And the cities I saw him perform in: New York and Boston.
The first time I saw Ricky Jay perform was in New York City during the 1994 run of his, Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants show. With all the good buzz surrounding the show, it was difficult to score tickets, but I did. I remember it was a very cold day as I entered the theater with my girlfriend. I had bought whatever tickets I could manage, but that ended up with the two of us sitting in the very last row, up against the side and back walls. I was still excited beyond measure, but my girlfriend was fuming about the seats. The show blew my mind, but her agitated demeanor almost spoiled the experience.
The second time I saw Ricky Jay perform was in Boston during the 2001 run of, Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants. A different girlfriend and I were meandering around Cambridge when I saw the marquee at the Market Theater. I was thrilled to see that this show was around again, and when I approached the box office to inquire about tickets for future performances, I was bowled over to discover that there were two tickets available for the next performance in hour! Our seats were not as “bad” as the last time, but we were still close to the back. The big difference was that this girlfriend didn’t care about that at all. On top of that, who should be sitting right in front of us but none other than David Mamet!
The third time I saw Ricky Jay perform was in New York for his On The Stem show in 2002. Still with the same girlfriend from Cambridge, but now living together in Brooklyn, we were lucky to get tickets to what ended up being my favorite Ricky Jay show. I was in the beginning stages of developing my Suitcase of Wonders act, and Jay’s performance (especially his version of the flea circus) really jacked up my inspiration to another level. It was after that show that I resolved to create something original and meaningful to me. It was also my good fortune that my girlfriend had a five dollar bill in her purse that evening, as that was the cost (exact change only) to purchase one of Ricky Jay’s Treat boxes that he was hawking in the isles during “intermission.”
The fourth time I saw Ricky Jay perform was in Somerville, MA for his, Ricky Jay: A Rogues Gallery show in 2009. My girlfriend from the last two Ricky Jay shows was now my wife, and we (and our young son) were now living in Boston. I had performed the Suitcase of Wonders in New York at various locales, but since having a family and moving away from the Big Apple, the act had been stowed away for the most part until, once again, a Ricky Jay show got my creative juices flowing. Although Ricky Jay: A Rogues Gallery was not the best Jay show I’d seen, he had taken chances and tried new avenues, and that was more than enough to inspire me to pull out my act and try some new things as well.
The fifth, and last time I saw Ricky Jay perform was in New York City at the Paley Center for Media in 2015. This wasn’t a show, rather, it was a talk (with a few tricks) for the premiere on PBS of Jay’s documentary, Deceptive Practices. Now with a second child, my wife and I had moved our family back to New York a few years before. The Suitcase of Wonders came with me, with my intention to perform more often, and create more and different material. I can’t say seeing Jay this final time inspired me like his previous performances. Instead, it kind of felt like a book was being closed on something, although I couldn’t put my finger on what that was. Certainly, Jay’s physical condition at the time contributed to that feeling; He seemed tired, and he had had a recent injury to his hand. However, his appearance was memorable for me, and not just because after the talk I finally managed to snag a playing card he had thrown (after seeing him all these times). After the talk, I posted a summation of the evening to an internet magic forum. I reproduce it here in this diary, for posterity:
Last night I attended a reception and Q&A with Ricky Jay about the upcoming premiere of his film on American Masters. It was at the Paley Center for Media in NYC.
After a showing of a snippet of the film, Ricky came out and performed some Cardini-ilke card manipulations. I have to say that while the audience seemed to enjoy watching the film, there was a palpable uptick in energy when Ricky came out and began performing. It underscored for me (as has been pointed out here in the forum before), magic is best seen live.
Ricky then sat and took questions. I will offer some highlights as best as I can remember them:
In response to a question about keeping his hands limber beyond direct practicing, he informed us that recently he injured his hand pretty seriously in a kitchen accident involving a knife. He said he just took off a "band" from his hand that evening. The kitchen accident sent him to the hospital, and there was plenty of blood. While there he and his wife told the doctor to please be careful because they said Ricky was a slight-of-hand artist. The doctor didn't know what that meant. Later on another third-year resident was preparing for stitches and they told her the same thing. Again, the doctor didn't know what a slight-of-hand artist was. Frustrated, Ricky's wife said, "He's like a surgeon!" I did notice a little stiffness in his hand, and Ricky apologized for not being able to shake hands that evening.
Somehow from that question Ricky also told a great story about an aptitude test he took when he was thirteen years old. One of the tasks involved placing blunt needles into small holes. Apparently, Ricky was the only one who could do it correctly. The overall results suggested he should become a surgeon.
I was lucky to be able to ask Ricky to give some thoughts about Doug Henning. He explained that Doug was not the only long-haired magician at that time, that his hair was even longer! Ricky expressed respect for him and sadness concerning his untimely death. He also talked about the last time he saw Doug.
A question was asked about women in magic, and Ricky bluntly stated that there were very few and he didn't really know why. He offered that it was perhaps a cultural thing with boys getting magic sets and girls getting other things...
Ricky did say that his talented wife (she wrote the Ellen "coming out" episode) was an excellent card manipulator but that she eventually decided she didn't want to perform magic (even just for fun) because she didn't enjoy the feeling of fooling people.
There were other questions about what he thought of current magicians ("I hate them all", then mentioning Tamirez and Levand among many others he said he respected, what he thought of exposure (it's been going on since the beginning of magic), and the internet. On that subject, he admitted that there was more magic learning material available than ever before, and that he knew excellent young magicians who learned from YouTube videos, but he thought there were no more better young magicians today than any other time.
It was nice to hear Ricky say that he loved the questions and that it restored his faith in these Q&A sessions, which he said he was just about to stop doing because all the questions were "sad."
He finished up with throwing cards into a watermelon and left to thunderous applause.