Rob Rozeboom : So of all the people you have investigated over the years, do you have a favorite, do you have one that you thought, wow that was very clever?
Randi: No unfortunately I have always sort of hankered have some “psychic” and I use that word in quotation marks, come down the road, that something that would really ____12:55 where I’d say, hey that is something else. I’ve been around for all these years. Let’s face it. I know how these things are done. And to any experienced conjuror, a term I prefer rather than magician, to any experienced conjuror with a certain amount of maturity in the field, it is so immediately evident what is happening. And any magicians that includes myself, of course, walking along the street, and coming upon a street performer doing card tricks or doing whatever sort of tricks he or she is doing, well we literally do, you saw it in The Sting, did you see that motion picture?
Randi: Okay, well you know the motion which is like this, and if you catch the magician’s eye, and you simply do that, and the magician acknowledges your gesture and he or she knows that you are going to keep quiet and just watch the performance, not disturb it, and if required to name a playing card or a number, you would be most cooperative in that respect. Because it is entertainment. These people are not taking your money under false pretences.
Rozeboom Right. If you’ve ever had one that took you a while to figure out what was happening, any close calls?
Randi: No, not now. No. In the early days, Chan Canasta. When I was I guess 14 years of age or so, Chan Canasta took me for a ride for one day. I had to go back and see the show the second time until it dawned on me what he was doing. But, no, it might be with some of the professionals some of my close friends, who are really very experienced magicians, they sometimes will go through all kinds of shenanigans to fool me and they will set me up in some way or another, and they will try; as a matter of fact, Richard Feynman, do you know that name at all?
Randi: He is a physicist, a Nobel Prize winner of course in physics, and he lives in California. Dick and I were great friends. And we had a bit of an arrangement after he contacted me and we met and found we were on the same wavelength. Dick Feynman and I had this arrangement, that I would spring a surprise on him in such a way that he would probably be astonished by something that I had just done unexpectedly. And then he had to ask me the question was that one of them? If I said yes, that meant that he had the privilege of asking me any question he wanted as to the modus operandi that I might have employed as long as the answer was yes, no, or doesn’t apply, and so I wouldn’t answer but then get the fact, but he would say something like if we had not been in this room with the ceiling and side chair, would that still have worked? And if I’d said no, then he’d say aha and he’d give me some possibilities. But he did all the thinking.
He never failed. This was no dummy. I actually had some pretty smart friends over the years I must say. Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, just a few name droppers that I can throw at you. But Feynman was something else. He always solved it. Sometimes it took him several days. One interesting, what few may find interesting, I hope you do. The little episode occurred one day when I had done a stunt with him with a spoon that he had at the side of his coffee up just given to him by the restaurant. I said, okay, took it and manipulated it slightly and it melted away and broke. He said was that one of them. I said yes. He started to ask his questions. And that was in California. And I was living in New Jersey at that time.
So I actually went back to New Jersey, and he would call me occasionally and ask me one of the questions that he asked for a yes, no, or doesn’t apply. One day, at 2 o’clock in the morning I got a call: He says Hi Dick Feynman, and said if the waiter had come in. I say Dick, Dick, Dick it is 2 o’clock in the morning. And he paused for a second, he said I know, oh you are in New Jersey. I said yes, you see the earth rotates as seen from the North Pole in a counter clockwise direction in a period of once every 24 hours. This is time zones. He said yeah I know that. But obviously you don’t know that because it is 2 o’clock in the morning. Will you just answer the question yes or no. And I said yes. He said fine, I will call you back quick. And I sat there for the rest of the night of course waiting for him to call me back at any moment but he’d probably forgotten about that. He didn’t connect with the real world, in many cases but when it came to physics, oh yes. And Dick eventually solved that one too.
Rozeboom So this isn’t really related to that, but I read that you were on tour with Alice Cooper.
Rozeboom Alice Cooper.
Randi: Vincent Furnier. He used to use that nameOh yes, I just saw Coop not too long ago, where was it? Was it in California? Or was it at Atlanta I believe? That was for Dragon Con. I guess that was Atlanta. I am not sure. We had a little conference, it is on YouTube some place I believe, as a matter of fact. When we walked away from that conference, he and me and his wife, we walked down the ramp, we went back stage and I said Coop we could’ve told them about so and so, and he said oh yeah, and what about the such and such; we thought of all the things that we could have talked about in front of the cameras. So we will do another one. Maybe at another Dragon Con one of these days. But Coop and I are good friends. He is a Born Again character, and his father used to be I guess still is, I don’t know if his father is still with him, but he was a Mormon minister. So he was raised in a religious family, but he has now turned into a Born Again, and he has appeared on many other smaller rock channels giving his message. We don’t argue about that. Coop would never argue with me. He’d know that we’d be fist fighting in no time at all. But we got along famously well. We had a good time on the Billion Dollar Babies Tour. I toured with him for 90 days. And he made a whole load of money and he paid me very handsomely too, thank you.
Rozeboom Excellent. I also saw that how do you feel about I’ve seen people accuse you of actually being a fraudster, not the kind of fraudster that you are proud of, but actually having psychic abilities and that is how you actually do some of these things. What do you say to that?
Randi: It is a little sad, because what they are doing is they are saying I am so smart I can figure it out, how the mentalists, that is not mentalism, that is the real thing, that James Randi, I am smart enough to know, no they are not. They can be fooled as well as anybody else. They don’t special training or instruction in this field. And that is the purpose of the James Randi Educational Foundation. Not to reveal magic tricks, because the magicians are legitimate entertainers. They work hard at it. And we are honest about it. We say I am going to fool you, here you go, and we fool them. So we are very honest about it, we don’t tell them we have any ethics at all, we don’t tell them that we really do have magical powers.
Rozeboom Good. Do you miss it sometimes? What did you like better, performing or doing this?
Randi: Oh no, no. What I am doing now is what I guess I was training all those years to be able to do. As I say I am 84, going on 100, because I am an optimist you see; and I have got a few years left I am sure. I want to continue on doing this. And I want to go when I go not yet, not yet, okay, I want to make sure that I have done as much as I possibly can I want to go in the saddle so to speak. I want to go hot on the trail of some scallywag who needs a comeuppance. I want to be working at the moment I go. Cut.
Rozeboom Well interviews work kind of so here we go, dream come true. How many people do you have working on debunking these things?
Randi: Well it is not a case of a number of people debunking. My whole organization is well we have our headquarters in Los Angeles. DJ Grothe is our president, as I am sure you know. And I am really the founder. I am supposed to sit and look noble and smile at people, and pose for pictures. We have a larger network of people, literally all over the world, because the million dollar prize that we offer is available to anyone in the world. All they have to do is write an application and they have to explain what they believe they can do and under what circumstances and with what accuracy. It is a very simple thing. But most people don’t seem to be able to manage that. We get many applications that are never followed up on. They just ask for the form, we send them the form, or they can obtain it from our site, of course it is very easily available, and they fill it in there, they have to get it notarized and send it in to prove their identity. That is all.
And then we design tests mutually with them, so we don’t exceed what their claim is for their ability, and we design the tests in such a way that is amenable to all parties concerned, and if the opportunity arises, we then conduct a test. Now at the coming Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, and you can go to our site, and look up TAM The Amazing Meeting, TAM 2013, get all the details of it, we have got a great bevy of speakers this year, as we always do, very satisfactory, we will be actually testing some people for what’s known as therapeutic touch. Now the North American Nursing Society, is very much on this. They believe that their nurses have the power to sense the human aura and they can balance the human aura and they can smooth it out, and what not. That my friends, Penn and Teller came up with a term, oh yes Bullshit, that is the term they came up and I adopted it very readily. But the North American Nursing Association though they are supposed to be dedicated to truth and to medical science and such, they have adopted this, they say their nurses can do it. Well we have challenged them for years now to do it.
And we are going to have a very satisfactory, double blind but very, very simple test as to whether or not they can sense the human aura, because they all say oh I can tell from my hand, oh you have a very strong aura, yes sir, okay, we do this with a simple fiber glass sleeve which is opaque, and we have a person sitting behind the screen, and either that person puts their arm into the fiber glass sleeve or doesn’t it depending on the tossing of a coin. It is very simple. And then we ask the person sitting on the other side of it, to sense the human aura that their marvelously sensitive facilities, sure, and if they can do, they can do it to beat the laws of chance, so you never getting enough and we agree in advance what that’s going to be of course. We have statisticians who work on that sort of a problem, and if they can do that, they can win the million dollars. I always say it is a million dollars, it is held by an investment company in New York City and we have proof of that.
Well, that’s an interesting perhaps angle too. We have for a long time now, we have advertised that all one has to do is come to our site, which is www.randi.org and all they have to do, get in there, look up the million dollar challenge, fill up the form, mail it in, after having it notarized, get tested they can win the million dollars. But where are the applicants? These people say they can do it, and they advertise it, and they make money doing it, by selling their services to other people. If it is that easy, why don’t they simply do it, and collect the million dollars? That is the basic question right there. But you are not required to do it. Some of them are so wealthy like Sylvia Browne for example she doesn’t need my million dollars, she has got lots of her own, but there are other people out there who claim that they have got these abilities let’s find out. I am amazed at how few applicants we have for this prize money.
Rozeboom Well, as you say, with Sylvia, John Edward, they are on TV, they have how many bestsellers, how many people buy their books.
Randi: John Edward by the way with an ‘S’ on the end of it, it becomes a politician and you wouldn’t want to buy that one by John Edward.
Rozeboom So I read that Penn was working on a movie about your life. Is that the same as An Honest Liar the Kickstarter.
Randi: An Honest Liar that Penn is not connected with at all. Penn is working on a biography of me, but An Honest Liar people, we get along just fine because I have always told them don’t pull your punches, any questions, or anything, I have nothing to hide, I am upfront with it, it is coming along very, very well. I am in fact, I don’t have my schedule in front of me there but I believe next week I am going to Tallahassee to work. I travel far and wide as you can see. But I think this coming week they are coming here to do some filming, we call it filming still even though it is video. And they are doing it high definition. Wow! That is pretty scary stuff you know. The first shot they shot with me, they showed me some blowups, and you can see every pore.
Rozeboom It is. The makeup they have to do for high definition is completely different. It is unusual.
Randi: Oh yeah, yeah, because pancake makeup just doesn’t work that well anymore. They may be going back to grease makeup because the pancake makeup shows us flakes on the face, it is astonishing the definition.
Rozeboom Yeah. So besides the challenge what do you do most of the time nowadays?
Randi: Well I am writing my tenth book A Magician In The Laboratory and I have a lady who has volunteered to do the proofing of the manuscript. That is coming along well. We are more than half way through that. And it is going to be published first of all on Kindle, that is quite an attractive situation. You can get published on an electronic media first so if you have any real howlers, real mistakes, really dreadful boo boos in your manuscript, people write you right away, and they correct you on it, a misspelling or a misuse of a term, whatever, so that kind of a mistake which would go into the printed job in the form of books permanently is correctable if you don’t go to print and start to fell trees to make paper for your book for a few months, then you get a chance to make all those corrections before the poor trees have to sacrifice their lives and be turned into wood pulp.
Rozeboom Right. The internet is great at instant feedback like that.
Randi: Yes it is. And on programs like this.
Rozeboom Right. Really that is what I got for you this afternoon. I really appreciate your time. I’ve been really looking forward to this. We are all pretty big fans. So thanks a lot for your time, and thanks for your work and good luck.
Randi: It is good luck, when you have to hold on.
Rozeboom Perfect. I got it.
Randi: It has nothing to do with luck. Well, though it’d be years falling on me and things like that, yes that is a luck factor we can’t do much about it, but most of it
Rozeboom How about may chance be with you? How about that? Is that better?
Randi: That will be good. Okay. Alright. I’ve got to adopt that, I got to write that on the wall. Your wise words.
Rozeboom All right.