Thoughts on products, performance, and doublethink in the magic community.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ricky Jay

I just returned from the final engagement of “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants.” I can say in no uncertain terms that it was the best performance of magic that I have ever, and probably will ever see. I will remember it for the rest of my life.

Ricky Jay’s technique was flawless, but that wasn’t what made the performance. Any moron can do a multiple selection routine. It's difficult to describe what made the performance so compelling, but I'll do my best.

There was something mysterious and poetic about everything Ricky Jay said and did. More than anything, I remember the sense of drama that he created around each effect. Every action was framed perfectly, every word was unusual and captivating.

He also had an uncanny ability to tell stories about the history of magic and con games. I never thought any magician could make a lay audience give a damn about Malini or Hofsinszer. Ricky Jay did it just as naturally and easily as he stacked poker hands. When Ricky Jay talked, people cared.

His performance showed how powerful a simple card trick can become when the person performing is just as exciting as the the pasteboards they use. Frankly, Ricky Jay provided just as much entertainment by simply being there and talking as he did by throwing cards into a watermelon.

I was disappointed that he declined to sign my copy of "Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women." However, I did get to meet David Roth (“the 53rd assistant”) after the show. We talked for a while, and Roth signed one of his books. He is a friendly and generous person.

For those of you who don’t know much about Ricky Jay, the man has completely insulated himself from other magicians and ‘the magic community.’ He refuses to lecture, perform at conventions, or publish anything directed at other magicians.

I can understand his course of action, but I disagree with it. The man is understandably reluctant to offer up his valuable secrets and ideas to be diluted, imitated, or outright stolen.

But he has so much knowledge to share and he declines. He’s a wonderful performer, and although I don’t consider his choice elitist or snobbish, it still disappoints me. Ricky Jay doesn’t have to expose any of his secrets or publish revolutionary sleights. That stuff is simply unimportant to me. But I would give up so much just to be able to talk and interact with my audience like Ricky Jay does.

The guy is an extraordinary performer who has the ability to be another Vernon. I can only hope that someday he changes his mind.

In the meantime, I consider him the only magician I’ve seen who can convince people that magic can be art.


Blogger MagicEnigma said...

Give me a shout, and I'll send you my link....Thanks!

Magic Enigma

11:25 AM

Blogger Danny said...

My opinion is in agreement with everything you said about him. He has a huge ego, but if anybody deserves one, he does.

He does attend, and occasionally lectures, at the magic collectors' weekend in Schaumburg, IL., however it is EXTREMELY arcane stuff.

Sarc. Mag.

6:12 PM

Blogger Nate said...

My mistake Danny, thanks for the correction.

8:58 PM

Blogger Ryan said...

Nate, did you actually ask him to sign your book --and he refused? Or did you mean that he wasn't talking to anyone after the show?

6:57 PM

Blogger Eric said...

I agree about Jay's artistry, but not really that he is so singular in that. Lavand comes immediately to mind, as does Tamariz. And to my mind, Hamman was capable of performances as artistic as have ever been produced in any media. The charisma he could generate while sitting in front of an audience gently handling (not the best word here, but I can't think of a better one quickly enough)playing cards was amazing. I also recall at one of the early Stevens conventions in Las Vegas, where Hamman did one of the very first--if not the first--performances for magicians of what came to be called "The Signed Card," though I don't think it had that name yet. Judging by reactions, all of the hundreds of magicians in the room were fooled, and when Hamman decided to tip the method, everybody was, of course, very pleased, not least Ricky Jay, who came forward and personally thanked Hamman for sharing such an incredible effect. My only point is that while Jay is an amazing figure, others were/are, too.

8:55 PM

Blogger Nate said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments. In response:

Ryan: Jay didn't come out and talk to anyone after the show. I didn't ask him to sign the book, everything was handled through his personal assistant. Still, he declined. I think Jay was more interested in talking with the Supreme Court Justice (Pryor) who was at the show than signing my book. His assistant couldn't really give me a straight answer. But I did go home with a 10 of hearts that he had thrown. Two steps forward, one step back.

Eric: I'm agree that Ricky Jay his not singular in his abilities, it's just that I haven't gotten around to seeing Lavand, Tamariz, etc.

10:06 AM


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