Magician Ricky Jay-Jay escapes rat race

Explosive magic show returns to Wake Forest’s campus a quarter century later


Tommy Murphy, Contributing Writer

A man wearing a blue button-down splattered with mustard stains, far-too-large khaki pants and scuffed brown dress shoes walks out onto Manchester plaza’s makeshift outdoor stage. In front of him, the crowd of six people falls silent. His gut hangs slightly over his belt and he has Cheeto dust stains on his khakis. It is 8:30 p.m. on Wake Forest’s campus and 43-year-old magician Ricky Jay-Jay has just begun his final performance.

Born Richard Joseph, Jay-Jay grew up in a 10-bedroom, four-story neoclassical style household in New Canaan, Connecticut. His father owned a hedge fund and his mother worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Company. Jay-Jay’s sister, Shannon, would go on to attend Harvard Law School and open up her own private practice. His older brother, Eric, would complete his doctorate from Columbia University at the age of 23.

“My father always liked to joke around with me,” Jay-Jay said. “I think he knew that I’d be the performer in the family. He’d always say, ‘I could never learn to love you, Richard Joseph,’ and ‘You haven’t earned the right to look me in the eyes.’ We had a lot of fun back then.”

Jay-Jay’s family knew he was different from an early age. When Jay-Jay turned 12, he flunked out of middle school. When he was 16, he managed to total a car after a collision with a cyclist. And when Jay-Jay was 18, his father helped him get recruited to Wake Forest University’s cross country team through a “side door.” Jay-Jay had never run a mile before.

Despite his ever-growing list of shortcomings, Jay-Jay had always held a passion for magic.

“I guess he saw David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear and he wanted to do his own show of that caliber,” Jay-Jay’s mother Michelle said.

During his first year at Wake Forest, Jay-Jay decided that he would hold a magic show. He invited everyone who lived in Luter — his freshman hall — hung green fliers with his face all around campus and wrote letters of invitation to as many family members he could think of. Fourteen people showed up to his first performance.

“I was so nervous,” Jay-Jay said. “That day, I learned a very valuable lesson: always wear an undershirt.”

At 2 p.m., Jay-Jay began his show. By 2:03 p.m., Jay-Jay had sweat through both his blue button-down and khaki pants.

“I was just so nervous about my final trick,” Jay-Jay said.

For his final trick, Jay-Jay planned on making his hamster, Sniffles, disappear.

“Sniffles had always been my rock,” Jay-Jay said. “If it wasn’t for having him in my corner, I don’t know if I’d be able to do any of this magic stuff.”

Sniffles’ time in the spotlight approached as the show wound down. When the time came, Jay-Jay threw a white sheet over Sniffles’ cage and exclaimed, “Ala-k-ska!”

Red splattered the inside of the white sheet. Family members gasped. Students screamed. Jay-Jay slowly pulled the sheet off the cage to find the remains of an imploded hamster.

“I was too young to be playing with that kind of magic,” Jay-Jay says now. “I didn’t know that I had the power of the ancient terra-god Zetecskiskalo within me.”

Now, 25 years later at the age of 43, Jay-Jay has returned to Wake Forest in hopes of redeeming himself.

For the past quarter-century, Jay-Jay has lived on the road. All his savings are kept in a Jansport backpack; all of his possessions are packed in a white, rusted Subaru forester. Though his dad has offered him multiple positions at his hedge fund, Jay-Jay has decided to forge his own path. He spends his time on the road joyfully with his long-tailed chinchilla, Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand and I have an almost spiritual connection,” Jay-Jay said. “It’s like I’m that blue guy in Avatar and he’s that flying horse thing I connect tails with.”

After Jay-Jay’s hamster incident 25 years back, he was banned from joining the Society of American Magicians. A disgrace to his family and to the magic community internationally, Jay-Jay hopes that with this performance he can both redeem his reputation and pay homage to the memory of Sniffles.

Jay-Jay begins his act for the six audience members with a statement: “This magician’s greatest trick is escaping the corporate rat race!”

Jay-Jay’s white Subaru rests behind the stage on Manchester plaza. The first half of his performance is an unequivocal success. Jay-Jay pulls out old prop tricks he learned from the road. He astonishes the audience with an impressive sleight of hand card tricks. Finally, Jay-Jay comes to his finale. He takes a deep breath and goes into his rehearsed script.

“Within this white Subaru contains all my possessions, all of my memories, and my long-tailed chinchilla: Ferdinand,” Jay-Jay exclaims. “I will now make this car … disappear!”

Jay-Jay walks over to his white Subaru beside the stage.

He throws a white sheet over the car, then steps back.

“Ala-k-bama!” Jay-Jay shouts.

The car explodes. Debris flies into the crowd. Jay-Jay’s chinchilla Ferdinand is vaporized instantaneously.

All Jay-Jay could do was watch as he witnessed the accumulation of all of his failures.

Following the performance, Ricky Jay-Jay was arrested for reckless endangerment. He is set to stand trial on April 4. Since his visit, the university has banned all magic acts from campus.