‘The Amazing Randi’ is indeed amazing. He’s in his mid eighties, stooped and worn and looks like he should be cast as Grumpy, or one of the other seven dwarves. But he has a very eloquent speaking voice and was awarded the MacArthur ‘genius grant’ about thirty-years ago. When he talks you should listen. He exposes fairy tales, New Age liars and cheats such as Uri Geller. One of the funniest parts of the show was when Uri appearing on the Johnny Carson show at the beginning of the 1970s. Uri claimed to have been able to bend spoons, start watches and to have psychokinetic powers. The Amazing Randi didn’t even have to be there in person. His powers extended to telling Johnny Carson’s prop man the correct protocol to ensure no cheating could take place. No cheating did take place. No spoon bending, or clock starting. Geller was finished, or so Randi thought. What he didn’t expect was the gullibility of talk show hosts and the general public.
Uri Geller became a worldwide hit. Randi’s subsequent stalking of Geller, performing the same tricks and sleight of hand as his antagonist, and a book explaining how it worked, did not generate the same kind of publicity nor kudos.
His exposure of Peter Popoff on the Johnny Carson show was more straightforward. With a name like Peter Popoff you’d expect some kind of cape and prog-rock outfit, but it was more a 1930’s Elmer Gantry type performance. Popoff was a faith healer who pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars a week working his miracles. If that sounds vaguely familiar then chart the rise of the superchurches, pulling in millions and the sidelines of faith shows constantly touring the good old US of A. God has not turned his back on the tens of millions living in poverty and need he has sent missionaries like Popoff. He, of course, repented after being diabolically caught cheating. His low tech scam of using an earpiece to get prompts from his wife, who in turn got her information of ailments and addresses from the prayer cards filled in by the flock when entering the church, he was fleecing, was exposed by a scanner picking up his radio frequency. Scooby Doo where are you? This is big business in America.
Randi also took on the paranormal ‘scientific’ community. I have put ‘scientific’ in brackets because science acts as a library of knowledge and also a methodology. Randi by introducing two expert test subjects with paranormal powers showed how easy it was to dupe the so-called experts who gave legitimacy and sanctioned cheats such as Uri Geller and his subjects.
It’s a cliche that truth can often be queerer than fiction. The denouement that Randi’s male partner had been living a lie, on the run, under an assumed name for the last thirty years, and was now threatened with imprisonment and deportment from America would be impossible to make up. Even Randi would have laughed at somebody trying to fool the American public with that one.