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The Mentalist
Get ready to have your mind blown (and read)
By Klein Aleardi

Oz Pearlman can read your mind. For real. Ask how he does it and he’ll let you in on a few secrets, but not every secret.

“I reveal some things in my show,” Pearlman says. “I call it spreading bread crumbs. I may show the audience how I did one thing, but then I’ll do it again and use a different method. You have to keep people interested and motivated.”

Pearlman will bring his act to South Jersey during the Katz JCC Festival of Arts, Books and Culture in November, and he says to be ready for a unique and interactive experience.

Pearlman describes his shows as a well-designed, highly efficient machine with every last detail in place. More goes into the acts than some slight of hand, he says. If one aspect is off by the slightest touch, everything can go wrong – but that’s what makes it his passion.

“In mentalism, you’re reading people’s reactions, influencing their behavior and using the power of suggestion,” Pearlman says.

“It’s not like a magic show where you see a woman get sawed in half but know she wasn’t actually sawed. What mentalists do is very much real. What I say I’m going to do, I’m actually doing.”

It’s like a danger act, he explains. A perfect set equals boring. It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’re afraid something will go wrong that captivates audiences.

“Most shows are not 100 percent, and that’s by design,” he says. “I put challenges into my shows because if it’s too perfect over and over, then people get desensitized. That element of danger, people can feel it.”
He adds challenges as spontaneous as an audience member asking, “What am I thinking?” And if he doesn’t get it right, it’s his goal to get it the next time.

“That’s part of what it takes to become a professional,” Pearlman says. “It’s learning to not let the mistake throw you off, knowing how to manage people and deal with the failures.”

Perfecting the art of mentalism and the people skills of performing was not a quick task. Pearlman has been practicing his craft since age 13, when he saw a magician perform on a cruise. But his special interest in mentalism – a skill he calls “magic of the mind” – happened by chance.

“I can’t explain it, but I started to get these inklings and intuitions,” Pearlman says. “For example, when I would do card tricks, I knew by the way a person looked or behaved that they were going to go for the nine of diamonds. It was built on the 10,000 hours of doing this over and over.”

While his hobby came in handy during his days working on Wall Street in a position that he describes as “bureaucratic red tape,” it still took time for him to jump into the life of a full-time performer.

“On Wall Street, I was the person who stopped employees from spending too much money, so I would do magic tricks and mentalism to sweeten the deal,” he says.

“It was a slow build to making the switch, but then I started putting steps into place to go for it. The big one was jumping into the pool, quitting my job and forcing myself by virtue of the fact that I didn’t have a steady paycheck.”

Twelve years, thousands of performances and an “America’s Got Talent” third-place finish later, and Pearlman has seen almost everything. From shocked and frozen faces to Harry Connick Jr.’s abrupt exit from the set of his NBC talk show “Harry,” Pearlman’s performances trigger a variety of reactions.

“The best reactions are usually when they’re silent and spellbound, when you can see it in their eyes that this moment will last with them forever,” Pearlman says. “I’ve even had people, two years later, who come back to me and show me the crumpled, aged piece of paper with the prediction I gave them.”

The road to those spellbound faces is a tricky one that requires a hyper-focused mind and buckets of confidence. Whether he’s predicting the name you’re thinking about or guessing which card you chose from a deck, there’s no room for doubt.

“It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Pearlman says. “If I stress and think it could go wrong, it will. If I’m not confident, then I can’t project that confidence and people won’t do what I want them to do.”

Pearlman has a knack for that hyper-focused mindset. It even reaches beyond the stage to his love – and impressive talent – for running. He’s won the New Jersey Marathon four times and competed in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

“Racing is kind of my side thing,” he says. “It’s one of the best times to clear my mind.”

Luckily, Pearlman can clear his mind. He isn’t burdened with a constant laser-like focus on people’s behaviors and cues. He compares his talents with a light switch – one that can be turned on and off.

“I can do it in a moment’s notice, but it’s not the way I’m always looking at things and perceiving them,” he says. “It requires hypersensitivity, and if you did it all the time, it could be pretty taxing.”

Even without that hypersensitivity, Pearlman’s day-to-day can be just as taxing. While on the road, which he estimates is about 120 nights a year, he files through a revolving door of hotels, sound checks and airports, but just about every spare moment is spent working on new acts.

“Everyone’s reinventing things that already exist, giving it their own spin and changing it up,” he says. “I’m constantly writing ideas down that are unique and different for TV and stage – that’s why they keep bringing me on.”

While many magicians and mentalists will approach new ideas as a recipe, taking the tricks they know and mashing them together to build an act, Pearlman works in the opposite direction. He’ll think of a shocking conclusion and use the mentalist tools he’s developed over the years to figure out how he can make it happen in front of an audience.

“I just think, ‘What would be amazing?’” he says. “Like, if I just walk in and tell everyone to take out their cellphones and start hacking into everyone’s phone. Or, I meet identical twins who finished each others’ sentences, so what if I got two strangers to do that? That would be awesome. From there, I work backward.”

Once the plan is set, it’s practice, practice, practice. Pearlman not only needs to fine-tune his mentalist tools, but maintain the people skills that help him build trust with his audience. They’re the soft skills he learned while on Wall Street, he just happens to use them now to improve as a performer.

“If you made a Venn diagram of the skills I use as a mentalist and those that I would’ve used as a corporate salesman, there’s a vast deal of overlap,” he says. “Like remembering people’s names and knowing details about them. They’re things that aren’t magical, but when you combine them with what I do, it sets me apart from other performers.”

That’s why Pearlman encourages amateur mentalism – even amateur magic. He’s taught high school and elementary school students a few tricks. He knows teachers, doctors, even lawyers who maintain the hobby. It’s good for people who interact with other people, he says, because it’s a way to find acceptance.

“No matter what you’re doing, you can meet someone, do some magic and build trust,” he says. “Their eyes light up, their defenses go down. They’re going to want to do business with you.”

 

BEHIND-THE-SCENES

What Happened During The Interview
As writer Klein Aleardi was about to end her phone interview with mentalist Oz Pearlman, he asked her to think of a random topic and look it up on Wikipedia but not tell him what it is. She did (she chose “The Great British Baking Show” – we’re not sure where that came from), and he asked her to scroll down and choose any word but, again, not tell him. She did (her word was numerous). He then had her recite the alphabet. When she was finished, he said the word started and ended with a consonant, and asked what letter it began with. She said “n.” “It also has an ‘m,’” he said, “and it has something to do with many. It’s numerous.” Before hanging up, Pearlman told Klein her topic had something to do with food and Britain.

Yeah. Minds blown.

 


Oz Pearlman will appear at the Katz JCC Festival of Arts, Books and Culture on November 11 at 8 pm. Find out more at the website.

October 2017
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