Derren Brown Destroys a “Psychic”

Last night, my friends and I gathered around the TV for a rare treat: one of the world’s greatest mentalists (and a skeptic to boot) absolutely pwning (do the kids still say that?) the ever-loving crap out of a cheesy wannabe psychic medium.

Derren Brown Investigates is a new series on Channel 4 here in the UK in which the magician travels around the world debunking investigating paranormal claims. The first debunking investigation: Joe Power, who once told Skepchick reader and Merseyside skeptic Marsh that skeptics are basically like pedophiles.

Derren follows Joe around for a week asking uncomfortable questions and yet being very, very fair. Joe spends this time whining, exploding with scary unexpected rage, and (ALLEGEDLY) cheating.

Oh yeah, and Friend of Skepchick Richard Wiseman made an appearance, and I swear it happened no more than 7 seconds after my friend Chris said “I bet Wiseman’s going to show up at some point.”

Hilarity ensued, and was blissfully caught on tape.

Those in the UK can watch it via 4oD for the next month, and those outside the UK can watch it via YouTube for the next 30 seconds before it gets taken down:


The show was sort of meh up until around 12:30 when the best segment ever happens.

Joe asks Derren to give an actress (Claire Cooper) a reading. Derren first says he doesn’t normally do this because it makes him feel like a complete asshole (cut to Joe looking pissed). Then Derren gives her a good reading with plenty of hits that she confirms (cut to Joe looking annoyed). Then Derren says there’s a crossover between what he does and what Joe does. Joe interrupts him to give his own psychic advice to the actress, saying she drives a Mini (yes) and one of her cats has a problem with a paw (yes).

Joe turns to Derren and says, “I like to come up with facts.”

It is without a doubt one of the pissiest lines I’ve ever heard. I can’t believe he didn’t follow it up with sticking out his tongue and giving Derren the finger.

As all three are parting ways, Joe says to the actress, “I forgot to say about the affair.”

Claire: “What affair?”

Joe: “Oh, it doesn’t matter forget it!”

Claire: “No, tell me.”

Joe: “Nah, ha ha ha!”

Claire: “No, tell me, you can’t do that!”

Derren: “Go on, keep going.”

Joe: “We’ll leave that for another time, ha ha, you just keep traveling in your Mini!”


Joe: “I could have been picking that up from the auric field, which, it’s stored in the magnetic field. And I wouldn’t be a person to leave you in limbo thinking something’s going on.”

Derren: “But you were going to, you said…”


Ha, ha! What a dick. Oh and it turns out that prior to the taping, Claire drove her Mini right up to Joe, parked it, got out, and walked past him into the building.

But I’m sure it came from the auric field.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. First time commenting…hi there one and all.
    What I was struck by in this programme was how nasty this “medium” was. Not just a clear charlatan but actually a pretty horrible human. When things didn’t go his way he became quite aggressive with people that clearly weren’t the correct target. The second woman he gave a reading to for example. Very confrontational.
    The big reveal at the end was a really good nail in the coffin I thought. :)

  2. I just downloaded this and it was fantastic! It started out ackward (with bad magician jokes and comments about how he expected Derren to be littler) and just got nasty.

    How publically avaliable are police databases in England anyway? It seems like half of the hits the psychic got could be gotten from DMV records- speeding tickets, old car accidents, some guy who had an accident involving his bike. I don’t know if he had access to actual information or was just being really broad. (After all, most people have been in a car accident before.)

    It’s strange- most skeptics I know either really love or really hate Derren Brown. (He’s inspired many a NLP course…)

  3. Completely unrelated: I just had someone check out Michael Specter’s “Denialism” and then ask for the religion and self-help section.

  4. @RebeccaT: Yeah, definitely skeptical love/hate thing with Derren Brown. I’m a huge fan but sometimes. . . I don’t know, mixed feelings.
    He has specials like “The System” and “Messiah” that are skepticism at its best. But then the wishy-washy half-disclaimers he gives on things like “The Events,” most intelligent people will hear him say it’s all tricks, but for the gullible I’m afraid it just amounts to free marketing for people like Sylvia Brown.

  5. yeah, I don’t particularly like Derren Brown, though I haven’t seen this series. He seems as full of shit as most psychics. I know he makes a point of talking about misdirection (so that you know to ignore what he says about the supposed psychological abilities he’s using), but most of the tricks I saw seemed to be total bullshit or a clever editing job. I realize he doesn’t calim to be supernatural, but he doesn’t really do anything all that cool either.

  6. Ahahah, I’m watching this on 4OD now, I had to take a little break from the laughing.

    I *love* the interview with the actress (Claire Cooper) Joe looks like he’s sucking on a lemon in the background.

    A little disheartening that despite Derren’s ‘reading’ owning Joe’s attempt, and being told plainly that Darren isn’t psychic, Claire Cooper came away with the conclusion that Derren must actually be psychic…

  7. Nice show, and the psychic is a real ass. But at the end, Brown voiceovers that maybe, the comfort psychics bring is more important than whether they’re real or not. And I hate that idea because when I listen to the last reading, where someone desperately wants to make contact and gets fed bullshit lines about how her mother says hello, that is not comfort. Also, there’s the question of whether these readings actually hinder the grief process.

    So before you can say the comfort is what counts, I’d want to be sure that there is even a true benefit there.

  8. @Alisha: Yeah I couldn’t believe it when she said that he must actually BE a psychic. Being gullible is one thing but that took the cake…

    I think Derren Brown is great. He’s a proper skeptic, despite the wishy-washy ending lines here.

    As to his shows, what more can the man do than tell people it’s not real before each one? He’s a bloody magician ffs. It’s not his fault if people (like Claire Cooper) are morons.

    If anyone came away from that programme thinking that Joe Power was a real psychic then frankly they are beyond help.

  9. About Derren Brown’s wishy washy ending: I give the guy a break, because he lives in a place where you go bankrupt for stating outright that a person probably isn’t being truthful.

  10. For both of the women that he did readings for at the houses, I was hoping that Darren would go back after and video the hallway leading to the bathroom. I thought it was odd that the psychic went to the bathroom as soon as he entered the house of both women, before giving the reading. Doesn’t he know to go to the bathroom before he leaves home?

  11. @LinzeeBinzee: I think they did pick up on it, they left it in after all.
    I disagree that Derren’s being too wishy washy and it has nothing to do with the UKs laws. I think he’s actually trying to change peoples minds. For most people if you flat out tell them their ideas are wrong they won’t change their mind no matter how you present an argument, they’ll just stop listening to you.
    Moreover in the case of the bathroom, a person doesn’t have to be too astute to see it as fishy. I reckon they’d be happier to reach the conclusion that Joe’s a douche if they “contribute” to the debunking rather than having every little thing spoon fed to them.

  12. Personally, I don’t think Derren was too wishy-washy at the end – spoonfeeding ready-made conclusions and condemnations would likely have put some people off coming to a rational conclusion, I think.

    Also, it made me smile to see Joe emphasise how tall Derren was when they met. Joe is a pretty tiny man, who ended up standing on the doorstep of a plus-size lingerie shop in order to be my height while branding me a gay atheist paedophile (as it happens, he’s right on 1/3 there – which is slightly above his general level of accuracy, really). Not that there’s anything wrong with being diminutive, but his early stressing of the point made me giggle, anyway.

    Still, Joe’s a grade-A cock, and I’m glad I can share him with you all now!

  13. @Marsh: As a regular Skeptics with a K listener I felt I knew him already! I was looking forward to this series but when I found out he would be on I was even more intrigued to see what would happen. I hope you’ll update us on what this has done to his profile on Merseyside…

  14. I wonder if there’s actually any real benefit to claiming to have real psychic abilities. Derren Brown, who’s certainly more of a name than Mr Power, doesn’t. Banachek* doesn’t either. Penn & Teller make it very clear that they do not, in fact, possess any supernatural abilities of any kind.

    I suspect it’s an advantage when you’re an “upstart” psychic and don’t have the kind of fame that gets you tv shows and large venues since you can get some income then from doing individual readings for people who want it because they actually want to believe.

    *Whose SGU interview is easily my favorite interview on the SGU ever.

  15. This was ALL kinds of fabulous (there are 6)! It was both interesting, engaging, camp, toe-curlingly aggravating and so CAMP. It must have been really difficult to sit next to Joe Glo and not want to reach out and slap him, every second minute.

  16. Man, after seeing that whole thing…
    That guy is one unsymoathetic guy. Next time somebody calls me an asshole or a dick, I can show them this video and make it clear that I’m merely deeply unpleasant. :~P

  17. @LinzeeBinzee

    The delicious thing to notice in the first video part is that after Derren enters Joe’s apartment Joe says “Of course you can use the loo.” Obviously they’d edited out Derren asking the question, but nevertheless we can see that Derren was already playing mind games with Joe, whilst hinting to the audience to be on the look out for a common tactic. And sure enough…

    Another thing Derren is good at is truth and lies. People commonly think that a shifty gaze indicates mistruth. Most people, knowing this is the conventional wisdom, overcompensate and will stare you down as they lie straight to your face.

  18. @Rebecca Watson: It’s not that he won’t say Joe Power is a fraud it’s the part about whether pretending to have psychic powers comforts people and whether or not that makes it ok to lie.

    And if that was a joke then I must say the UK is making your wit drier than I can detect.

  19. What got me was Power’s repeated “finding” of “there were 2 or 3 kids”, or various permutations. How does he do it? Is the average number of kids per family still 2.4? That really is amazing.
    Or “I’m sensing there were 5 in your family”: brilliant. Does that mean 2 adults & 3 kids, 1 adult & 4 kids, 5 kids, etc.
    What a colossal knob.

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