Derren Brown Vs David Blaine

On Friday the 11th of September 2009 a 2 hour special magic was shown on Channel 4 in the UK. First up was Derren Brown explaining how he Predicted the lottery and this was followed by David Blaine performing What Is Magic.  The next day a new conversational topic was born:

Who’s the best magician David Blaine or Derren Brown?

Both DB-UK & DB-USA started off as close-up magicians and both got their big break by demonstrating card magic.  Derren performed Smoke and David performing a myriad of card tricks including; Ambitious Card and 2 Card Monte respectfully.  Ironically neither is considered ‘a magician’ any more David Blaine is more of an endurance artist and Derren is a Psychological Illusionist.

So what makes a good magician?

Identity / Brand

Having a strong Identity in magic is one of the main keys to success, Houdini was the Escapologist, Paul Daniels was the cheeky close-up magician, David Copperfield the Illusionist, Penn & Teller the aggressive revealers of magic.

David Blaine Became the Street Magician who could levitate and through a deck of cards through a window.

Derren  brown became the mind reader who could control people’s decisions to the extent he would risk his life in the Russian Revolution challenge.

Both Derren and David have established a good, strong consistent identity:-

Derren: sophisticated, cheeky, playful, intelligent, mischievous

David: Mysterious, deep, troubled, calm, spiritual.

Result: Draw

Tricks performed

David Blaine’s most talked about trick was card through window.  Even now around 10 years after it first aired on TV, magicians still get asked how he achieved the feat.  Just like Michael Jackson did not invent the Moonwalk; David Blaine did not invent the idea for this trick or even the method, but it is still widely known by the public as, David Blaine’s ‘Card Through Window’.

Derren Brown has performed more tricks on TV than David, has had more Television series broadcast and has had about the same amount of 1 off TV specials.  He also performs a stage show annually throughout the UK.

For some strange reason, people talk about how Amazing Derren was but they don’t pick out a specific memorable trick. So although Derren wins the battle for quantity David Bliane gets more talk time after his shows.

Result: David Blaine

Entertainment Value

After David Blaine started doing endurance tests his entertainment value was significantly reduced.  He seemed to master staying in the one place for a very long time without doing anything.

Derren performs a branch of magic referred to in the business as Mentalism.  Mentalism is often thought of as boring but Derren incorporates humour to break up the act.

Result: Derren Brown


David Blaine has taken many effects not original to his own and has incorporated them into his act with his performance style

Likewise, Derren has incorporated many of other people’s effects but Derren can take an effect like the sympathetic silks – a trick with 2 handkerchiefs with a knot and somehow convert it into a mind reading effect.

Result: Derren

Likeability factor

Possibly the most important weapon in a magicians arsenal is the likeability factor.  If the audience doesn’t like the magician, they will not care for his tricks.  It was the main downfall of Paul Daniels.  In the magic world he’s unbelievably highly respected; but, it almost seems cool to dislike him.  People generally say he became annoying but it’s more a case of familiarity breeds contempt.

David Blaine has never really been a likeable character because he is so distant and the eye on the hand stunt with Eamonn Holmes was a PR nightmare.  However, with recent voiceovers during his series about his childhood and coming back to his roots in the street magic.  His likeability factor has grown considerably.

On the other hand, Derren’s popularity has taken a dip recently.  With the 3rd most number of complaints with his Russian Revolution stunt, his baffling explanation of the lottery prediction and his failure to have his audience stuck to their chairs has lowered his likeability factor.  This however, will not bother Derren in the slightest as he goes out of his way in his publications to offend certain groups of people.

This is a hard decision because until recently Derren has been more popular but at the time of writing this the pendulum has swung in favour of…

Result: David Blaine

Over all Result: Draw

As I’ve never been one to sit on the fence and I’m a massively biased Derren Brown fan, I’ve decided to create another category)

Technical Ability

This should have no bearing on the overall decision but it would be unfair not to mention it.  The magic fraternity looks upon ones skill with a deck of cards as the Jedi Knights look upon ones skill with the light sabre.  So although both are strong with the force Derren is awarded a higher degree of respect in the magic world

David Blaine performs with methods that do not rely on complex digital dexterity and often many magicians can replicate his tricks.  However, Derren Brown performs several tricks that rely on complex card manipulation that magicians cannot replicate easily.

Result: Derren

Final Result: Derren 3 David 2

Winner Derren Brown

In the true definition of who is a best magician, David Blaine would win because he makes people believe in magic.  However, if people investigate David’s tricks, they will discover his methods.  Derren Brown has started “revealing” the methods of how tricks are done.  His aim is to educate people that if we put our minds to anything it can be achieved.  If people investigate this… they will find out it’s true.

This essay is an opinion essay, the facts may be incorrect and it’s largely biased and subjective.  I hope you enjoyed reading it but if you are going to quote any part of it, please think carefully and do the proper research. 

The article was brought to you by Christopher Dinwoodie AIMC.  Chris is a professional magician, an Associate Member of the Inner Magic Circle and is a multiple award winner.  Trading under Top Class Magic he specialises in presentation and crowd interaction.