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kottke.org posts about Ricky Jay

RIP Ricky Jay, Master of the Sleight of Hand Card Trick

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2018

Ricky Jay died yesterday, aged 72. He was a master magician with a deck of cards, an actor, writer, and historian. The definitive profile of Jay was written by Mark Singer in 1993 for The New Yorker. It begins like this…just try not to read the whole thing:

The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:

Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.

“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.

He turned over the three of clubs.

Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.”

After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.”

Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.”

Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right-what was the card?”

“Two of spades.”

Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.

The deuce of spades.

A small riot ensued.

Magic aside, Jay’s performances were master classes in how to entertain. Even in grainy YouTube videos, it is impossible to look away:

In 2002, he threw playing cards at Jackie Chan, Conan O’Brien, and a watermelon on television:

When asked about “a world without lying” by Errol Morris in 2009, Jay replied:

When you’re talking about Kant and trust, it made me think of one of the ways I tell people about the con game. I say, “You wouldn’t want to live in a world where you can’t be conned, because if you were, you would be living in a world with no trust. That’s the price you pay for trust, is being conned.”

The 2012 documentary film about Jay, Deceptive Practices, is streaming for free on Amazon Prime Video…I know what I’m watching tonight. Here’s the trailer to pique your interest:

Update: A poetic remembrance of Jay from his friend David Mamet.

Our great sage Johnny Mercer wrote, “Go out and try your luck / You might be Donald Duck / Hooray for Hollywood.” But Ricky, as the Stoics taught, did not enter that race. He achieved fame and adulation, but like the warrior monk or the Hasidic master, he sought perfection.

He spent five or six hours a day practicing. He did it for 60 years. And, like all great preceptors, he was, primarily, a student. His study was the metaphysical idea of Magic, which found expression not only in performance, but in practice, commentary, design and contemplation. They were all, and equally to him, but expressions of an ideal.

Ricky Jay, sleight of hand

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2016

Let’s all just take the rest of the day off and watch Ricky Jay effortlessly perform impossible card tricks. (via @sampotts)

Documentary about actor and magician Ricky Jay

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2013

Deceptive Practice is a documentary about Ricky Jay which features, among other things, a shaggy-haired Jay playing Three-card Monte with Steve Martin on an 80s chat show.

Jay is a fascinating guy, as this 1993 New Yorker profile of him by Mark Singer demonstrates.

Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.

“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.

He turned over the three of clubs.

Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.”

After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.”

Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.”

Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right-what was the card?”

“Two of spades.”

Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.

The deuce of spades.

A small riot ensued.

Anyway, the film is coming out next week in NYC. (via @aaroncoleman0)

Ricky Jay

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2009

Can you resist reading an article that starts off with an anecdote this interesting? I couldn’t.

The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:

Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.

“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.

He turned over the three of clubs.

Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.”

After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.”

Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.”

Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right-what was the card?”

“Two of spades.”

Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.

The deuce of spades.

A small riot ensued.

That’s from a 1993 profile of Ricky Jay, who is probably more well known now for his acting (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Deadwood, The Spanish Prisoner, The Prestige) than his magic scholarship. Check out a couple of Jay’s tricks on YouTube: Four Queens and Sword of Vengence. (via df)

A world without trust

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2009

Errol Morris shares Seven Lies About Lying, principles about lies often assumed to be true but which Morris believes are false.

5. Lying will be punished. Perhaps. But not as often as truth-telling. Lying effectively in many situations is generally superior than telling the truth, because often we have to search our minds for the truth, whereas a good lie can be easier to produce (though of course caution is indicated if the lie can be easily unmasked). Invariably a skillful liar makes a calculation about his chances of being exposed and avoids situations where a lie can be revealed. Lying is punished only if it is detected. A more reasonable assessment would be that ineffective and unskillful lying is severely punished. No one is held in greater contempt than an unskilled liar.

Morris also solicited Ricky Jay’s thoughts on a world without lying:

When you’re talking about Kant and trust, it made me think of one of the ways I tell people about the con game. I say, “You wouldn’t want to live in a world where you can’t be conned, because if you were, you would be living in a world with no trust. That’s the price you pay for trust, is being conned.”