September 09, 2016
Max Major's origins as a mentalist began humbly: He just wanted to outsmart his older brother.
"I wanted to know something he didn't know how to do," Major told PhillyVoice, recalling a moment when his brother tried to impress him with a magic trick.
He began researching mentalism at 11 and hosted his first performance at the age of 14. By 18, after watching his dad get hypnotized and (he swears) cured of his smoking habit, he began to perceive mentalism as a sort of "real-life superpower." Now, at 33, he's taking his talents to The Franklin Institute — to eat a lightbulb, read minds and more.
Below, Major talks life as a mentalist, his favorite trick and how far his apparent mind-reading abilities can go.
How does one become a mentalist?
How does one become a mentalist? By study. It’s not a talent or a gift, like someone who claims to be psychic or something like that. A mentalist is based on learned skillsets. For 20 years, I've been studying body language and psychology and hypnosis and suggestion and, really, magic — that’s sort of the entertainer side of that. It’s marriage of all these disciplines.
So you can guess phone security codes. Can you guess PIN numbers? And how would you know the numbers by reading people?
If I’m in person I can give it a shot. Everything I do is based on a face — observation. I’d be up for the challenge face-to-face. It’s taken me 20 years to learn how to do that from a face.
What’s the most common question you’re asked?
'How did you do it?' Which is the question you just asked. And there’s sort of two reasons to not answer that: One is because this has been something I’ve studied more than half my life. And the truth is, the only secret is it’s a lot of hard work and practice. The other reason is, that’s the whole point of it. If you wanted to really know how it was done, almost everything I do is based on [the] sort of knowledge you could look up on the internet, if you're so inclined — as I’ve been inclined the past two decades. The real answer to that question is it's a lot of study, a lot of practice and a little bit of showmanship.
What’s the most annoying question you’re asked?
The most annoying questions I get asked are the cheesy magic-related questions like ‘Can you make my wife disappear?’ That’s a cheesy magic question that comes up all the time. It’s a bizarre thing to say in a social setting. ‘I’m a mentalist and magician.' ‘Can you make my wife disappear?' That’s annoying for me — and the wife. And the other one is, ‘What am I thinking right now?’ That one comes up frequently.
What’s your favorite trick to do?
My favorite trick to do is probably guessing people’s passcodes. Here’s the funny thing: You can borrow a wedding ring, a hundred-dollar bill from members of the audience, you can ask to borrow just about anything and they'll cough it over. But if you ask for a cellphone, they hug it to their chest like it’s their most prized possession. I think it’s because of this emotional attachment we have to our phone and data. That gets the most visceral reaction out of people. The passcode to our phone is the passcode to our entire world. It’s a little threatening, but always entertaining.