Magic is a practice amply revered around the world, its audiences often enticed by the flair, the flamboyance and the lure of the unknown. Frequently feared and misunderstood, perhaps part of its appeal, the now household name, Keith Barry was no exception to resisting the charm of sorcery. We caught up with the Dublin native to chat about the struggles of breaking the industry, his current tour, Deception, and how he stays so positive in the public eye.
Words by Rebecca Reilly
After receiving the gift of a magic set at the tender age of five, a tradition was instilled and Keith would open a magic set every Christmas morning thereafter. “My interest began at a very young age,” he recalls. “I practiced magic constantly from the moment I discovered it. Then I went to Scotland when I was 14 on a school trip and found a book on magic that was fully kitted with props. I learned every single trick in that book and immediately started performing at everything from kids parties, to weddings and corporate events. That’s really when I started performing in public.” This obsession with magic meandered into an interest in hypnosis, an art form the brain hacker soon incorporated into his acts. After graduating with an Honours Degree in Chemistry from NUIG, the budding magician took a residency in Kitchen Nightclub, a celebrity hotspot, a gig that snowballed his career.
“You will always have detractors, sceptics and people who simply don’t like you.”
THE ART OF RESILIENCE
Like every artist, the climb to the top is not without its grapples, but the hypnotist maintains a tenacious mindset is fundamental to success, alongside a strong belief and vested interest in your art. “It’s always a struggle for any artist. I jumped into this full time at the age of 23, that was 19 years ago. I was living in a run-down flat in the middle of Dublin. The phone wasn’t ringing. I was doing kids parties, I was the kids’ entertainer on the ferries from Rosslare to France. Then I went to the States where I was trying to find an agent, I was in debt and I had countless doors slammed in my face. I still do! You will always have detractors, sceptics and people who simply don’t like you – either what you do, or your personality. That’s made abundantly clear on social media streams. You have to be resilient. It started as a struggle and it’s always going to be a struggle, but it’s about your mindset and how you react to it.” This buoyant attitude has not been an easy feat to master, explains the 42-year-old. Education has a lot to answer for when it comes to being a positive person. “I’ve worked hard to train my mindset, and it was not easy,” he confesses. “I am a normal person and stuff is going to get on top of me. But I have educated myself on the power of the subconscious brain, the power of the mind and visualisation tactics. Because of that, for the most part, I am able to control my subconscious brain where our anxieties and worries lie.”
THE DECEPTION TOUR
This pursuit of education, and his love of art, has led to a whole host of shows that Keith has constructed over the years, as he leans upon his innovation to keep his ideas fresh. “I just explore that creative side regularly. With the current show, Deception, I examine the deceptive world around us – cults, brainwashing and conspiracy theories. That gets my juices flowing and allows me to come up with a whole host of demonstrations based around those topics. Each year I pick a theme, so next year could be based around psychics, or the occult. I just find a topic that interests me. If I am fresh and excited, hopefully the audience will be too. With Deception currently touring Ireland, having just played three sold out dates in the Black Box Galway, it is one of Keith’s most extreme shows yet.
“I find the most suggestible person, and using a form of brainwashing tactics I take control of their soul, body and mind.”
“Because the show touches on cults and brainwashing, I talk about the Jonestown Massacre, where Jim Jones convinced over 900 of his followers to drink Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. The question is, how can so many people be so easily convinced by one man?” In his attempt to answer this question, the mentalist administers a test to a member of the audience, and presents the volunteer with two glasses. One containing water, and the other containing sulphuric acid. “Let’s just say that somebody drinks it every night,” he laughs. Despite this sinister portion of the show, Barry maintains it is designed to make people laugh and that only willing participants are brought on stage. “I don’t force anybody. I think once people realise that, they can kick back and enjoy the show. People get so nervous around me!” With €10,000 up for grabs at each show though, it may be worth facing your fears. The magic man has offered crisp cash to anyone who can pull the wool over his eyes and deceive him. But do beware, at the end of each show, one member of the audience will become a puppet as Barry stands holding the reigns. “I find the most suggestible person and, using a form of brainwashing tactics, I take control of their soul, body and mind. That’s the thing about people who form cults and brainwash people, they literally render people to a state of no identity. So that’s what I do with the person on stage – I use suggestion tactics to infiltrate their subconscious mind and take control.”
THE FUTURE LOOKS MAGIC
After being on the road with the tour since December 2018, Barry is looking to the future after finishing up his live shows last month. With the third installment of the smash hit magic thriller ‘Now You See Me’ in the pipeline, where Keith mentored Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson before becoming chief magic consultant, he is hoping the screen is where he will call home. “I’m hoping to announce a new television series in the next few weeks,” he beams. “I’m in talks with a couple of networks so we’ll see what comes out of that.” From hustling and making ends meet, to breaking America and headlining Las Vegas, to receiving the prestigious Merlin Award amongst magic greats like Penn & Teller and David Copperfield, one thing’s for sure – this mind magician has certainly cast a spell over us!