Doug Segal Interview
Doug Segal is one of a new breed of entertainers known as mentalists. He gets compared to Derren Brown a lot but as well as boggling your mind, Doug also has a comedic element to the show which many people find makes it even more enjoyable.
His 2012 Show, How to Read Minds and Influence People, won many awards including Best Cabaret at Brighton Fringe and a Three Weeks Editors Award for being one of the ten best things (out of 2,700) at the Edinburgh Fringe and so I put it to him that his star was on the rise.
“I hope so or worryingly this could be the peak and you are witnessing the start of my decline.”
To which I replied, “Well, if it is at least you have achieved something and with your skills and talents I’m sure you’ll still be able to get plenty of women into bed.”
I was referencing a stock reply that Doug uses when he gets asked what got him into being a mentalist which is, ‘I used to do party tricks to win drinks from friends and impress women.’
I then jokingly said that that was the only I wanted to talk with him and asked him if it works.
“With great power comes great responsibility”, he answered like a true Jedi Knight Mind Reader. He first started doing these party tricks utilizing some of the things he learned during his Psychology course at University, so I asked him, “Why Psychology?”
“You know, I’ve never been asked that. I guess I’ve always been interested in why people make the decisions and do the things they do.”
It wasn’t a planned career path but after finishing the course he ended up going into advertising. He says, “No-one goes into advertising intentionally. The Devil signs you on and then proceeds to rip your heart out. I slag it off but the truth is I just got bored of it. I was working with some high profile companies such as American Express and French Connection and during dinner with their marketing executives I’d entertain them. They started to insist that I should do a show and I was saying, ‘do you know who I am? I am the guy that does your marketing’.”
Eventually the boredom must have gotten too much and Doug decided to put a show together for a two week run at Barons Court Theatre in August 2004. It was a great success and so he continued to work on the show and perform many corporate gigs while still working full time in advertising. This eventually led to him going full time with the show in 2008.
Derren Brown is someone who gets mentioned a lot when people interview Doug and he admits at the start his act was very much like Derrens, but as time has progressed he has made a conscious effort to gravitate away from the serious side to include more humour in the show and so he decided to do the comedy circuit for a while.
He started by doing a comedy course and then built up his act to the stage where he was getting paid 10 minute slots and then decided to quit as he had gleaned all he needed for that side of his act. He would take gags from the comedy gig and slip them into his main show so that eventually it became equally about the comedy and differentiated him from the other mentalists out there.
Comedians actually inspire Doug more than Mentalists with Ross Noble, Bethany Black, Richard Herring, character acts like Marcel Lucont and real joke writing craftsmen like Jimmy Carr being amongst his favourites. He particularly raved about Daniel Kitson, who as most comedians will agree, “deconstructs comedy and puts it back together in a way that should be clichéd but is actually genius.”
He isn’t afraid to admit that ‘there are a limited of number of things I can do. I can put a thought in your head, get a thought out of your head and lead you into making a decision and that’s about it. Although in this past year I have expanded on that to make others do the mind reading. This was how I finished last years show.’
Doug is very excited about the new show he is working on called ‘I Can Make You a Mentalist’, as he picks a random member from the audience and gets them to do the whole show.
“That sounds interesting. What made you want to do that?” I asked.
“Well, I am very fortunate to have been picked up by who I consider the best comedy promoter in the world, Mick Ferrin, who promotes Eddie Izzard, Ross Noble and Dylan Moran to name a few. I had come off stage towards the end of one of my Edinburgh Shows last year and he asked me what I was going to do next year. I said, well, instead of just finishing with an audience member mind reading, I want to do the whole show like that. Since then it is been a case of trying to figure out an interesting way to do that.
I have come up with a concept that no-one has ever done before. The premise is that the person gets charged up under a machine called Brainmatiser 3000 and then gets four practical tasks and three written tasks to complete as the show progresses. The show will also contain animation as well as live and recorded sketch comedy. It actually has a narrative with a beginning, middle and end with dramatic twists along the way.”
This has led to him writing sketches for the new show with James Hamilton of Casual Violence and Guy Kelly from The Beta Males, which has been although being a great experience and enabling him to implement an exciting multi-media format, is also providing a few headaches for Doug as he tries to figure out his Plan B’s.
“In the old show, if anything was going wrong I had a Plan B, so that I could always get a 5 out of 10 rather than a 10 for any particular trick. In this show, the person doing the mind reading doesn’t know if it’s going wrong so I need to work harder at having some fall backs that I can call upon if required and to do that I need to rehearse with a live audience and new volunteer every time. Hopefully I will have these figured before I start the main run.”
I asked if the success from last years show has enabled him to really expand with this new concept but he said that actually he had to get a bank loan for £8,000 to finance it. Thankfully, Mick Perrin has decided that as well as promoting Edinburgh, he will also back Doug on a full tour of the new show in 2014, so that has helped him not worry so much and be much more hopeful that the investment will pay off. He has traded the high paying job as an advertising guru to play the life of a struggling artist and he couldn’t be happier.
He started telling me about some of the sketches he has filmed and mentioned that the first sketch in the show is also the trailer. He loved playing a Stephen Fry type character in it. He makes a bold statement in that sketch, where he says ‘there is no such thing as a psychic’.
I pushed him further on this and he said that he would put his mortgage on it that psychic’s aren’t real and that he can reproduce those skills by using a variety of methods such as cold reading, confirmation bias and like any good advertiser, cheating and lying. However, the point of stating it at the start of the show, is that it is a set up, as the audience member will prove to be ‘psychic’ as the show progresses.
It certainly sounds very unique and different to most comedy shows although this is not helping Doug in finding a Manager. “I’m in the weird position of having a UK tour coming up and I can’t get a manager. I’ve been searching for one but they all say they like what I am doing but have no idea how to work with me. So if anyone wants 15% of a tour then please get in touch. Even someone to do the admin would be a help.”
He says he has a very high work ethic but would rather put this into the show than be bothering with all the extra stuff required for promoting it. During the Edinburgh Festival he will do three or four other spots a day as well as his own show.
In fact, at last years Brighton Fringe he had been nominated for Best Caberet Act and as he didn’t think he would win, he booked another gig. They phoned him up and begged for him to turn up. He gathered that he had won at that point but had to send the only person he knew in that area, 80’s supermodel Annabel Giles on his behalf, which I think he was maybe more proud of than winning the title itself. I wonder if she was someone who he had suitably impressed with his party tricks in the old days.
A few days before our interview, he had asked me to accumulate 5 objects. A pen, a 50p, £5 note, a mug and an orange. Just before the interview he sent me an email and told me not to open it. Halfway through our chat Doug demonstrated his abilities by getting me to remove objects so that just one was left. I then opened the email to discover a photo of him with an orange, asking if he was right. Annoyingly, he was.
I say, annoyingly because we all like to think we have free will but in this case it appeared I didn’t. I said, “You must get asked all the time, but how did you do that?” He said, “He always reply’s by saying, come along and see the show and I’ll tell you.” Sounds like a plan.
I will catch up with him again in August at the Edinburgh Festival you can catch up with him by checking out his website at www.dougsegal.co.uk where you can find out all about his upcoming tour as well as watching a few videos of him in action.
Doug Live on Dutch TV
We mentioned this clip during the interview. This is how Doug ended each of his shows at Edinburgh last year and what gave him the idea to let an audience member do the whole show this year. I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s pretty impressive.