Today is the birthday of Ricky Jay (b. 1948). I don’t know if he’s the coolest man alive (it’s tempting to call him that but he’s got competition) but I think I can say without qualification that he has the perfect life. In fact, he’s done so many amazing things that his Wikipedia entry downplays (scarcely mentions) the accomplishment I (and I’m certain many of my friends and colleagues) revere him most for, his 1986 book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. Note the timing of that book. Before it, a handful of ex-hippie “new vaudeville” performers. After it, an explosion of sideshow, circus, vaudeville and related variety forms. I’m just sayin’. The book totally changed my life. Led me down the primrose path.
Jay is not only a world class magician, mind reader and card thrower (and a scholar/ author/ lecturer thereof) he is also a movie and television star (Deadwood, Boogie Nights, Tomorrow Never Dies, etc) and a pal of David Mamet, who directed three of his one-man shows and has put him in several of his movies.
Go here for my review of the terrific documentary Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous