The 6 Most Humiliating Public Failures by Celebrity Psychics
The frustrating thing about psychics, mediums, and fortune tellers is that they're still able to make a pretty goddamned comfortable living, even in 2013. Their inability to provide empirical evidence that what they do is anything other than a scam to prey on the gullible seems to have had little effect on their bottom line. Still, there have been little victories along the way, and cameras have been there to capture the hilarity.
Uri Geller Is Exposed on the Johnny Carson Show
Contrary to what you might assume, the people most hostile to claims of supernatural powers are magicians. That's why nowadays they usually prefer the term "illusionist" -- they want to be clear from the outset that what they're doing is a trick. But then, every so often, one of them will hit the big time by claiming that they have genuine magic powers. Such is the case with Uri Geller, who in the '70s was basically the Sith Lord of illusionists. And millions of people believed him.
"Let the naivete flow through you."
If you're too young to remember, Geller found fame with mind-reading tricks and, more famously, mind-powered spoon bending. Swearing that he had actual psychic powers, he used a bunch of sleight-of-hand tricks already well-known to magicians to apparently bend spoons with his thoughts. Of course, any magicians with a moral compass knew exactly what he was doing and made it their mission to take the weasel down. The result was one of the most tense and cringe-worthy appearances in talk show history (in a medium loaded with them):
When Uri Geller was booked to appear on The Tonight Show, host Johnny Carson (a former magician himself) was understandably skeptical about Geller's claims and had called up professional illusionist and psychic head-stomper James Randi to ask how the tricks might really be done. As Randi explained, the easiest way to bend a spoon with your mind would be to spend a few minutes before the show bending the spoon back and forth with your hand until the metal is so weak that it just falls limp when you hold it up to the camera.
With this in mind, Carson surprised Geller on the show by presenting a table full of assorted spoons and knickknacks, rather than letting him bring his own props, and gave Geller free reign to pick whatever trick he wanted to perform. You can watch Geller slowly descend into panic mode, knowing that his trick won't work and millions are watching.
He thought it would be a canned, no-sweat interview, like he was on .
It just gets harder to watch as it goes. Carson looks on, annoyed, as Geller tries to stall by ineffectually waving his hands over the table while he works out how the hell he's going to get out of this one.
For the first time, he found himself genuinely trying to call on a higher power.
After a series of the most incredibly awkward silences you will ever witness on a television broadcast, Geller eventually squirms out of the segment by claiming that he's just not feeling strong enough tonight.
Geller spent the rest of his career trying to sue James Randi over the humiliation, and after consistently losing his legal battles, he eventually quietly admitted that he was nothing more than an entertainer and not a wizard who could wield the powers of black magic. No shit?
Psychics Channel the Ghost of a Fake Person
A British television entertainer wanted to test the abilities of three psychics, inviting them to an abandoned chocolate factory to try to summon the spirit of its long-deceased owner. Amazingly, the psychics were all able to channel the ghost of the man -- an American named George Bull -- and provide a startlingly accurate account of his life on the spot. He had managed the factory in the late 1800s. Angry, aggressive, and generally the opposite of Willy Wonka, Bull got himself killed on the job when he caused a team of delivery horses to panic and trample him.
That's incredible information the psychics were able to glean just from speaking to the spirit, especially considering that Bull never existed and his story was completely made up on the spot.
In preparation for the show, the producers had planted fake information about George Bull on the chocolate factory's website and hung a fake photograph of him in the foyer. Even though they were told nothing about the story beforehand, the mediums still managed to channel a guy named George who got trampled by horses -- in other words, they revealed that they possessed the amazing power to do a basic Google search.
A power that you can now use to track the mediums down.
The host, who could not resist making the psychics look stupider than they already did, suggests to one of the mediums that it might help if she went into a trance. She replies that she could "probably go into a semi-trance, but not a full trance." Presumably a full trance could kill her with the sheer volume of bullshit. Turning off the lights, she closes her eyes and summons the ghost of, we reiterate, a man who never existed, and slurs "the horses, they ran me over."
Of the three psychics participating, only one of them had not clearly researched George Bull beforehand and relied on trying to draw information from the environment to construct his story. After seeing the portrait of George in the foyer, he suddenly channeled the name "George Bull." When it was pointed out that the portrait had a name plaque, he said he couldn't see it without his glasses.
"An' if I were going to sneak a peek, I'd na' have done it right in front of the camera, would I have?"
Ultimately, the host pointed out to all three psychics that the whole thing was made up and pressed them for an explanation. The trance lady bafflingly claimed she'd known it was bullshit all along, while the second theorized that he'd been drawing his information from the host's mind. The third, the guy who forgot his glasses, decided to argue with the guy who made up the story about the truthfulness of the story. Because when you've dug yourself into a hole that deep, the only option is to keep digging in the hope that you can escape to China.
The "Fresh Prince" Calls a Psychic Line
Some psychics don't need to go out in public to embarrass themselves; they can do that in a cushy studio, right over the phone. Take the case of a British psychic simply known as Wayne, who appeared on infomercials where people would call in looking for psychic advice, which he would respond to with vague, ambiguous answers. Some time in 2012, a man with an Irish accent called him with a tale about his childhood. Funny thing was, his childhood was verbatim the back story of the title character in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
The caller, identifying himself as "Will," spun a tale about growing up in West Philadelphia and hanging around the playground with his friends, like DJ Jazzy Jeff. But then, one day, "a couple of guys, they were up to no good, started making trouble in my neighborhood. I got in one little fight, my Mom got scared ..."
She said "You're movin' with your auntie and uncle in Belfast."
Ostensibly, his question was about whether he would ever meet up with his old crew from Philadelphia again. Missing the ruse entirely, Wayne shuffles his tarot cards and advises "Will" that he should try getting in touch with them through social media, which is exactly the kind of advice that you need from a phone psychic who is charging you several dollars per minute.
Getting bored, "Will" starts to see how far he can push it. Going on to say that he used to be a rapper, but because there wasn't much market for that kind of music in the '80s, he moved on to an entertainment career. In the end, he comes out and says "I'm Will Smith," which was literally the only point at which the other shoe dropped for poor Wayne. Probably too late for his career.
Australia's Top Psychics Run in Circles
In 2008, Australia broadcast a reality show called The One, which was like American Idol, except with psychics. The premise was to find "Australia's top psychic" and involved putting several psychics through a series of challenges to discern which (if any) of them had genuine magic powers. Being that apparently they failed 94 percent of the challenges put to them, it seems that question was pretty much answered. But out of the myriad failures, one of the most embarrassing was the helicopter search.
The psychics were dropped off in a forest and given 15 minutes to find a waiting helicopter. To aid them in their search, they were given a map and a personal item belonging to the pilot (wallet, keys, novelty butt plug, etc.). The psychic vibes coming from these items were supposed to guide the contestants to the chopper. If you can guess how that worked out, you're more psychic than they are.
And if you guessed "they traced the path of an erect dong," you're only half right.
Four out of 10 contestants were able to find the helicopter, but that sounds less impressive when you know that they had a map of the area and the chopper was uncreatively located in the opposite corner from where they started. This goes to show that a couple of years in the Boy Scouts is probably more useful in the long run than psychic powers.
For the rest, they ran around totally randomly while spouting psychic-sounding nonsense about "feeling a pull" and listening to their angel guides. At one point, one of them "feels" a strong pull to the right when the helicopter is clearly visible to his left.
Angel guides don't like psychics any more than we do.
Another loops around and ends up back at the car that dropped her off, while a third says a voice kept telling her to "run." As opposed to what, sit down and hope a friendly kangaroo carries you to the goal? Remember, these are Australia's top psychics. If they had recruited some of their lesser colleagues, they would have ended up dead in New Zealand somehow.
A Psychic Cold Reading Goes Completely Cold
Like most psychics whose schtick is talking to dead people, James Van Praagh's performance relies on "cold reading," a technique where you start out making general guesses and gradually hone in on more specific ones to create the illusion that you're talking to Uncle Jack's ghost. The ghosts are always happy, by the way, because nobody wants to hear that Grandma is getting jabbed by pitchforks in hell.
Unless you had one of those "eccentric" grandmothers.
Generally when you're filming a psychic who you want to make look good, you'll edit out the stuff they get wrong so that it looks like they're only getting "hits." If you forget to do that, you might wind up with something like Van Praagh's appearance on Australian talk show The Circle:
Van Praagh starts out by asking a lady about her dead mother, correctly guessing that she took some kind of medication. You know, like every old woman ever. From there it went downhill, as he asks whether she had arthritis (no), a back problem (nope), or trouble with her legs (nuh-uh) -- all common ailments that he assumed had a good chance of a hit. Realizing that he's starting to sink, he asks whether someone else has leg problems, and learns that her father had two hip replacements. Bingo! But then:
"So he can't walk as well as he used to."
"No, he walks very well."
"But he walks on legs, right? Which are below his waist? So I'm clearly on to something?"
Backpedalling frantically, he asks about a Cathy or a Catherine. No dice. He correctly guesses that they are Catholic (like a quarter of Australians) and amazingly has a vision of a picture of Mother Mary in someone's house. A picture of Mary in a Catholic household? Why, this man must have a direct phone line to the afterlife.
The marathon of failure continues when he asks who in her family plays music (nobody), at which point he abandons ship and starts questioning someone else, asking a lady whether her dead father liked cars. She replies with an eye roll that would utterly shrivel your balls.
And a pause so they could add a laugh track in post-production.
A Psychic Fighter Is No Match for an Actual Fighter
Yanagi Ryuken is a Japanese "fighter" who claims to be an expert in the art of kiai, or psychic fighting. His technique allegedly allows him to defeat his opponents without touching them, using the psychic power of chi rather than the more traditional power of punching dudes in the face.
Not to be confused with the psychic power of chai, another alternative to punching dudes.
A video of Ryuken in action against his students shows that the kiai style relies on casually waving your hands through the air while your disciples take stage dives that make the extras from direct-to-DVD Chuck Norris movies look like Laurence Olivier. If we saw this out of context, we'd assume it was bad anime cosplay. You would think that Ryuken's antics are a scam to trick gullible wimps into forking out money for DVDs, but, depressingly, Ryuken appears firmly convinced about his own abilities, because the below video documents what happened after he made a $5,000 bet with an MMA fighter that he could defeat him with psychic ability:
We can assume that his students shifted uncomfortably in their seats as he laid out the challenge, because up to this point they had all been pretending to get knocked out by his invisible hadokens to make a crazy old guy feel good about himself. If you watch closely, you can see the exact moment the professional realizes this is bullshit. After Ryuken slaps the air a couple of times, eliciting ooohs from the crowd and absolutely nothing else, the fighter drops his already casual guard and goes to town, overwhelming Ryuken's psychic shield with the mystical art of "actual kicks to the face."
After Ryuken recovers, the fighter seems hesitant to continue, at this point realizing that he's essentially just beating up a confused old man. But Ryuken insists, perhaps hoping to salvage at least a little dignity.
"It's OK, just a broken nose. Noses don't even have any chi."
Moments later, the video ends with Ryuken writhing on the ground in a fetal position, having learned an important lesson in the most brutal way possible. It could have been worse -- he could have tried to use that shit on a mugger.
You can read more from Mark at his website. Jason Iannone is a writer and editor for hire, find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
Related Reading: Don't feel TOO bad, psychics. Music censors have some pretty epic fails of their own. Like the time an album with zero words was slapped with a parental advisory sticker. Plenty of movie badasses also failed in their moment of truth- You know we're talking about Boba Fett. But hey, nobody's perfect. Just ask Thomas Jefferson, the President who ended his life in crippling debt.