TV Cream

Bric-a-Brac: J is for...

Jay, Ricky

That's our starter!A loudmouth American card sharp, Ricky Jay was all over TV in the 1980s as a speciality act, or ‘bloke who can do one really stupid thing really well’ to use the layman’s term. Jay would turn up and, with much sweaty decibel-rich verbosity, set up a bisected watermelon  on one side of the stage, walk over to the other and flick playing cards into it with lethal speed and pinpoint accuracy. But wait! There’s more! He’d then turn the melon round, and do the same to what he termed ‘the outer, pachydermitous hide’ of the melon. But Jay’s turn was culturally significant for reasons independent of the high-speed laminated-paper/cantaloupe interface. Before you could say ‘yes, very good, but is that it?’ Jay pretty much admitted, in the same voluminously baroque West Coast showman’s verbiage, that yes, it is a bit of a daft way to make a living, what am I doing with my life, etc. Thus postmodernist self-deprecation was introduced to the variety stage, almost without anyone noticing. Within a decade or two, there’d be no other way to act…



  1. Richard Davies

    August 9, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    I remember him being on Paul Daniels’s show at least once.

  2. Applemask

    June 18, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Actually a really, really good magician and historian of magic and grifting. Also quite a handy actor, and delivered the opening narration to “Magnolia”.

  3. Jackson

    March 29, 2014 at 2:27 am

    He cropped up in Deadwood too. And an episode of the X-files, now I think of it.

  4. Rose 'Tinternet

    July 9, 2014 at 11:12 am

    …Not to mention Burt Reynolds cameraman in Boogie Nights (another Paul W Anderson movie) who tries to have a technical debate with William H Macy’s cuckolded character
    whilst his wife (porn veteran Nina Hartley) is getting very publicly banged by a stud in the parking lot).

  5. George White

    March 27, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    Also a Bond villain.
    If only the Morettis were…

  6. Sidney Balmoral James

    June 11, 2021 at 10:21 pm

    Can unreservedly recommend the late Mr. Jay’s book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women – a very entertaining but quite scholarly account of unusual magic and novelty acts, from the Pig-faced Lady to Le Petomane.

  7. Richardpd

    June 11, 2021 at 11:08 pm

    Wayne Newton was another odd choice as a Bond villan.

    • Sidney Balmoral James

      June 12, 2021 at 1:38 am

      Reminds me of the byline under Robert Goulet’s picture on the poster for The Naked Gun 2 1/2: ‘We couldn’t get Wayne Newton’. It was in what may be the most poorly cast of the Bond films, with the sort of people you’d get in a straight to video film of the time, like Robert Davi, and Everett McGill and the ageing David Hedison, bizarrely brought back from Live and Let Die. Misguided also in the attempt to update and toughen the image, resulting in an unholy mess, way too violent for the usual family audience – people eaten by sharks, Anthony Zerbe’s head explodes, someone is impaled on a forklift truck (‘He came to a dead end’), and a young, and not very good Benicio del Toro falls into a giant drug crushing machine – but not gritty enough for the usual Stallone/ Arnie demographic. I remember they had some horrendous media even before release about how violent it was and it was regarded as flopping against Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostsbusters II, since when I believe Bond films have never been released in the summer. Don’t think it was a flop as such – don’t think any Bond film has ever failed to make a handsome profit.

      • Richardpd

        June 12, 2021 at 11:15 am

        The summer of 1989 was packed with good films, Weird Al vehicle UHF was also crowded out of the running.

        Licence To Kill also suffered due to a writers strike during filming, which affected a few films.

        Also real life events were affecting the series, with the Cold War thawing the move to organised crime probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

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