‘Everyone’s brain is hackable… except my own children’

Mentalist Keith Barry is back with a new Saturday night show, which invites viewers to get in on the act, but he tells Deirdre Reynolds how his mind-bending tricks aren’t always a hit at home

Keith Barry behind the scenes of the interactive RTÉ series

Keith Barry behind the scenes of the interactive RTÉ series

Ahead of a long overdue catch-up with Keith Barry, Magazine+ is steeling ourselves not to spill all our passwords, PIN numbers and embarrassing personal secrets in the first five seconds on the phone.

Resistance is futile, laughs the celebrity mentalist, who reckons he can hack into just about anyone’s prefrontal cortex. “I think we’re all malleable,” begins Keith. “I think we’re all open to having our brains hacked. I’m definitely hackable as well.

“I actually love skeptics. Skeptics are very linear in their thinking, so they don’t realise that I can utilise that thinking against them — because they’re so linear in their thinking, they’re sometimes easier to hack than other people.”

Nearly two decades after becoming a household name on TV’s Close Encounters with Keith Barry, the world-renowned magician has nothing to prove to anybody.

And, of course, he’s long since known that with great power comes great responsibility — using his fame to call out ‘cold reading’ television psychics who claim to be able to contact the dead.

Keith Barry behind the scenes of the interactive RTÉ series

The 45-year-old has just taken over the coveted Saturday night slot last occupied by Tommy Tiernan on RTÉ One, “big shoes to fill”, he admits. But the mix of celebrity guinea pigs and interactive tricks that the whole family can try at home are sure to have the nation just as entranced as the Navanman’s hypnotic interviewing style.

“I’ve been online for the last two years,” explains Keith. “My whole career has been virtual, so I developed material that would work interactively via the screens.

“With RTÉ, I said, ‘Listen, we really need to be bringing this material to life by not only having the people at home view, but also having them interact’. So I’ve got a holographic gauze in studio, which is the first time RTÉ have used that, and everybody at home makes a choice on the Hologauze and I read their mind through the screen right into their houses.”

After pivoting online during the pandemic, Keith is also gearing up to wow audiences nationwide with his new ‘Reconnected’ tour, which he promises will do what it says on the tin by “reconnecting people emotionally, physically, spiritually and intellectually”.

“The last time I was on a stage was March 12, two years ago. It’s mental,” he says. “I’ve been on stages since I was 14, pretty much every single week, so to have been off for that length of time is nuts.

“I’ll definitely be very nervous. [But] I think nerves are a good thing, once you learn how to flip those nerves into positive energy. I’m just excited to get back on the stage again and do what I love.”

In any event, the seasoned performer is no stranger to dealing with more negative vibes since Twitter gave the public instant access to their most loved (and loathed) celebrities, something he’s fully prepared for with The Keith Barry Experience.

“I don’t mind that at all,” says the dad-of-two. “It’s part and parcel of being in the game, so I think if youre soft to that you shouldn’t really be in the game, being honest with you. I don’t say that lightly — I’ve been affected sometimes, but I think I’ve just grown thick skin over the years.

“There’s obviously the easy guess for a critic at home, ‘Oh, it’s all just a set up, it’s all actors, it’s all stooges’. But that’s fine because people will come to the live shows, and they know that they could be picked, the person next to them could be picked, so then they know that it’s really real what I’m doing.”

Morgan Freeman and Woody Harrelson were believers when the hypnotist famously worked as a consultant on the Now You See Me films. And Keith reveals how he’s hoping to head back to Tinseltown later this year. “I spent so much time in Hollywood over the years. Probably for 10 years I was out there for 3-6 months of every single year, so the good news for me is I’m very well connected out there.

“But to do well out there you gotta be out there. Towards the end of the year I’ll definitely jump on a plane and get back out there and start hunting work out there.”

There is, however, one exception to his belief that anyone can be ‘brain-hacked’, jokes Keith, whose children with wife Mairead Barry, Breanna (13) and Braden (10), seem immune to the power of suggestion. “I have the same problems as everybody else has — it’s all about too much technology and getting them off the technology and getting them to tidy their bedrooms.

“I’ve tried every mentalism trick in the book and it doesn’t seem to work any better than anybody else.”

  • The Keith Barry Experience continues next Saturday at 10pm on RTÉ One

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