Art News

Professor Phelyx on Forty Years of Performing Tricks

Mentalist Professor Phelyx dons a blindfold.
Mentalist Professor Phelyx dons a blindfold. Roman Chavez
Mentalist Professor Phelyx is completely frank about it: Everything he does is a trick.

“I’ve been accused of ignoring my gift, and those very words have been said to me more than once after a show,” says Phelyx, who has a busy fall with a smattering of shows across the Front Range. “What they are trying to confront me about is that I explain to the audience that it isn’t real and that in almost forty years of doing this kind of work and researching that kind of thing, I have never encountered irrefutable evidence of actual psychic phenomena.

“But I am fairly skilled at what I do, so I perform things for which there seems to be no other explanation,” he  adds.

Phelyx’s most famous trick is bending the prongs of a fork with his mind. Though he claims he’s bent more than 10,000 pieces of cutlery, he doesn’t believe in telepathy. He doesn’t even try to get around using his real name: Dick Phelyx Hopkins.

Born and raised in Denver, Phelyx was quite young when his father started coming home with magic tricks. A homicide detective by day, Dick C. Hopkins started learning magic to relieve the stress of bloody casework.

Rather than focusing on the trick itself, Phelyx remembers thinking how happy performing made his father. When his father refused to explain how the tricks were done, Phelyx vowed to teach himself.  “I think I was just frustrated enough that I decided to go off and learn them myself,” Phelyx says.

At ten years old, he performed his first show for his Boy Scout troop and was one of the youngest members inducted into the Mile High Magicians Society.

When he was a teenager, something unexpected happened: Colorado voters legalized gambling. Before the card sharp was even old enough to set foot in a Central City casino, he was told he was blacklisted from using “tactile gaming devices” by a former co-worker of his father's who'd left a sheriff’s department to join the Colorado Division of Gaming.

“Because I was a known card sharp by the chief of investigations, my name went on a list,” Phelyx says. “My dad’s friend [was] teasing my dad about his kid’s interest in playing cards and mind-reading. I was always told I was blacklisted.”

click to enlarge Mentalist Professor Phelyx bends a fork. - ROMAN CHAVEZ
Mentalist Professor Phelyx bends a fork.
Roman Chavez
But the trickster had been tricked. Phelyx, who's been billing himself as “the first person to be blacklisted in Colorado casinos,” didn’t realize he was the subject of a decades-old prank.

The Colorado Division of Gaming says it does not maintain a casino blacklist. Individuals can either be banned by a court order or by adding their name to a self-exclusion list. While individual casinos may create their own blacklists, they do not share the information, and one casino security guard said they wouldn’t ban someone who had never been there.

Phelyx says he has no interest in gambling in local casinos anyway, and that he enjoys poker more for the opportunity to read people than to play card tricks.

“There are a lot of players who try to wear turtlenecks and sunglasses to hide their physicality as much as possible, but there are still micro-facial reactions…and there are people playing the game who want to study that not only so they can read their opponents, but so they can try to fool their opponents,” Phelyx says. “It’s absurdly complex, but still fascinating.”

In addition to working with professional poker players, Phelyx says he has been invited to read body language in corporate boardrooms during mergers and job interviews: “My job is to sit silently and write notes, and those notes are observations that I’m making that could be used as the same thing at a poker table, with a lot more money at stake."

But Phelyx's true passion is performing. He enjoys revealing something that seems personal and true about complete strangers, if only to remind them that there is awe in this world.

“I love to remind grownups that imagination is important, wonder is important, and it’s a muscle that can atrophy, if you don’t have experiences that cause wonder or wow,” Phelyx says. “Even just an appreciation of a musician who is just amazing at their craft, I think people need that, and having that sensation that maybe it is possible — maybe Phelyx can read minds — it gives people a bit of skepticism, but also a bit of euphoria.”

For the record, the lenses in Phelyx’s eyeglasses really are prescribed, and the frames can be examined. He has committed himself to performing without technological aids and tries to present himself as a genuine person in his patter.

“Sometimes there is such a familiarity with people watching that it allows me to make educated guesses, and those are often the demonstrations of mind-reading that cause people to get very emotional, because it feels very invasive when you encounter a stranger and all of a sudden they can tell you very intimate things about yourself,” Phelyx says. “I have material that I’ve designed to put before psychics or self-proclaimed psychics, and it’s very uncomfortable for them, because they can’t tell how I know what I know, but I can tell them that was just a trick,” Phelyx says. As for his world-famous for- bending, Phelyx will tell you, “I’m really just bending the fork." Knowing that doesn’t make it any less entertaining.

Professor Phelyx presents “From the Vest” at 8 p.m. Saturday, September 22, at the Dairy Arts Center at 2590 Walnut Street in Boulder. Tickets for the 18+ show are $12. Find ticket info on the Dairy website.

Phelyx will also perform at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, 1260 22nd Street, at 8 p.m. Saturday, September 29, and co-wrote The Bunny Brigade burlesque show that premieres on October 14 at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, 1215 20th Street.
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Amanda Pampuro cut her teeth reporting for the Mariana’s Variety and is now the Denver correspondent for Courthouse News. When she’s not freelancing or writing fiction, she enjoys making slightly-burnt baked goods.
Contact: Amanda Pampuro