Ahead of his Cork performance, Keith Barry worked his magic on a very spellbound Ciara McDonnell
Listening back to the tape of my conversation with Keith Barry, my tone goes from over-excited puppy dog (standard interview voice) to ultra relaxed withinthe first three minutes. Have I been Barry’d? I have my suspicions.
It is 1pm and already Keith has driven from Dublin and appeared on radio where he, to paraphrase the man himself, messed with some people’s minds. After our chat he will head straight to RTE before driving back and perform at an event that evening.
I am wrecked just thinking about it, but this seems to be a standard day for the world’s most well known mentalist.
With a veritable industry under his belt, these days Keith Barry is more of an enterprise than a person.
As well as consulting on the two smash-hit movies Now You See Me, Barry’s television show You’re Back In The Room has been syndicated world wide and an American and Australian version are in production.
He started Keith Barry Seminars to address the influx of requests he has had from people who are looking for help with giving up smoking or dealing with anxiety or losing weight. And on top of that, Barry is about to kick off a tour of a brand new show – Hypnomagick.
In person, Barry is extremely intelligent and well spoken.
He chats with measured ease, and though words seemingly tumble out of his mouth, there is no doubt that the thoughts behind them have been gestating for some time.
He puts this down to his voracious appetite for learning, and a need to constantly stay on top of his game.
“I know, for example, if I go into Easons, that I’m going to drop at least €50. I love reading about new advances in my industry. I love feeding my brain.”
Brains and their feeding are a hot topic for Keith Barry.
“It’s all down to educating people about how their brain works,” he says. “We all go to the gym and we’re thinking about how we look and what we’re eating but our brain is a muscle and you have to train it!”
It is time to start thinking of our brains as machines, according to Barry. “I mean, look at people like Warren Buffet or any of the top business men. They read constantly, they know it’s about learning. I sit down with people and ask them what the last book they read and their faces go blank.”
Education of self, says Barry, is the hallmark of self-awareness. “If you feel depressed, go and buy twenty books about depression. Learn about it, find out how it works.”
Recognising the need for education around changing patterns in our grey matter is one of the reasons Barry set up Keith Barry Seminars.
“I have been working with people on an individual basis for years to help them break habits and deal with anxiety. I’ve helped people with everything from fears, phobias and stress right the way through to eczema – anything that is governed by our psyche and inner psychology,” he explains. “We were getting more and more people saying that they needed help giving up smoking and losing weight and there was no way I have time to meet them all on a one-to- one basis, and the seminars came out of this.”
It’s not a fix-all, cautions Barry.
The seminars are one part of the pattern-breaking process.
After each seminar, attendees go home with recordings to listen to, which will help them to re-progamme their brains and break patterns.
“A lot of people say ‘we know we have to eat healthily, and we know we have to go to the gym but the problem isn’t in knowing this – the problem is that people have stresses like kids and work and general life.
“They go home and look in the cupboard and think that by eating the chocolate in the cupboard they will automatically feel better,” says Barry. “It’s a loop that they are caught in and it’s my job to teach people how to break these loops and patterns.
“As human beings we are pattern followers and pattern seekers and it’s my job to help them break out of these patterns.”
One of the greatest problems in today’s society, says Barry, is our addiction and reliance on social media. “For me in the public eye, social media is a way of letting people know what I’m up to. But other than that I don’t believe in it, or any so-called purpose it has.”
I tell him that two months ago, I was sitting with my children when I realised that I had spent more time that day looking at photos of other people’s kids on social media than my own, and decided to get rid of it.
“Exactly,” he beams. “I don’t understand the fascination on any level for people. People tell me that it’s a way to stay in touch, this Facebook thing – it’s all nonsense.
“If I wasn’t in the industry I would shut down everything and live my life. Besides what I do I love fishing, I love brining my children to the forest, getting out doors in nature. Get outside, people! Stop looking at screens.”
This is the first time during our chat that I begin to see Keith the Performer emerge and I wonder how he balances his performance persona with the more measured individual I am sitting with. “I love both; I have a passion for both,” he attests.
“It just makes for a busier life, which is nothing new, to be honest. I love being on stage and acting the maggot.”
The intensity with which Barry lives his life makes me think that shows likeHypnomagick, which are designed as he says “to make people laugh their heads off”, offer light relief to the illusionist. The show is entirely his creation.
Barry devises every single act, considers each prop and writes every word of scripting in the show.
“The whole show is in post-it notes on my wall right now,” he grins.
Tonight, he will be road-testing a piece for the show to a VIP audience to see if it works the way he wants it to – he came up with the concept the other night in his office. “Other performers think I’m mental, but I’ve always worked well under pressure and deal with it really well.”
The team will come in a month before the show starts, and José, Barry’s assistant (and host of the Spanish version of You’re Back In The Room) will arrive to receive the download from Barry’s brain.
The two will hash out the act and talk through props and ideas for a day before diving headfirst into rehearsal.
So, what should audiences expect from HypnoMagick? “I just want people to laugh their heads off,” says Barry. From hypnotising fifty people on stage, to crazy experiments like making people actually disappear; Barry is certain that his audiences are going to lift the roof. He assures me that he is not the kind of person who will force people on stage.
“I had a poor woman faint on me from the fright a few years ago, so I want to let people who are coming to the show know that I won’t be forcing them to do anything.” A few weeks ago, he road-tested his disappearing trick on the IRFU and the result was explosive. “I did it on the Irish rugby team and Simon Zebo disappeared in front of them. They completely lost their shit, it was amazing.”
He describes HypnoMagick as two shows in one.
“The first half is magic, mind-reading, mentalism and brain hacking and the second half is hypnosis where I get about 100 people up on stage and get them to do all kinds of crazy mad stuff that they would never ordinarily do.”
I am sold on the show, but convinced of my ninja abilities to block Keith Barry from my brain, so when I ask him to do a trick on me before we finish, I do so with total bravado. He asks me to write down a name on a piece of paper and then tells me to put my left palm to his. Immediately I feel a pulse of energy from his hand to mine, and along with dying of fright, start to worry that maybe he actually can see into my brain.
Within thirty seconds of staring into my eyes he has revealed the name (my Dad) and told me to call him (I will).
Keith Barry is the real deal. He’s the best advertisement for education I have ever met, and a reminder that in order to expand our own minds and horizons, it’s our duty to research and remind and re-fuel the things that interest us.
He is also good fun, and if half of the tricks he told me about will be making it into Hypnomagick, then I’ll be taking a front row seat at the Everyman when it rolls into Cork.
I’m just not sure if I’d be brave enough to join him on stage…
Keith Barry is in the Everyman Theatre in Cork on January 20-.22.
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