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Creator / Derren Brown

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Whatever you do, don't look into his eyes.
"A hundred years ago they would have burnt him at the stake."
Bizarre Magazine

Derren Brown (born 27 February 1971) is a prolific magician and hypnotist whose TV work mostly involves combining these two skills into something popularly described as 'psychological illusion.' His shows often utilise so many layers of secrecy and deception that nobody involved ever quite knows where they stand.

Derren Brown's Channel 4 shows:

  • Mind Control (2000-03)
  • Russian Roulette (2003)
  • Trick of the Mind (2004-06)
  • Seance (2005)
  • The Gathering (2005)
  • The Heist (2006)
  • Trick or Treat (2007-08)
  • The System (2008)
  • The Events (2009)
  • Derren Brown Investigates (2010)
  • Hero at 30,000 Feet (2010)
  • The Experiments (2011)
  • Miracles for Sale (2011)
  • Apocalypse (2012)
  • Fear and Faith (2012)
  • The Great Art Robbery (2013)
  • Pushed to the Edge (2016) (released internationally as The Push)
  • Sacrifice (2018) (Netflix special)

Derren Brown's stage shows:

  • Derren Brown Live (2003-04)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes (2005-06)
  • An Evening Of Wonders (2007-08)
  • Enigma (2009-10)
  • Svengali (2011-12)
  • Infamous (2013-14)
  • Miracles: Faith or Fiction (2018, released on Netflix as an exclusive outside of the UK)

Derren Brown's work includes examples of:

  • Breathless Non Sequitur: Derren Brown has some tricks like this, where he apparently gets people to hand over their wallets, watches and other valuables by casually asking for them in the middle of getting directions. The end credits of one episode of Trick of the Mind featured some Hilarious Outtakes of this not working.
  • The Cameo: Appears briefly in the Sherlock episode "The Empty Hearse", as part of a theory of how Sherlock survived jumping off a building, where he puts Watson to sleep for a few minutes. Lestrade considers the idea ludicrous.
  • Candid Camera Prank: Most of his Channel 4 shows in a nutshell. Most notably in Apocalypse, where he contrived a Zombie Apocalypse at the expense of one man, and in The Heist, where he conspired to make ordinary middle-managers commit armed robbery. Hero at 30,000 feet is another one where he tries to make a burnt out everyman overcome his fear of heights and take a more positive look at life. Pushed to the Edge, however, is just straight up this trope, with the only motivation being to see if he can trick the marks into pushing someone off the edge of a building.
  • Chekhov's Gun: His live shows are full of them in the form of numbers, props and throwaway lines.
  • The Chessmaster: Derren himself plays up to this trope in a way that combines general benevolence with mischievous glee.
  • Compelling Voice
  • Comes Great Responsibility: It's obvious that he could use his ridiculous intelligence to beat casinos or the stock market, yet he chooses to remain a stage hypnotist and author, and in some cases, even help people. Awesome.
  • Consummate Liar: Derren again.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: The idea is that upsetting and frightening experiences help bring his subjects' strengths to the fore. Although sometimes, as in Trick Or Treat, it's just For the Evulz.
  • Deal with the Devil: A central motif of Trick Or Treat in particular.
  • Death by Irony: On a meta level, the man that Derren Brown selected to become the luckiest man in England in The Experiments: The Secret of Luck may have died young in one of the unluckiest ways possible. He exited his shop to close up for the day when a car mounted the pavement and ran into him at speed, this was followed by another speeding car that also ran him over. Derren sent his disbelief and condolences to the family.
  • Escape Artist: One of the episodes of Trick Or Treat involves him secretly training a girl how to escape from a tied-up sack thrown into a cold lake, while her hands and legs are zip-tied. Then, after a few months, she's kidnapped out of her home and taken to a lake early in the morning. She succeeds, by the way, although we aren't shown how.
  • Everyone Has Standards: His TV shows are always accompanied by assurances that the victims are assessed as 'stable' by psychologists and that no lasting harm will be caused.
    • In Miracles For Sale, the team makes the decision to abandon its fraudulent contract with an American PR company on moral grounds, even though lying to Americans is still very much the focus of the show.
  • The Everyman: Most of the subjects/victims.
  • Exact Words: His preferred form of creating loopholes. For example, in The Gameshow episode of The Experiments, he keeps assuring the audience what they're seeing in the next 50 minutes is the real deal. The clincher? The part where the victim tries to escape the kidnappers and got hit by a car happened right after the clock passes the 50th minute mark, so he's now allowed to use staged footage.
  • The Game Never Stopped: Technically done to every single volunteer of his experiments, whom are all told that they failed to qualify for any of the experiments they volunteered in regardless of the truth. This is done to prevent bias and to throw off suspicion when he starts the gaslighting and the elaborate cons. If you volunteer to participate in a experiment by Derren and are told you fail, you'd do good to continue keeping your guards up for several more weeks.
  • Gaslighting: Derren uses this to set up his marks in many, many episodes. Apocalypse aside, he also uses it in The Experiments episode The Guilt Trip to make his mark question their memory.
  • Helping Granny Cross the Street: The practise for watch-stealing attempted in The Great Art Robbery.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Naturally, Sacrifice is all about trying to get a man to do this.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The Experiments episode The Gameshow involves Derren using an audience to vote on what happens to the subject of his Show Within a Show. He notes to the viewers that the audience's options get crueler and crueler as the show goes on, proving his point that anonymity removes moral restrictions. One can imagine the audience's reaction when their vote causes the subject to be hit by a car and die. Naturally, this was all set up by Derren to demonstrate to them the danger of their actions.
    • Averted in Sacrifice, where the central point is that we are capable of incredible kindnesses and heroism by pushing past our biases.
  • Just Following Orders: Pushed to the Edge is designed to demonstrate how people succumb to peer pressure and the desire to follow and authority figure's instructions. The opener shows a man abducting a woman's baby just because a voice on the phone introduced himself as a cop and told him she was the one who had abducted a child. The rest of the show is structured to make people get in so deep that, in the end, most end up committing a heinous act due to peer pressure. Out of four subjects, three ended up pushing a man off a ledge to avoid jail time.
  • Manchurian Agent: Several of his shows involve programming people to do something illegal with scary results.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Ironically, Derren's reputation for being able to bend people to his will makes them more suggestible and easier to manipulate.
  • Market-Based Title: For some reason, when Pushed To The Edge was released on Netflix outside the UK in 2018, the title was changed to just The Push.
  • Mental Time Travel: Derren performs a trick that, supposedly, allows David Tennant to do this. And yes, he specifically picks Time Travel-related stuff for the actor known for his role as the Tenth Doctor. First, he puts David into a trance, supposedly having him go back in time to a particular date and describe what he sees. Then he shows him an old newspaper article describing something similar. Later, he puts David into another altered state and has him engage in "automatic writing", comparing his results to an article from The Guardian three days later. David quite honestly calls Derren a witch.
  • Musical Gag: In the finale of Enigma, after the six men who were chosen arrange themselves into a random order in front of a set of lettered "lollipop sticks," he directs them to rearrange themselves into another random order while a piece of music plays. He concludes his instructions with, "So, gentlemen, please mix yourselves into a New Order, off you go." Cue the 1988 version of Blue Monday.
  • Pick a Card: In Trick Or Treat, Derren has his chosen "victim" do so at the start of the episode, usually by appearing in a very unorthodox manner (such as breaking into the person's home in the middle of the night). He offers them two cards: one says "Trick" and the other one "Treat", except they usually don't know what they picked. He shows the card to the camera, though. The first season has him using cards with ambigrams, allowing him to flip the chosen card to either say "Trick" or "Treat" before showing it to the audience (i.e. making his job easier, if he's already determined that, for example, he's going to use "Trick" this time). In the second season, he uses cards with a normal font, meaning he actually has to come up with alternatives.
  • Scenery Porn: The live shows. Everything about Svengali, for instance, is a huge nod to Derren's Victoriana habit.
  • Shout-Out
    • In Trick or Treat S2E2 ("Kitten"), Lauren is sent for a (fake) psychological evaluation in a (fake) private clinic. She is left alone for a few minutes to solve a Rubik's Cube, at which point a clock starts to chime... and an entire wall disappears to reveal swinging chains, rusty hooks, and a sinister man inviting her to play. "One man's trick is another man's treat."
    Derren (V.O.): ... she could be a bit of a Hellraiser.
    • Hero at 30,000 Feet could be, in part, a subtle homage to Donnie Darko. Matt is summoned in the middle of the night by a disembodied voice and "sleepwalks" out to his back garden, where he is given a countdown to the moment his/the world will change/end. There's also the obvious plane crash motif, and possibly even the party he's encouraged to throw. Matt is also covertly filmed on a golf course, though it's not clear that Derren could have arranged that.
    • See Apocalypse for Off to See the Wizard.
    • The Experiments episode The Guilt Trip contains various shoutouts to the board game Clue (Cluedo in Europe and Asia).
    • In Pushed to the Edge, the central billionaire who "dies" and forces Chris into an elaborate scheme to help pretend he's alive is named Bernie.
  • Show Within a Show: Fake ones often serve as a cover for manoeuvring subjects into position or preparing them for the real stunt. Members of the public have fallen prey to fake TV shows in Fear And Faith, Miracles For Sale, The Heist, Messiah, The Gameshow, The Secret Of Luck... it's a wonder they keep falling for it.
  • Staring Contest: Derren shows off his skills in winning these without saying a word or making a gesture. He gives a man a splitting headache just by staring at him.
  • Straight Gay: The handsome, charismatic mindreader on Channel 4 is gay? Yes.
    • This doesn't stop him from demonstrating how to successfully pick up women using his skills.
  • Taxidermy Is Creepy: A long-time collector of dead things, Derren doesn't seem to mind having this applied to himself. Once he actively exploited it. As Chris Addison said:
    If you go into your flat, and there's a big stuffed peacock on the mirror above the mantelpiece going all the way down, you don't think "that's a bit much." You think, "that sets off the pickled chimp quite nicely."
  • Tempting Fate: Derren's victim Jodi in The Experiments episode "The Guilt Trip". Talking to his girlfriend, and unaware that Derren is listening in, he quips that he hopes that his weekend doesn't any worse. Derren immediately lampshades the phrase.
  • This Loser Is You: His subjects are usually everymen who happen to be highly suggestible.
  • Transparent Closet: To his family and friends.
    • "If anything, I was disappointed to learn that it wasn't much of a surprise. Possibly my penchant for interior decor had given the game away."
  • Trickster Mentor: About as close to the supernatural archetype as real life allows. His subjects come through their experiences/ordeals the better for it, having learned some important lesson in some really unconventional (and often profoundly unpleasant) ways.
  • Unreliable Narrator/Unreliable Expositor: His key trick in a way. He often lies about exactly what tricks he is using and he often uses sleight of hand and claims it to be psychological manipulations. Not that it isn't effective. In one interview, when asked if psychology could really do the things he apparently achieved with it, he said that he used the idea of psychology the way Victorian illusionists used the idea of psychic powers. Or maybe that's the misdirection...
  • Wicked Cultured: This devilish man enjoys Bach and Mahler, crafts masterpiece portraits in his spare time and did Law & German at the University of Bristol.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Especially in The Great Art Robbery, where the supposed thief could have just taken it but gets caught. However, he wasn't the thief at all, his (almost) identical twin was. Therefore, not only did they steal the painting anyway, they didn't even lie when they said the thief was the person in the picture they gave the curator. It gets even more complicated: As it turns out, the theft of said painting was a cover-up of Derren's ploy to steal a different painting. It has to be seen several times to be believed.