Most of us have articles or bits of writing we’ve come across at some point in our lives that for whatever reason have stayed with us. I came across one such article a few years ago, in a copy of writer Mark Singer’s book Character Studies: Encounters with the Curiously Obsessed, a collection of essays he’s written for The New Yorker. While I have only a vague recollection of a most of what I read, his piece on sleight-of-hand master Ricky Jay has never left me. I’d never heard of Ricky Jay, and after reading that weird and wonderful essay, it seemed almost unbelievable to me that this man still lived and worked in the 21st century. Watching his work on youtube was almost surreal: I was incredulous that I was watching this mythic (in my mind) figure on something so everyday as my work computer. But what really got me was this man’s passion for his craft, a craft that during a lifetime of work he has carefully molded in to an art. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a dad and a brother who loved magic tricks and magic shows the way Imelda Marcos loved shoes, but I couldn’t help but be totally taken with this man who has made a study of cons and cards his life’s work. I’ve wanted to have him on the show ever since, and pairing him with his close friend David Mamet made sense. Jay’s been in a number of Mamet’s films, although for his role in Redbelt he played not a con man but a fight promoter.
Jay is an old style Renaissance man: actor, writer, performer, scholar, collector, and master sleight of hand artist and we don’t see many like him these days. Of all the stories and reviews I read of him, I think I like best what Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post after going to one of Jay’s shows: “Some people can tell their grandchildren that they saw Muhammad Ali box. You’ll be able to tell yours that you saw Ricky Jay deal.”
- Cristy Meiners