Exclusive Interview With The Amazing James Randi — an Honest Liar

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Exclusive Interview With The Amazing James Randi — an Honest Liar

James Randi is a legend

I met James “The Amazing Randi” for an interview during the Tribeca Film Festival. He was promoting the documentary by Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom about his life called “An Honest Liar.” Randi, 88, has spent his life as a professional magician and escape artist. Fo the past 28 years he has devoted himself to helping people understand how con artists use trickery to get at your money.

Although the film is a documentary, it entertains like a feature and is a fascinating portrait of an eccentric and unusual man. My favorite part in the film is when a preacher is exposed by revealing his hidden earpiece. A woman secretly feeds him information. For example, the preacher says something like, “I’m sensing there is a woman in the audience. Her name is Gladys and she is from Oklahoma. She has an autistic son and is in desperate need of my help. Come forward Gladys.” The audience thinks the preacher has psychic powers and “ooh” and “ahh” and part with their hard-earned cash.

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I sat down with the debunker in my Chelsea neighborhood in New York City and I was dazzled.

Dorri Olds: How did your focus on helping people get started?

James Randi: Ah, my whole be-all and end-all is trying to inform the public, particularly the young folks. I’m a professional magician by trade and that’s fakery; it’s acting, pretending to do magic as if you have supernatural powers. Of course some magicians aren’t even good enough to make you think they’re supernatural. I’ve always made it very clear.

I started out doing mentalism at the beginning of my career. That’s where you appear to be reading minds and predicting the future. But I always made it very clear that what I was doing was trickery. I don’t believe in telling people lies but leading them into a fantasy, entertaining them, then backing out of it saying, “I hope you’ve enjoyed my performance.”

My aim, my purpose in all of my professional life, is to explain to people that they’re often taken advantage of by those that do the same kinds of trickery and mentalism that we professionals do. All these preachers and other strange kind of folks out there who claim that they can call up the dead and bring messages back from the other side — these are scallywags. They are taking advantage of the public.

You have a nonprofit organization, right?

Yes. I began my James Randi Education Foundation many years ago in order to make sure my books and my appearances are backed by an organization that tells people the truth.

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Have you ever tried to debunk anyone that turned out to really be psychic?

No. I’ve never met a psychic at all. I’ve met hundreds of people all across the world in every language, size, shape and color that you can imagine and none of them have psychic powers. It’s all the same tricks that have been handed down generation after generation. It doesn’t add up and it doesn’t prove itself, but people are not always perceptive and they get fooled. I tell them to be smarter and not believe everything they’re told and don’t give money without looking into it.

Why do you suppose police have hired psychics to help them solve a crime?

The point is that they haven’t. You hear these claims from the psychics but you don’t hear them from the police. I’ve checked with Scotland Yard as one example and they said, “No, we never consult psychics.” Sylvia Brown is one who said she was always talking with the police and helping them solve puzzles and mysteries and identify killers and whatnot. That’s, uh, what’s the term for that? Ah yes, bullshit.

I enjoyed listening to you debunk Uri Geller. Can you tell me more about Uri?

It’s Uri [ooh-ri], not the Russian name Uri [yooh-ri]. Uri Geller is the spoon bender. He only has four tricks in his whole repertoire. How a magician can make a career — and a fabulous career that brings in money — after all of these years with only four tricks is beyond me. That’s a miracle in itself. But bending spoons? You’ll see Geller often at a table with spoons sitting in front of him and he will take two spoons in both hands.

Hey, I’m 85 and I can lift a whole handful of spoons in one hand, but Uri seems to need both hands to handle one spoon and he is a much younger man than I am. He picks up the spoon and turns away from the cameras and you see his shoulders hunched and then he turns around and next time he shows it to you it’s bent. I wonder how that happened. [Smiles]

“An Honest Liar” is 83 min. Check out Rare and Collectible.

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