Belfast Telegraph

Bangor mentalist Joel Mawhinney talks magic of the mind

By Jackie Bell

Joel Mawhinney describes himself as a mentalist, an obsessive, a thinker, and a showman - and he probably knows your pin code.

Ahead of his show as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival this weekend, Joel (19) talks about what sent him on the path of reading minds and why an audible gasp is better than applause in his line of work.

How did you find yourself on the path of being a mentalist?

I got into it when I was around six years old.

I've always been interested in reading people and I was always the smallest on the sports field at school so I tried to be the fastest with my brain.

It is a weird path,  but I first got hooked on slight of hand magic and technique.

And then I was around 13 I discovered people like Derren Brown and David Meade and I decided that was more my style. So I took the skills I had as a magician and changed them to develop them into a 'magic of the mind'.

From that I've developed an act around hacking into people's heads.

How does someone go about learning the techniques needed to become a mentalist?

I think for anyone who is interested in this kind of thing, they just have to try it and learn it for themselves.

There's no set way of doing this type of thing, just do what works for you. Be observant and test your memory.

It is an odd thing to get into, it's not something you sit down and study as such. I think it's more a case of you just do it until you get it right.

So this type of act must take a lot of work, do you ever get it wrong?

When I was doing sleight of hand and up close magic at various clubs in Belfast it gave me the opportunity to practice the mind reading aspect.

So I would work it in slowly with no pressure of getting it wrong - but if I did get it wrong I could just quickly do a card trick afterwards!

What sets you apart from other mentalist acts?

With most people who are in the mind reading genre, there's only so many directions you can go - in terms of getting people to think of something and you telling them what that is.

So in that sense every mind reader is similar, but I've now been dubbed the 'hipster mind reader' which I'm a bit dubious about but I suppose it is something different.

Maybe I do go for a slightly darker aspect of the act whereas the likes of David Meade will go for comedy. I also incorporate music into my act, things like playing the piano on stage.

But this is something I can constantly evolve and I think the older I get the more I'll discover myself and develop my act.

Do you have a plan for where you want to take this skill in the future?

I just tend to do things I'm interested in, in the moment. So as long as I continue to be performing on stage and continue to develop my skills and perform for bigger crowds and venues, I'm always quite happy.

I've no idea where this might take me and I'm very lucky in that some really cool doors have opened up at a young age for me, but I don't really have a plan as such.

What is the most common reaction you get from the audience - is it a lot of 'how did you do that?'

I get a lot of laughs - that's just Northern Ireland for you.

I do a lot of playing about with peoples memories, and delving into their embarrassing stories, so that always gets a good reaction.

But what I'm aiming for in terms of reaction is a big gasp. A lot of performers would fight for the applause, but I like a good gasp.

Do you prefer to work with a big or small audience?

A lot of the time the size of the room doesn't matter, it's all about the reaction.

Although the smaller crowds will make it a really interesting show because you can get up close and personal with the audience and you get reactions that you maybe wouldn't get in a big room.

People tend to think they are not as much part of it if it's a bigger room.

Reveal something about yourself that people may not know.

I have a brain that will retain a stupid amount of random information, which is useful for me on stage when I'm working things out about people - but I will not remember what I've had for lunch.

You need to push out the irrelevant stuff in my line of work.

  • Joel Mawhinney will be performing at McHughs Bar on Saturday, April 29 as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

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