1. What's the difference between being psychic and being a mentalist?
That's actually a hard question because there are a lot of similarities. Mentalists tend to be more honest about what they are actually doing: they are performing a show that is for entertainment purposes only.
If you go to see a psychic perform, you are going to see one of two things. You're either going to be looking at someone who believes they're real, or you're looking at someone who is using similar skills not to entertain but to scam money out of people.
I guess the difference would be intent--although I've met quite a few shady mentalists in my day.
As for the actual show, since mentalism is more about entertainment, the show is going to have a much different feel and flow to it. The techniques will be more sophisticated and dare I say... believable. Psychic shows tend to be more along the lines of a demonstration and almost always of cold reading.
2. How have you built a career as a mentalist?
I spent several years putting together the best mentalism show I could; I then picked my target markets and got myself out there. I believe success in show business is largely about luck, and I've been lucky.
It also helps to have no shame.
3. What do audiences take from your performances?
I have a background in theater, stand-up comedy, and writing. I feel I have a good idea of what an audience is going to find entertaining, and that's what I'm going to provide to them. I'm going to do everything in my power to give them one of the best shows they've ever seen.
I never want to disappoint an audience. No matter how big or how small.
Aside from that, there is an underlying theme to the show. I come out in the beginning and tell the audience, in so many words, that what they're about to see this evening is an illusion: I'm not psychic, but you're going to think that I am. Then I attempt to convince everyone in the audience that I can read minds.
Not only do I find that to be a fascinating premise for the show, but I also hope that it makes people think a little more skeptically about people who claim extraordinary things. If I'm on stage pretending to be psychic, and it appears 100% genuine, even though I say that it isn't, then what are so-called "real" psychics doing?
I'm happy to say many people pick up on this, and it leads to some wonderful conversations after the show.
4. How do you work with an audience's skepticism, and how much skepticism do you think is healthy?
Depends on the routine I'm performing. Sometimes I want someone on stage who is there just to be entertained and not thinking very much about how I'm doing these things.
Sometimes I seek skeptical people from the audience. I do this because I want to prove to them that I'm really doing these things and I don't have a bunch of plants in the audience, and it can also be entertaining for the audience to watch the mentalist perform for the skeptic.
I don't think you can be too skeptical. We as people are lied to--a lot! It's a very good idea to develop logical thinking skills and to question things, especially if they seem unusual or too good to be true.
Cynicism is often mistaken for skepticism, but to be cynical you must be closed-minded. To be skeptical you must be open-minded. How else would you be able to question things?
5. What are some exercises you'd recommend that people practice if they want to sharpen their own mental powers?
How to Develop a Super-Power Memory by Harry Lorayne is a great book that will help you with just that.
My other bit of advice is stay active. The light goes dim when you stop thinking, so never stop thinking.