concept of insanity thanks to a long-time fascination with the topic: “There’s a very thin line between genius and insanity. I investigated Edvard Munch, most famous for painting The Scream. He was in and out of mental institutions and asylums for quite a while and was getting electric shock therapy. Some of his best paintings were born out of that. Your right hemisphere becomes ignited from the electricity.”
“I’m a terrible artist which means I can never really figure out drawings or pictures that people are thinking. My right hemisphere needs to be ignited. So, every night, I’m going to electrocute it on stage – both sides of my brain, both temples. Trust me, it hurts. That’s to help me hack into people’s brains and figure out what images they are thinking of. I will be using an easel and paints, based around Munch.”
The night of the interview, Barry gave a select number of press a taster of his upcoming show – debuting the above trick. Trust us when we say, it really needs to be seen to be believed, the uncomfortable squirms of the audience followed by their insuppressible amazement at the successfully completed routine was practically palpable. Even the sceptics were left dumbfounded.
On the topic of non-believers, Barry says: “I love sceptics. Generally speaking, they’re either a husband, wife or partner. One of the couple might want to come to my show and the other person is like: ‘No. I don’t really believe in it.’ But I quite like seeing the transition of them being a sceptic at the start to not necessarily a believer at the end but knowing what they’ve seen is as genuine as it can get. There’s no stooges, actors, plants or camera tricks.”
“I remember on my last tour; I was gambling €1,000 every night depending on whether I could hack into somebody’s brain. This ardent sceptic came up determined I wasn’t going to get into his head. I basically broke into his brain and told him something about himself no one else could possibly know. It was a great reaction because he just started crying on stage. It can’t get any more real than that.”
On top of drawing inspiration from other historical figures such as Rasputin – known as ‘The Mad Monk’ – Barry will perform a routine designed around lobotomies, a controversial method of treating mental disorders developed during the Victorian era. “They used to use ice picks. They’d drive them over people’s eyeballs into their brain. Every night I have an ice pick, a person on stage and me. I don’t want to say too much more about that. I want it to be a surprise. But you can figure out where that’s going,” he jokes.
I ask has he ever been hurt before performing. “I passed out one time in the Olympia with 1,000 people watching in the middle of an escape. I had my head wrapped in clingfilm. I got winded and when I went to breath, I inhaled a mouth full of clingfilm and passed out. Also, years ago I did a stunt on TV where I was frozen in a tub of ice for 47 minutes. I was really sick for three weeks after.”
Even as I speak to him, Barry is injured: “Right now I’ve got a torn oblique muscle. I tore the muscles off my ribcage a year ago. I was training for an upside-down straight jacket escape. I’m still going to the sports surgery clinic every four weeks to try fix it.” I say I hope he ends his Insanity tour unscathed. He replies jokingly: “You never know!”
There’s also a current, contemporary edge to Barry’s new show, which he spent four months developing. “We’re in a more insane world than we’ve ever been right now for a host of different reasons,” argues Barry. “Conspiracy theories are huge – the flat Earth theory, the chemtrails. People don’t know what to believe anymore and rightly so. You’ve got these deep fake things going on. Is it really Donald Trump talking or is it just some robot? Who knows? It’s interesting. I have a whole routine based around conspiracy theories. Every night we create one in the show.”
One wonders as he speaks whether Barry has any belief in the conspiracy theories he mentions: “I believe I have a healthy level of scepticism mixed with ‘okay, there could be some truth to some of these things.”
Elaborating, Barry applies his brand of logic that separates his type of magic from contemporaries: “Chemtrails are bullshit. I don’t believe the government are trying to control us by planes dropping chemicals. It’s just not a viable method. If you’re going to control people, it should be through a water source. We all drink water. That’s viable. But I love questioning and researching.”
Other topics the show will devote time to are artificial intelligence and the U.S. Military’s attempts to employ psychic powers as a weapon. Meanwhile, like many of Barry’s other tours there will be lots of chances for participation.
“In the second half, I turn the tables on the audience. I explain that everyone has about 400 impulsive intrusive thoughts per day, insane thoughts we are not in control of. I get the audience consciously to think of weird wacky things that they’ve either done or they want to do or even dreams that they’ve had. Then I throw a catch box into the audience. Whoever catches it I must try and hack into their brain and figure out their crazy thought, much to the hilarity of everybody else of course.”
Sensing my next question, Barry states: “I know from previous experience people will say: ‘That seems really interesting but I’m never going to that show for fear of landing on stage’. This is where the Insanity show differs than anything I’ve done in 20 years. We’re going to have 500 meters of tin foil outside the front door. If you want, you can grab a metre and create your own tin foil hat.”
“Of course, that’s said tongue-in-cheek. Tin foil hats don’t really do anything. But it means that you opt out. I won’t go anywhere near you. But if you are not wearing a tin foil hat, it means you opt into the show and that I might use you in a demonstration. I quite like getting sceptics onstage so I encourage them to come and not wear a hat.”
For the full list of dates and to purchase tickets for Keith Barry’s Insanity tour, visit Ticketmaster.ie