David Blaine: The gory secrets behind some of his most mind-boggling illusions

By Rebecca Hawkes

David Blaine recently performed the trick, which appears to involve the use of a live amphibian, on the Jimmy Fallon Show. Photo / The Tonight Show
David Blaine recently performed the trick, which appears to involve the use of a live amphibian, on the Jimmy Fallon Show. Photo / The Tonight Show

The really exhilarating thing about David Blaine is that, whatever you may think of his stunts, he clearly takes magic extremely seriously. He's been buried alive, submerged in icy water and most famously, suspended above London in a glass box for 44 days with no food (yes, people threw food at him, but he wasn't allowed to eat any of it ).

For Blaine, it seems, magic is all about creating a sense of genuine, old-fashioned awe. Unlike some of his fellow artists, he professes to despise the use of tricky TV camera angles and CGI fakery ("I don't like the way that feels. I like things that feel authentic," he told The Telegraph in 2014.)

His latest one-off TV show, Beyond Magic was broadcast last night in the US, and clips from the programme (including one in which Blaine appears to spontaneously spit out live frogs in front of Drake and, separately, David Beckham) have already got people talking.

The magician also recently performed the trick, which appears to involve the use of a live amphibian, on the Jimmy Fallon Show.

But how did he do it? And how did he perform some of his more famous past stunts?

Here's everything we know...

This trick, performed in the clip above in front of a frankly quite disgusted-looking Ricky Gervais, may have taken a fair bit of preparation - and some deliberate self-mutilation. If you're sensitive to descriptions of the latter, or just plain squeamish, we suggest you don't read on.

Various sources (there's a detailed description on the website secrets - explained.com) suggest that, after identifying a pathway through his arm that didn't hold any major arteries or veins, Blaine may have repeatedly pierced himself in this area to create an extended area of scar tissue and a fistula (or artificial passageway) through his flesh.

And what about the time he put an ice pick through his hand?

Probably the same method, if the Blaine himself is to believed.

"I got used to passing [a needle] through my hand, over and over. I wanted to feel comfortable with it," he told The Telegraph.

Asked how often he would do this, he replied:

"Not daily, because if you hit a nerve you mess things up and your hand is out of action for a little bit."

He then explained how he gradually upped the side of the needles, increasing their width on a step by step basis. "One day I knew I could do it with something as scary looking as an ice pick."

Others, however, have suggested that, while the magician is known for his endurance stunts - he certainly seems like the sort of person who would deliberately create a fistula in his hand solely for the purpose of pulling off a trick - he may have been pulling off a double bluff, and using some kind of mechanical trickery instead.

Did he really hold his breath underwater for a staggering 17 minutes?

Blaine himself claims that he performed this record-breaking 2008 stunt through rigorous training: gradually lengthening the amount of time he was able to spend underwater and pushing his body to previously unexplored limits.

He even gave a TED talk, explaining the method behind his death-defying feat.

"So, I met with a top neurosurgeon. And I asked him, how long is it possible to go without breathing, like how long could I go without air? And he said to me that anything over six minutes you have a serious risk of hypoxic brain damage. So, I took that as a challenge, basically," Blaine told his audience during the talk.

He claimed he then began training, experimenting with weight loss (apparently holding your breath for an extended time becomes easier if you reduce your body mass) and with different methods.

A televised 2006 attempt went wrong, after producers insisted Blaine add in a gimmick in which he was also handcuffed - "two days before my big breath-hold attempt, the producers of my television special thought that just watching somebody holding their breath, and almost drowning, is too boring for television".

After this, the magician decided to perform the trick on his own terms.

"I would sleep in a hypoxic tent every night. A hypoxic tent is a tent that simulates altitude at 15,000 feet. So, it's like base camp, Everest. What that does is, you start building up the red bloodcell count in your body, which helps you carry oxygen better. Every morning, again, after getting out of that tent, your brain is completely wiped out. My first attempt on pure O2, I was able to go up to 15 minutes. So, it was a pretty big success."

Finally, Blaine claimed, he was able to perform his stunt, holding his breath in icy water for 17 minutes and four-and-a-half seconds.

His time set a new world record, although it was broken a few months later by Tom Sietas, an expert in "freediving" (a version of the sport which involves prolonged submersion without oxygen).

What about those frogs?

Blaine's new stunt is reminiscent of an earlier trick, in which he swallows kerosene followed by large amounts of water, then apparently regurgitates the former to start a fire...before spurting out the water to extinguish it.

In the documentary clip below, the magician appears to confirm that he does indeed swallow both substances, storing them in his stomach.

His trick, he says, was inspired by an earlier act by the famous 1930s "regurgitator" Hadji Ali. After spending 20 years searching for an answer about exactly how Ali was able to swallow so much water, the modern day magician was discovered a man named Winston, who shared Ali's seemingly superhuman ability.

Apparently, it's all about mastering control of your stomach muscles.

If we accept Blaine's own explanation, it therefore seems logical that he's using a version of the technique shown above to produce the frogs, holding them in his stomach and oesophagus before releasing them.

That said, if he really is swallowing live frogs, we're not too sure about the ethics of the entire thing. True, the amphibians appear to emerge unharmed...but surely the experience can't be all that fun for them?

- Daily Telegraph UK

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