Keith Barry has conjured some amazing feats in his time: stopping his own heart, catching a bullet in his teeth, driving (and surviving) blind-folded on a public road. Yet there’s one stunt that not even he can pull off: making a builder appear on time.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” he says as he rushes into Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Hotel some 15 minutes after our arranged meeting time. “I was on the phone arguing with the builder who is due to come and do my skirting boards.”
It’s a busy time for the magician, illusionist and all-round mentalist. He’s in the midst of moving house - his escalating career and the birth of he and wife Mairead’s daughter Breana 10 months ago has necessitated the move to a bigger place - and he’s also putting the finishing touches to his new live tour, ‘Direct From Vegas’, which kicks off next Saturday (July 18) in Castlebar.
Then again, this 32-year-old wouldn’t know life to be any other way. He’s back home for the past few months, having completed an extraordinarily successful six week stint headlining at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.
During his stay in Sin City, his star rose so high and so fast that Barry is seriously in danger of developing the bends. Celebs like Paris Hilton and Bette Midler were queuing to attend, and then the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the best magician in Vegas after just six weeks. To top it all of, the boy from Williamstown, Co Waterford, who started teaching himself magic from a book at age 14, picked up a Merlin Award - the magicians’ Oscar - for ‘Mentalist of the Year’.
“That was a big deal because there is a lot of competition out there from the likes of David Copperfield, Penn and Teller, The Amazing Jonathan and Lance Burton,” he says. “To get it from the critics is extra special because they’re ruthless in Vegas.”
“I had to pinch myself during the Vegas thing in general. It’s what I’ve been striving to do pretty much all my life. It was surreal getting off the plane in Vegas and the first thing I saw was a whole wall with my face on it. In the hotel my face was on the room keycards advertising the show. It never stopped being weird.”
He adjusted pretty quickly however, and went down so well that it looks as if he’ll be back over there early next year for another run. “I’m definitely going back, but whether I move out there is another matter entirely,” he says.
It’s a given that his success rubbed a few competitors up the wrong way. “There’s a lot of rivalry and bitchiness in magic which is why I don’t really associate with a lot of other magicians or societies,” he reveals. “A perfect example: a friend introduced me to [illusionist] Criss Angel, but he didn’t want to talk to me. There’s no need for that. There’s room for us all.”
The content of Barry’s Direct from Vegas tour will reflect his growing passion for and research on hypnosis. “It’s called instant induction hypnosis, where I put people under really quickly, and within seconds they won’t be able to lift a pen off the table, won’t remember their names, or even how to tie their shoelaces.”
In addition he’ll have e10,000 on stage with him every night to reward any observer who can best him in a complex game of what he calls “psychological warfare” (someone has yet to achieve this). “It’s me playing with their minds,” he says with a sly smile. “Am I f*cking with them or not? Are any of the clues I’ve told them true?”
On a similar note, Barry will also be tackling a specific group that have long rankled him: psychics. “I don’t believe in them,” he says bluntly. “I’ll be showing people that I can do the job of a psychic, maybe even better than them.
“I believe people are being duped. I don’t judge them by the way; I judge the psychics. I’m duping you as entertainment, and I’ll tell you that. A psychic will claim they’re talking to your dead brother or something.”
Does a magician need to be that sceptical in order to flourish? “No not at all, but I’m a scientist too,” he replies. “I graduated with an honours chemistry degree and worked in labs for two years. I always advise people who go to psychics to read a book called The Full Facts of Cold Reading by Ian Rowland. He takes apart and explains their entire process.”
The depths and potential of the human mind is what fascinates Barry the most lately: one of the things he’s been researching is brainwashing techniques used by the CIA. “I got my hands on these internal CIA documents used on prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, totally crazy stuff,” he says. “I can’t really het into it, but they gave me some great ideas for routines.”
Barry admits that he’s a workaholic, averaging about fours sleep a night. That must have come in handy when someone had to get up to attend to daughter Breana? “She’s actually just started sleeping in the last four nights after 10 months,” he laughs.
He admits that it’s hard to be away from his family so much, but they’ve learned to make it work. “We’ve made a rule where I won’t go without seeing them both for four weeks at a time no matter what I’m doing,” he explains. “I’ll either commute or they’ll fly out to me.”
In case anyone is wondering, Barry says he never used any of his mind tricks to hoodwink wife Mairead into falling in love with him.”She’s far too savvy for that unfortunately,” he laughs. “We’ve been with each other since school, so she’s known me from my very humble beginnings up until now. She’s well onto all my tricks.”
After his Irish tour, he’ll be heading back to America to film a new TV show for the Discovery Channel, which will air next year.
“I have a couple of ideas for it, but one of them is that I want to fool the most intelligent people in the world,” he reveals. “For instance, I found this guy named called Chris Langan, who has a proven IQ of 190. That’s higher than Einstein’s.
“He’s almost certainly the most intelligent person in the US, if not the world. We’re also looking into getting Stephen Hawking and Garry Kasparov. They will be a big challenge for me.”
He also warns fans to expect something entirely different from his next live shows after that. “I want it to be called Keith Barry XXX: Leave the Kids At Home,” he says. “It will be a full-blown hypnosis show. With that title, you can imagine what it’s going to be like.”
Should we imagine people simulating sex acts, for example? Barry just smiles mischievously as he gets up to leave and replies. “It’s going to get people talking, that’s for sure.”
*Keith Barry plays the Olympia Theatre Dublin (July 30-31; August 1-2). See www.keithbarry.com to book tickets.