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Richard Wiseman: Psychobabble
Published on Wednesday, 22 August 2012
5

5 stars

The Canons' Gait (venue website)
Comedy
8, 15, 22 Aug, 12:10pm-1:00pm, 6:05pm-7:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.
 Recommended for age 18+ only. Venue may not permit under-18's - check with venue before booking.

Were I one of the numerous journeyman magicians who ply their trade at the Fringe, I think I’d be slightly irritated by Professor Richard Wiseman.  In this hugely entertaining free show, he blows the gaff comprehensively on some of their basic secrets, and on a whole host of similar psychological tricks besides.  The result’s a pic’n’mix assortment of intellectual morsels, linked only tenuously by the claimed “psychobabble” theme.  But Wiseman – who, if he weren’t a professor, could surely make a living as a stand-up comedian – is both charming and witty enough to draw together the threads of his rag-tag collection of curiosities.

Above all else, this is a very funny show.  Defying the stereotype of the nutty professor, Wiseman is irreverent, informal and constantly surprising, with more than one seemingly-educated insight turning out to be the set-up for a cheap gag.  His show’s full of tricks, demonstrations, and videos harvested from YouTube, many of which work all the better for being distinctly low-key.  His explanation of how to make a chicken out of a tea towel, for example, hovers on the cusp of being wilfully rubbish… until the whole thing’s vindicated by the final reveal.

Despite the comedy, there is real science behind the show – not exactly the stuff of a university lecture, but solid all the same.  You’ll come away understanding how a magician distracts you from his sneaky move, knowing how to befuddle your opposition at sport, and grasping at least one of the reasons why people see Jesus in pieces of toast.  Given that Wiseman is a poster-boy for the resurgence of rationalism, I’d have liked to hear a little more hard science amidst his comic patter, but the rapturous reception he received from the audience was impossible to ignore.

The enthusiastic crowd plainly contained a number of pre-existing Wiseman fans, but that very fact points to the one possible quibble with his act.  An awful lot of his material has seen the light of day before – on his popular blog, for example, or in previous talks he’s given.  If you’ve been drawn to the show by a familiarity with his work, and were looking forward to something properly new, you might not find a huge amount to satisfy you.

The truth is, though, it really didn’t matter.  Somehow he pulled a psychological trick of his own, convincing me I was enjoying something fresh and exciting, even though I’d seen most of the slides (and heard a few of the gags) before.  All in all then, whether you’re a die-hard follower or an interested newbie, you won’t want to miss Psychobabble.  Be warned though – more people want to see this show than there’s space in the room, so turn up very early… and take advantage of the fittingly rational token-based queuing system, which they’re operating in the bar.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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