Do Mentalists Have Supernatural Powers?

brain inside male head

The short answer is no. Mentalists use various techniques and tricks to create the illusion of mind-reading, clairvoyance, and other psychic phenomena. While some mentalists claim to possess supernatural abilities, most rely on psychology to achieve their effects by employing a range of nonverbal cues to gather information about their subjects. According to Nalini Ambady, Ph.D., studies demonstrate nonverbal cues can be as informative as verbal communication in providing information about a person’s emotional state, intentions, and social status. By carefully observing a person’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, a mentalist makes educated guesses about a subject’s thoughts, feelings, and preferences.

Mentalists also exploit common cognitive biases and heuristics. For example, they often use the Barnum effect, which refers to the tendency for people to accept vague or general statements as accurate descriptions of themselves. According to the late Paul E. Meehl, Ph.D. people are inclined to believe that generic statements apply specifically to them because they seek validation of their beliefs and often tend to interpret ambiguous or vague statements as more specific than they are.

Mentalists may also use confirmation bias, which involves seeking information that confirms preexisting beliefs, or the availability heuristic, which consists of relying on readily accessible information to make judgments. By leveraging these and other psychological principles, mentalists can create the impression of extraordinary abilities, even though their methods are based on sound psychological principles.

What is mentalism? Penn’s silent partner Teller is the man who knows.

When I tell people I am a mentalist, people usually ask, “What is mentalism?”

For the uninitiated, mentalism can seem like a supernatural power. But mentalism is just a branch of magic that focuses on the performer’s ability to demonstrate extraordinary mental abilities.

According to Teller of Penn & Teller, mentalism is “the art of creating the illusion that you can read minds, tell the future, or perform other psychic feats.” He explains that mentalists rely on a combination of psychological manipulation, suggestion, and attention to detail to create the illusion of supernatural abilities.

Mentalists also employ sleight of hand, misdirection, and psychological manipulation to create the illusions they perform. Mentalists are expert communicators who can influence their audience’s thoughts and perceptions through words and actions.

Alexander the Man Who Knows, poster
Alexander the Man Who Knows, was an American vaudeville magician who specialized in mentalism and psychic reading acts, dressed in Oriental-style robes and a feathered turban and often used a crystal ball as a prop. In addition to performing, he also worked privately for clients, giving readings.

The history of mentalism can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where wise men and shamans were said to have supernatural powers and were revered for their ability to perform miracles. Truthfully, we don’t have magical powers and use our knowledge of human psychology and behavior to influence the audience’s perception of reality.

Today shows by mentalists are extremely popular because mentalism is a highly versatile art form that can be adapted to a wide range of settings and audiences. Whether performed in front of a large crowd or a small group of friends, mentalism is always a captivating experience. Mentalists can engage their audience with their skills and leave a lasting impression that can be remembered for years. Whether you are looking for an entertaining performance or a unique way to explore the mysteries of the human mind, mentalism is an excellent choice.

Magic and mentalism recently lost one of its greats with the passing of Max Maven, who made countless contributions to art with techniques and methods used by nearly every living performer. His distinctive look and manner of speaking made him popular with lay audiences and professional performers through his passing last year.

max maven photo
Max Maven was a world-renowned magician, mentalist, and performance known for his highly creative and original approach to magic, which incorporated elements of theater, psychology, and philosophy. Max was also a prolific writer and creator, having written numerous books, produced countless magic tricks, and developed numerous stage productions.

Read ’em and Weep

Read ‘em and Weep

I’m getting ready to go to Magic Live, where I will help Brett Barry in the dealer’s room sell some of our latest iteration of Celebrity Presage at the SvenPads table. I will also be selling a few of Maione (my own) creations. Including a new piece inspired by David Garrard’s Sketch-O-Magic and Martin Andersen’s License Plate Prediction and put together at the suggestion of my friend and editor of Vanish Magazine, Paul Romhany. It’s a fun piece that is topical, easy to perform, and can be presented to young and old alike. If you want to purchase one, visit my products page.

Back From Blackpool

Blackpool is a coastal city in northern England. The town reminds me of a rundown Atlantic City without the big hotels. Every year a giant magic convention is held in the city. It is the world’s largest magic convention, and attending the gathering has been on my bucket list for years. I was supposed to attend last year, but as we all know, just about everything was canceled last winter. So my buddy Jeff Miller and I went this year.

The convention was not as big as usual and did not have as many performers from the European continent lecturing or performing because of Covid, but we still had a great time. The organizer did some really great things, but there are a few things that could have been better. The venue, the Winter Gardens, which is one of the largest auditoriums in England and is where Brittan’s Got Talent is taped, is lovely. The audio-visual facilities in each breakout room and the auditorium were the best I have ever seen. The dealer room was massive, with lots of dealers. That’s where we get to see and handle what’s new. Dealer rooms may be the only place we have to check props out these days because so many brick and mortar stores have closed shop.

Dealer Room

The gala shows were a bit of a letdown. There were some excellent performers and some that were so-so. I enjoyed the lectures I attended, but because many events overlapped, I missed a lot. The organizers provided a great phone app that let you know what was happening and when and sent reminders so you would not miss things you wanted to attend. I also liked the badges, which contained your gala seating assignments (no tickets to get lost). I didn’t care for how the organizers set up the close-up shows. The performers were not mic’d, and they performed too close to each other so it was hard to hear what they were saying over the laughs and applause emanating from the nearby performances. The best part of the convention, or any convention, was meeting up with friends and making new friends.

I was good and did not come home with too much magic. My suitcase was too small, it was either take home new magic or my clothes. I opted for my clothes.

Before the convention, we stayed with magic friends Roger and Mandy Nicot, who were fabulous hosts and toured us around their part of the country. We got to see some great attractions, including the city of Bath, where we met up with another magic friend, Simon Lane, and we visited Stonehenge. After the convention, another magic friend Andy Clockwise met us in London and took us on a walking tour of the West End.

Roger, Mandy, Jeff, and Me at the cold and windy Stonehenge

It was a great trip. I plan to go again probably in a couple of years. Hopefully, next time I won’t come back with Covid. Yep, I got it, so did Jeff. We were lucky, though. We tested negative just before we boarded our plane, so we were not blocked from coming home on schedule. Both Jeff and I were vaccinated and boosted, so we experienced nothing more than a severe cold and recovered quickly. Let’s hope my antibodies are nice and high now; Magic Live is in May.

Zoom to the North Pole

This year skip the mall and let your children meet Santa the safe way online. Starting November 1, your children can zoom straight to the North Pole to meet Santa in his workshop. During the 10-minute zoom session with Santa, Santa will dialog with your children and learn what they wish for Christmas. Santa will show them a few magic tricks, lead them in a song and say if they’ve been naughty or nice.

To schedule a meeting, contact Santa at or call Mike at 631-576-9098. He’ll schedule a zoom session for a convenient time and collect some background information so that Santa can interact knowingly with your children. This Santa wants to know how old children are, what they like and dislike, if they have pets, etc. And of course, if there is something mom and dad would like Santa to suggest to their little ones. Maybe it’s to eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, or put their toys away.

The fee for this service is $25 which can be paid via PayPal, Venmo, or credit card. For more information contact Santa by email or phone.

Spring update

Hello, friends. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a message so it’s time for an update. Let’s start with some big news. The Parlor of Mystery will open its doors again in May; May 23 to be exact. It sure has been a loooonnnng year. The place is different and the shows will be a bit different for a while. Most notably the seats have been distributed along the long wall instead of the short wall. Seating will be spaced, masks are required, and we also won’t have an intermission but it will be so sweet to get out of the house and away from zoom. I hope you join us. You must make a reservation. Here’s the number to call 631-669-0506.

In the meantime, all are invited to come backstage with me and meet Devlin. He’s an incredible East Coast illusionist and swell guy. I know you will love meeting him, learning about his career and asking him questions so join us on March 23, at 7PM. Here’s a link to the show which streams on the Parlor of Mystery Facebook page. Click on the link below and get a reminder.

Trick or Treat #38 – Devlin

Posted by Parlor of Mystery on Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A Show Must Go On

The pandemic is in full swing. Here in New York, I thought we were over the hump, and life would start to get back to normal, but now with the virus raging across the country, I’ll be surprised if we don’t have a powerful resurgence here. So, it seems we won’t be doing many live ‘in-person’ shows anytime soon.

But once an extroverted performer, always an extroverted performer, I suppose. So, a show of some kind must go on. That show is Trick or Treat. Trick or Treat is cross between a typical late-night talk show and the now deceased, James Lipton’s Inside the Actor’s Studio. Of course, my interviewees are magicians and comics, not notable actors and directors.

Every Monday at 11AM

As of this writing, there have been 11 Trick or Treat shows. The show streams live every Monday at 11AM, a time convenient to me and no one else I suspect. I enjoy producing the show each week and work long and hard to make each show more interesting and technically better than the previous one. Every week I challenge myself to perform a new feat of magic designed explicitly for the ‘display only’ environment. That is to say, tricks that do not require audience participation. And each week, I pick a topic like karma, magic gone awry, or bad hair and scour the internet for the best photos and videos on that topic. Some are quite funny.

But the best part of the show for me is interviewing friends in comedy and magic. It’s interesting how you can know someone for years but not know their story, how they became interested in performing, and looking at photos and videos that highlight their career. We don’t let our guests off easy, though. Because the show is called Trick or Treat, I ask each guest to perform a trick or deliver a treat before the show ends. We’ve seen some fabulous tricks so far.

If you haven’t watched the show as it streams, you can watch it live on the Parlor of Mystery Facebook page. Go to Facebook, search for the Parlor of Mystery, and you’ll find us. The fun part about watching the show as it streams is you can be part of the interview and ask questions yourself. If you’d rather look at the show after it streams, you can see the recorded program on Facebook or my personal YouTube channel. On YouTube, search for Mike Maione. Subscribe to my channel so you won’t miss a show.

Here is a sample of some magic from the show.

Coming Attractions

This week my guest is comedian Rich Walker and next week actor and magician Todd Robbins. On August 17 the beautiful English magician Romany will be my guest. On August 24 my guest will be the best kids magician on the planet, Mario the Maker Magician. And on

Trick or Treat

It’s been about two months since live, in-person magic shows have been halted, and magicians like myself have been holed up at home. This has been difficult for those of us who like to perform. Many magicians myself included, started doing virtual shows using Zoom as soon as possible. Even those who initially resisted doing virtual shows have started. They’ve realized that it may be a year before people feel comfortable enough to sit shoulder to shoulder in a theatre with someone who might have COVID-19. Or when corporations start holding events and hire magicians to perform.

Some performers have taken to entertaining with Facebook Live both to keep themselves in the eye of the public or satisfy their thirst for the spotlight.

While I am not one of the guys going live every other day, I have created a streaming interview show called Trick or Treat. In addition to Interviewees talking about their work, they perform a trick or deliver a treat. I have been planning to produce this show ever since I had a guest appearance on a TV show that was broadcast years ago on a public access television. It was called Hocus Focus. Like my show, it was an opportunity for performers to showcase their talent. I have always thought I would do a better job than the fellow who hosted the show, and finally, I have the chance to find out.

After getting the necessary gear and software and after a few tests, the first show streamed on May 18 and featured a hypnotist Terry Parrett. Subsequent shows featured Judge Gary Brown and Peter Samelson.

Tomorrow’s show features comedy magician, John Ferrentino. The show streams at the Parlor of Mystery Facebook page at 11 AM on Mondays. Here’s a link to our Facebook page. You can also catch it after the fact on my youtube channel.

Is the cure worse than the ailment?

By now, you have undoubtedly heard Trump say, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the disease.” He echoed what a FOX-TV host said earlier and was referring to the economic problems caused by the various gubernatorial stay at home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am not referring to stay at home orders and the economy. I am referring to the overabundance of streaming magic polluting the virtual world and its impact on magic. It’s been a little more than a month, and magicians, myself included, who can no longer fill the real world with mystery are over-stuffing the virtual world with lackluster exhibitions of magic done in solitude, in front of their computers or cell phone and streamed to the world.

With few exceptions, most virtual shows I have seen are not the least bit entertaining. Few seem to be well designed to tell a story or have a theme, message, or character that makes them compelling to watch. And all display pretty low-quality production values with sound, lighting, and image capture far below what consumers of television today are accustomed to. This is no surprise given the performer is often the producer, director, scriptwriter, lighting director, cameraman, and computer technician, as well as the talent.

Today, consumers are very discriminating when it comes to film and video. There is no way one person pend up at home, standing in front of a webcam, and performing live is going to satisfy the sophisticated demands of a modern audience. Viewers are used to seeing well-rehearsed performances on television with multiple camera views, reaction shots, a live audience, and editing. Even the late-night hosts are struggling with the constraints of performing from home. Many of us enjoyed the One World Together at Home special, especially the finale with Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, Lang Lang, Lady Gaga, and John Legend. But, even with the combined skills of many talented producers, the variation in sound and picture quality from performer to performer throughout the show was undeniable. 

Significant as the technical deficits are, they pale in comparison to the most significant drawback, the absence of a live audience. Without an audience to interact with, not hearing laughs after a joke, not seeing the look on a volunteer’s face as he or she reacts to a minor miracle or hearing applause, most performers are like fish out of water.  But it’s not the performer alone who is disappointed. The audience is as well. 

Hollywood knows all about the power of audience reactions. It was proven in an experiment to see if a comedy without a live audience fared better with laughs in 1965 with the sitcom Hogan’s Heroes. The program was shown to test audiences with and without a laugh track. Not surprisingly, the show was much more successful with the laughs, and ever since, most sitcoms not shot in front of a live audience have utilized a laugh track. Those of us who have been part of a live audience for the taping of a television talk show know well that we are cued and practiced when it comes to applause.

These opinions are not mine alone. I stumbled on this video.

It’s the famous scene from the 2004 film Downfall that depicts Hitler angry after his orders were ignored and that was used in numerous parodies posted on the Internet. In this parody, Hitler rages about the profusion of poor quality virtual magic and laments about magic performed without an audience. The parody says it clearly. “Magic needs an audience! Real people in front of you! You have to hear them react. Performing to no one is rehearsing.” I don’t know who created the parody, but I agree with his observations.

There are already plenty of reasons people don’t like magic – magic is a riddle without a solution; magic is for kids; magicians are cheesy, annoying, arrogant, and boring. And every magician has probably experienced how reluctant people can be when asked to help on stage, which is most likely the result of having seen a lousy magician embarrass a volunteer or treat them like props. If you perform strolling magic, I would be surprised if you haven’t heard someone in a group you’ve approached say, “Oh, I don’t like magic” and turn you away. I hope magic is not further lessened in the minds of the public by virtual performances.

Unless we are lucky, it’s likely to be more than a year before people feel safe enough to gather in groups to see a magic show. Aside from avoiding the issue and not streaming magic, what can you do if you insist on dipping your wand into the stream? Here are some suggestions.

  • Lighting – Make sure you are properly lit. The backlight can be a killer. More light should come from in front of you and the action. 
  • Auto exposure – Most webcams will adjust to balance the overall scene and try to average the lights and darks to a middle tone. If you can’t manually set the exposure, try to balance the scene with clothing and background. Don’t wear a black suit against a black background and expect anyone to see the pips on a playing card.
  • Camera – If you can use a DSLR or video camera. If not, use the camera on your phone instead of the one on your computer.
  • Multiple cameras – Use more than one camera so that you can have close-ups and wide shots.       
  • Software – Use software designed for streaming video. I am familiar with vMix and eCamm, but there are numerous others.
  • Background – Even a plain white wall is better than a messy room.
  • Practice – Practice with the technology, not just the magic. I saw one show where the entire show was sideways because the magician’s phone was locked in portrait mode.
  • Rehearse – You know the difference. Do your whole show with no breaks. 
  • Look at the camera – Don’t look at your monitor, look at the camera. Make eye contact with the viewers. 
  • Connect with the viewer – That’s easier said than done. Look at anything produced by Steve Valentine. He connects. No doubt that’s because he’s a professional actor as well as a magician, and he produces instructional magic videos regularly. 
  • Finally, Get rid of it – Unless it’s a great video, don’t leave it posted for all to see forever.

I’ve trashed virtual magic because most of what I have seen has been disappointing. But, as Eric Wilzig, an excellent young magician who is doing some of the best virtual magic I have seen, says, “If done correctly, it’s really cool and fun to watch. It’s just like when magic was probably first seen on TV.” And he is right; virtual magic is in its infancy. It remains to be seen whether it will mature and elevate the art or be completely forgotten when COVID-19 is a distant memory.  

Has COVID-19 Killed Live Theatre?

The coronavirus has severely impacted many industries. Virtually, every non-essential business has been closed weeks. The airlines and big enterprises will likely be bailed out, and people much to their discomfort will again take trains, subways, buses, and taxis to move about when we begin to go back to work, albeit donned with gloves, masks, maybe even gowns. Hand sanitizers will be attached to everyone’s backpack or key chain as the workers return, and the economy fights back to health. Sadly, many small businesses, especially the ones that were struggling before the virus, may never reopen. Even a low or no-interest loan from the federal government won’t help them. It will take many months for those forced into unemployment to find work. 

As an entertainer, who works in front of live audiences, I wonder if live theatre will ever bounce back. Will anyone ever pay to see a revival of their favorite musical, the newest avant-garde play, a concert, or a magic show until everyone feels safe sitting in a crowded theatre fighting for the armrest with the person squashed into the seat next to them?  Or instead, will they continue to shelter in place at home on Friday and Saturday nights resolved to watch another old sitcom or made for TV movie? Except for pop concerts, it’s the older crowd, those most susceptible to the worst complications of the virus, that attend live theatre. Will anyone enjoy Hamlet, Hamilton, or a modern-day Houdini if the person in the row behind them coughs, sneezes, or even clears his throat until they are 100% sure that herd immunity or vaccination is protecting them from COVID-19?

Charlotte M. Canning writes in American Theatre, that in 1918 during the Spanish flu pandemic, “Theatres were so important that people did not lightly forgo attendance. Their closure remained a great public frustration, even as people were dying.” She writes that “The Seattle Daily Times observed on Oct. 6 that ‘Theatre Patrons Find Doors Shut, City’s Influenza Prevention Edict Results in Thousands of Disappointments.’ Even when people knew in advance, the closures were imminent, and that deaths were surging, they didn’t relinquish theatergoing easily.

According to Canning, “And then it all seemed to end as quickly as it had begun. And as life resumed, people seemed to forget just how horrific it had been.” Theatre attendance rebounded.

But in 1918, there was no TV, no HBO, Netflix, Hulu, Prime, YouTube, Facebook. Heck radio didn’t become a popular form of entertainment until the 1920s. Back then, if you wanted any form of entertainment other than a good book, it was in a theatre with a bunch of other people watching a silent movie or some form of live entertainment. But that is no more. Times have changed, and shows are streamed right into the living room. There is no need to travel on a crowded train to the city center, sit in a cramped seat next to a large gentleman manspreading. That leads me to believe that live theatre will not climb out of the hole for at least a year, maybe much longer. 

Performers like me who entertain at private parties may get back to work sooner because the groups are smaller, and the affairs we perform at are often family gatherings. More than likely, relatives will be getting together as soon as the number of infections and deaths reported in the news subsides. Corporate parties however, will likely be on hold much longer. Instead of a holiday party or loyalty event, companies will find other ways to thank customers and employees and new ways to get new clients in an effort to avoid the potential of lawsuits that could result if a guest gets infected. So, recovery won’t be like a light switch was turned on.

We magicians will likely face added challenges that will require significant adjustments. Much of the magic we perform is interactive and involves contact with a stranger. Whether it is close-up where spectators are often asked to pick a card or on stage where spectators are invited to the stage to assist, it will be harder to find volunteers from the audience who are not concerned contact will present some level of danger. At one of his Monday night virtual gatherings, Jeff McBride said, “For a while, magic will be no-touch. Then it will be low-touch before it’s back to normal.” That is back to the way it was before the pandemic. He didn’t offer a timeline.

Pick a card. Any card. Hand reaching for a playing card. Horizontal.

What do you think? When will you return to the theatre? When will you be ready to sit elbow to elbow with some stranger from the suburbs in the concert hall? When will you feel comfortable picking a card? 

I would love to know what you think. Take this brief survey.