Skepticism

Criss Angel throws down on Phenomenon

Last night’s live episode of Phenomenon included an act by Jim Callahan, who represents himself as a psychic with real paranormal powers. Callahan did an ultra-lame channeling trick — here are his main crimes:

  • Using a Cosby kid as an audience aid
  • Not actually showing us the Cosby kid choosing an item to put in a box
  • Sitting on stage and twitching like an insulting Michael J. Fox impression
  • Pretending a ghost has taken control of his hand
  • Having the “ghost” write like a 4-year old who can’t even spell “wheels.”
  • Describing a toy car as “metal box, rectangle, 4 weels (sic)”

After his pathetic nightclub act, Callahan was praised by the Cosby kid, the host of the show, and Uri Gellar (of course). Criss Angel then whipped out an envelope and offered Callahan and Gellar a million dollars of his own money if they could tell him what was written inside the envelope. Instead of immediately going back into his fake trance, Callahan called Angel an “ideological bigot” and lunged at him in what I suspect was intended to be a threatening manner. Criss responds in kind, summoning all his emogician rage. Sadly, the men are pulled away from one another and they go to commercial before any punches can be limply thrown.

It all looks suspiciously staged to me, but hey, who cares? The skeptical voice was heard loud and clear and provided some decent entertainment. If you missed it, you can watch it for free on NBC.com in a few days, or just check out the clip that’s already up on YouTube. It looks like it was uploaded by Callahan himself, or at least a fan of his, who claims Criss is a hypocrite for calling shenanigans. This shouldn’t be that difficult to understand: magicians don’t pretend to have real super powers outside of the spotlight. Frauds do. Ta-da! No hypocrisy. Here’s the clip:

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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21 Comments

  1. It doesn't matter if Criss is a hypocrite or not. That was a reasonable challenge. If Criss was going to be an unfair judge, then the TV audience would have seen that. Jim Callahan is a fake, and he wanted to cover it up by threatening Criss.

  2. I couldn't watch the whole clip. It was so melodramatically overdone. I had to stop watching when he started twitching, and a series of prerecorded messages played on the video screen in the background. Really, really bad. I won't ever actually watch the show on TV if that is representative of what it's like.

  3. Hahaha!

    This was actually amusing. At one point during Jim's performance my husband asked, "Is he masturbating?" Seriously that guy needs to tone down his act, but then it wouldn't be all that funny (or uncomfortable to watch either).

  4. The spirit of a dead author can't spell "wheels." Yeah, I couldn't watch the whole clip either… specifically when his face first appeared with that intense stare, and I burst into laughter. Good on Criss, staged or no. At least it gets people thinking.

  5. Man… I taped this last night and am watching it now… I have magician friends who do just about every trick I've seen so far – many of them require almost no skill at all, just the money to buy the prop at your local magic shop. As a magician, I'm personally offended that these guys are getting major network air time.

    The trick Uri Geller did with the planets – he's selling a pure math trick as psychic phenomenon? C'mon! He couldn't start without Pluto (even though it's no longer a planet) 'cause then the math won't work.

    For me, this is now clearly a show about finding a good mentalist magician. Hopefully the winner will be someone who isn't too cheesy…

  6. this was a great post, rebecca, very entertaining. i agree with you, even if it was an act it was a great show of skepticism. i just watched angel being interviewed on larry king live and openly said that he does not have any paranormal powers, and that he is a skeptic himself and friends with James Randy. he also said he believes in god because "wherever he sees art he knows there was a creator" so possibly a creationist, but at least somewhat of a skeptical voice in the mainstream media is very good. so what's the deal with uri now? still promoting the supernatural it seems?

  7. Any avid watcher of illusions and stunts conducted by Cris Angel will tell you that he never claims to possess mystical powers – even in the haunted illusions referenced at the end of the video (which the the video fails to show) Cris deliberately makes a point to smile, wink and joke at the very end where he makes it a point to publicly express that it was all fake.

    He is serious about his craft and has learned ancient and not so ancient techniques that give the illusion that he has mystical or even psychic powers. Much like Harry Houdini who spent a good portion of his time "outing" frauds, so too does Criss Angel not care for those who truly claim to have powers when they don't. Criss Angel engages in illusion – this other idiot embraces deception. There's a difference.

  8. The YouTube link was actually posted FROM Jim Callahan and has a bunch of stuff at the end trying to provide some additional arguments for why Criss is a hypocrite. Whatever, he didn't make much of a point. The best part was reading the comments on the video. I didn't go through all of them but almost all I did read were pro-Criss. A lot of them were thanking the video poster for proving that Jim Callahan was such a fraud. Love it!

    It was good to see even those who 'want to believe' saying that Callahan was full of crap – same quote below:

    Okay, maybe it does exist, who knows. But to exploit it to make people believe that it is real while making millions of dollars? At the same making people believe you're speaking to the dead when you really aren't? That's not cool and maybe these "skeptical organizations" are justified in their cause.

  9. Hmmmm. Does he give you the money before you die? ..or pay your family after you die?

    apparently you can only get the money after you've been dead for some time… you have to consistently appear to Jim, and are contractually obligated to not make yourself visible to anyone but Jim… and you get commissions based on DVD sales… after you've been paid a total of $1,000,000 your contract with Jim has been fulfilled and you go on to ghost free-agency and you will then be permitted to make money by appearing to Sylvia Brown, John Edwards, etc… you may also opt for ghost retirement and use your $1,000,000 to purchase a haunted beach house.

  10. Hmm. You know, no one here has ever met or seen me in person. I may actually be a ghost communicating from the beyond just for kicks! IF that were the case, and I'm not saying conclusively that it is, I think I'd be tempted to stop communicating with you bums here who can't even spare a ghost a nickel and go over to Mr. Ghostmoneybags over there. I could use a million ghost-bucks, after all. These ectoplasm-on-wheat ghost-toast sandwiches aren't free!

    Plus, I'd really like to put some money away for the little ghostlings in the future. Then, perhaps, own a part of a haunt-share in Aspen…you know, it's like a time share, but each owner gets to haunt the joint for a couple of weeks, do some headless skiing, etc. Really puts some life back into a corpse.

    Err..those are the sort of things I WOULD be thinking if I were a ghost. Ahem. Yes.

  11. The acting from all parties made pro wrestling look like the movie The Piano. Also, according to the Nielson rating results, this show came in third in their time slot. New rules of the game: which of these extraordinary people can pinpoint the exact date that this show will be cancelled? Succeed, and YOU become the next phenomenon! (With this grand prize also comes a posthumous job offer courtesy of Jim "cl ass" Callahan. Seriously dude, don't do what you do and put the word "ass" in your URL. You're just asking for it.

  12. I feel that it only does harm for Criss to appear in this show. Not only do you have laughably bad performance artists doing psychic charades, but you have

    noted fraud Uri Gellar along for the ride with Angel's apparent consent. To give Gellar a medium again is bad enough, but for Criss to agree to appear with this person, who represents the very things that Randi and others are fighting against is much worse. I feel that "guilt by association" is an adequate way to describe it. Angel may be the skeptical voice in this circus, but reason and skeptical thought seldom win the heart of the common viewer looking for a quick fix of well produced theatrics.

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