Interview: Ricky Jay

By JON GARELICK  |  April 1, 2009

So why do people like to be fooled?
I think it's one of the great emotions of the world. It's surprise and excitement, just the idea of seeing something other than the way you would normally experience life — which should be pleasant. There are people who react strangely. I've had people who will clutch rosary beads or throw glasses. I mean, it is strange to fool people, and there are some people who mistakenly think that it's some reflection of their intelligence, which is of course absurd. But there are people who get very defensive about it, who don't like it on that level. But it really is kind of a lovely thing, that gasp of surprise, that startled laugh. I guess I must like it, because I've spent my whole life trying to elicit it.

I remember seeing a Penn & Teller show where, at intermission, Penn offered folks a peek inside a large jar with swords running through it, with Teller inside. We could all take a peek for a quarter. At least half the audience — myself included — fished out quarters. And I was disappointed to look inside and see, "Oh. Yeah. There he is."
This is often the case, and it's one of the reasons I don't like gratuitous exposure — because of that disappointment. But I like Penn & Teller very much. I didn't know they were doing that piece. That's actually a carnival blow-off. "If you'd like to come up and take a look, ladies and gentlemen, the woman lives entirely on your tips that you leave in the box!" It was called the blow-off, and you would get extra money from it by dragging people up there to have that look.

I remember Penn himself was collecting the quarters.
I certainly admire that part of it. I admire that enormously.

There we are, we've paid for tickets, but we're paying again to see this trick. Except that as press I didn't pay anything.
Well then, it's doubly good that they got the quarter from you. You know what the con man's adage is: never kick back a score. Get the quarter and keep it.

Ricky Jay brings A Rogue’s Gallery to the Somerville Theatre on April 10

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