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James Randi is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Randi began his career as a magician, but when he retired at age 60, he switched to investigating[…]

What does it take to outperform the master escape artist? Common sense, a good night’s sleep, and shallow breathing.

Question: How did you become an escape artist?

rnJames Randi: I took up the escape artistry thing on a peculiar rnsort of event.  I was working in Quebec City at the Fleur Le Royal, I rnthink it was called; a nightclub there.  And a couple of cops came by rnand were eying me from the side of the stage and they came to me rnafterwards and showed me a pair of handcuffs and said, “Could you get rnout of these?”  And I said, “Oh, yeah sure.”  They were simple locks rnand, well we’ll see you after the show.  And I said, yeah, sure, okay, rnthinking I would never see them again.  And I packed up and was leaving rnthe dressing room and suddenly they showed up in the stairway. I said, rn"Oh, I forgot about that."  So, I went downstairs and they put a pair ofrn handcuffs on me out in the street, much to the amusement of people rnpassing by, I can assure you.  And they opened the squad car door for rnme; I got in one side, and got out the other side with the handcuffs rnoff. 
rnNow, that got their attention.  They hadn’t seen that before, but I willrn confide in you that handcuff locks are very, very simple locks.  And I rnwas pretty well set up for it and ready for it.  But as they looked at rnme in some astonishment and said, “Well, do you think you could break rnout of our jail?”  And I said, “Well, show me the jail.”  Oh, they put rnme in the back of the squad car and off we went.  And the next morning rnthe headlines in the Quebec Soleil, was the name of the paper, came out rnwith, "[...] Randi [..] de la Prison de Quebec."  That means, the rnAmazing Randi, and I had never used that title before, up until then I rnwas "The Great Randall," you see.  But the Amazing Randi Escapes from rnthe Jail of Quebec, or the Quebec Jail. 
rnIt made a bit of news and when I went to the nightclub that night, the rnManager met me at the door and he said, “Forget the birds and the rings rnand all that sort of thing.”  He said, “Do something in the escape rnbusiness.”  So, I went out there and I did a thing and that’s how I got rninto it.  But it made a good reputation from me; I broke out of 22 jailsrn around the world in my career.  All legally that is.  Yes, I’ve never rnactually been locked up in one where I – well there was one occasion.  Irn won’t get into the details.
rnQuestion: How did it feel to break Houdini’s record for rnsubmersion in a coffin?

rnJames Randi: Well, it wasn’t much of a feat really at the time, Irn must say, because I was much younger.  He as 52 at the age when he did rnthat, and I was, I think 22.  So, I had the advantage, the physical rnadvantage over old Harry.  And so I took a certain amount of credit for rnit, but I did break his record by a few minutes.  And I did it several rntimes after that around the world and different countries and in rndifferent venues and increased my record to one hour and 44 minutes of rnbeing sealed up on a steel coffin under water.
What kind of mental and physical training do escape rnartists undergo?

rnJames Randi: Well it’s a matter of using some common sense to rnstart with.  You don’t want to use up a lot of oxygen.  I got a very rngood night’s sleep.  I did it on the “Today” Show on NBC with Dave rnGarroway, as a matter of fact.  He was the host at that time.  That was rnmany, many moons ago.  And I rested up very thoroughly; I stayed at the rnHotel Shelton where there was a swimming pool, in New York City.  I rnslept well, and I must say when I got into the coffin there, I was rnstarting to think, well maybe I’ll make an hour or so.  I made an hour rnand 31 minutes in that particular episode.  But I just breathed in a rnvery shallow manner.  I didn’t take big deep breaths to use a lot of rnoxygen, and I relaxed and I had good assurance.  I had headphones on so Irn as listening to what was happening outside.  They would consult with mern every now and then.  I had a microphone on my chest.  And I just took rnit easy.  I kept my metabolism rate way down and at the end of an hour rnand 31 minutes though, I was really doing this kind of a thing and had rnto take every bit of oxygen I could possible manage, because you are rnrebreathing the air, you see.  You’re not using all of the oxygen on rnevery breath, of course, but it was tough.  It was rather tough.  I rnsubsequently learned that I could do it, as I said, for an hour and 44 rnminutes, the last time I did it.

Recorded April 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

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