Mentalist Joe Riggs is inside your head and has your number

Mentalist and entertainer Joe Riggs at Johnny's restaurant in Roland Park shopping center on Wednesday, August 20. He will be performing there Sept. 4.
Mentalist and entertainer Joe Riggs at Johnny's restaurant in Roland Park shopping center on Wednesday, August 20. He will be performing there Sept. 4. (Staff photo by Brian Krista, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A recorded message on mentalist Joe Riggs' professional phone line features a woman with a British accent saying, "As a mind reader, Joe has probably already deduced who you are, as well as the reason for your call."

But, she advises, leave a message just in case.


If that sounds scary, consider the trick Riggs pulled on a reporter during an interview at Johnny's restaurant in the Roland Park Shopping Center, where the new Homeland resident will be performing on Sept. 4 as a fundraiser for the Hampden-based Maryland SPCA..

Riggs asked the reporter to choose aloud a number between 1 and 1,000, and when the reporter chose 1,000, Riggs seemed perturbed.


"That's rare," he said, but pressed on, asking the reporter to name a letter of the alphabet. The reporter chose "J," at which point Riggs took a scrap of paper out of his wallet and handed it to the reporter, saying he had deliberately written down something when he excused himself to go to the bathroom earlier in the interview.

On the paper, Riggs had written 1,000 and "J."

The reporter was surprised but Lindsay DiFabbio was not. Riggs had pulled the same stunt on her, said DiFabbio, coffee auteur (barista) at Johnny's, where Riggs has become a regular since moving to Homeland earlier this summer from Dallas, Texas, to live with his fiance and agent, Tracey "Trix" Middlekauf.

"He pulled the number out of his wallet and bam!" DiFabbio said. "It's creepy how good he is."


She didn't remember the number, but Riggs still did: 48. He said he surreptitiously drew it in the air while talking to her and gesturing, so that she would think of it.

The Sept. 4 performance at Johnny's will be a coming out party in Baltimore for Riggs, 35, who describes himself as a mentalist, deductionist, "human lie detector" and consultant to corporations, as well as to the U.S. Postal Service and even law enforcement agencies — in most cases teaching officials to increase sales using psychological techniques. He also does card tricks and even bends spoons, though rarely.

"If I do one thing that's magic, [audiences] think everything I do is magic."

In conversation, Riggs has a mild stutter, but he said it largely disappears in performance, which was apparent when he slipped into showman mode during the interview.

The stutter, compounded by recent oral surgery, doesn't seem to have slowed him down. He has performed nationwide and internationally, and keeps a stack of business cards from each hotel and venue.

Riggs was previously based in Dallas and in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he was profiled in the local papers.

Riggs is "The Man Who Knows Too Much" (a play on the name of an Alfred Hitchcock film), and "a real life Sherlock Holmes," according to a joint press release by Middlekauff and Allison Parker-Abromitis, spokeswoman for the Foreman-Wolf Restaurant Group, which owns Johnny's and Petit Louis in the shopping center at 4800 Roland Ave.

He has written a book, "The Real Sherlock Holmes," and said he is writing another with Ben Cardall, an English mentalist. He also has an elaborate, lively website, http://www.theworldofjoeriggs.com and is a presence on Facebook and Twitter. He also writes a blog.

He said he has a Ph.D from Purdue University in Psychology and an undergraduate degree in Human Behavior.

"I've dedicated my whole life to reading people and messing with people's minds," he said. "My mom was proud."

He also acknowledged that he doesn't always deduce what people are thinking during his shows.

"Oh my God, I've been wrong many times," he said. "It's humiliating, but I always learn from it.".

Riggs, who sports a goatee, said he has been a huge fan since childhood of Sherlock Holmes and the fictional character's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He said he's especially proud that his book is in the National Library of Scotland, Doyles' home country.

He also is a fan of the Victorian era, and for the interview wore a black suit with a white shirt, no tie and a red vest, and carried a cane, which made him look a little like a young Charlie Chaplin.

"I've dressed like this since I was 18. I've always liked the Victorian style," he said. "If I could live anywhere in history, it would be 1895."

Middlekauff, also clad in black down to her black boots and fishnet stockings, said that's Riggs' persona and he rarely dresses out of character.

At Johnny's, Riggs, who has been on stage professionally for 11 years, will be performing "in honor of his new city," showcasing skills that he said include advanced deductive reasoning and "an uncanny mastery of human behavior," the release states.

In the interview, he said he often shows audiences how he does what he does, by reading body language and eyes, like the reporter's eyes. He also uses the power of suggestion, or as he put it, "I try to influence the outcome."

He feels no shame in that, as long as he explains his craft to his audiences. He noted that his late mother's use of psychological tactics as a psychic reader was a sore point in their otherwise loving relationship and that he considers psychic readers to be "charlatans."

Riggs, who said he never knew his father, reminisced about being raised by his mother, Dezirae Riggs, in Louisville, Ky., and Indianapolis, Ind., calling it a "fascinating" but "odd" experience.

"I could never get away with anything," said Riggs, adding that he learned a lot of tricks of the trade from her and was a street performer at age 9.

"Mom had a gift for reading people," he said. "She was basically an epic observationalist."

Riggs met Middlekauff, a freelance writer, online while both were among hundreds of people participating in and tweeting about a watchathon of "Granada," an old British TV series about Sherlock Holmes.

"I noticed she was insanely clever," Riggs said, joking, "I hypnotized her into dating me."

Middlekauff said she saw Riggs perform in Dallas. Living with him, she said, "is like living with anyone who's amazing and brilliant. Your mind is blown"

As the interview ended, Riggs laid a brown sugar packet and blue and yellow sweetener packets on a table at Johnny's and correctly guessed that the reporter chose the blue one.

The trick, he said, is "knowing what people will do before they do it."

For reservations during Riggs' show, call 410-773-0777, ext. 1, or go to http://www.johnnysdownstairs.com.

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