Rick Lax is a magic trick inventor, author
, and (non-practicing) lawyer from Las Vegas. I was introduced to him because we have the same book editor, Dave Moldawer. On his Facebook page, Rick posts videos of the tricks he's created. The thing I love about his videos is that he shoots them in a coffee shop with his mobile phone. The tricks are great and he has an appealing personality so the Starbucks production values are fine. I prefer his videos to the edgy, atmospheric videos that so many other magic trick sellers use.
Rick does not perform in front of live audiences, but on Monday he appeared on Penn & Teller: Fool Us with a memory trick. He wowed Penn & Teller and the audience by glancing at a packet of 21 cards, mixing them up, then separating the reds and the blacks without looking at the cards. Teller grabbed some of Rick's cards to see if they'd been marked or stripped or otherwise doctored but he came to the conclusion that they are ordinary cards. Penn & Teller were fooled and Rick won the challenge.
I asked Rick to tell me about his experience on the show and how he came up with the trick.
Tell me about your thought process when you were coming up with a trick to fool Penn & Teller
I picked my most deceptive trick. The whole point of the show is to fool Penn & Teller, and I knew I had to bring my A Game. In this case, my A Game is a trick called "Binary Code." Zero magicians have figured it out after first seeing it.
The only trouble is, it's a procedural card trick, so I had to find a way to make it entertaining. If you fool Penn & Teller but bore the pants off the home audience, you become a "magician's magician," which is code for "guy nobody's really heard of." So I worked damn hard to make this potentially dry card trick as entertaining as hell. Like to think I succeeded.
You appeared confident. But as you said, you spend most of your time inventing tricks for other magicians. So, we you nervous at all? And if, so, what did you do to project a relaxed, confident demeanor?
In the weeks leading up to the show, I was nervous. I haven't done a paying gig since I was 17. Let alone performed for an audience this large. Or performed on TV. Or performed with two of magic's top minds sitting a foot away from me, burning my hands.
I was terrified of choking. My senior year of high school, I played Rhapsody in Blue at the Concerto Concert, in front of all my friends and family…and I choked. Totally forgot the song and had to walk offstage to get the sheet music. I was ashamed and for a long while, that deterred me from performing any sort of solo act.
And yeah, I was afraid of choking again. So I picked up a book called Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most by Hendrie Weisinger. Read it every day. And when I hit the Penn & Teller theater stage… a surprising burst of confidence hit me. Later on, I realized what it was:
It's not like I was some high school kid playing Gershwin… it's like, I was Gershwin playing Gershwin. It's my trick, after all.
That and I had a glass of coffee flavored tequila next to me on stage. (You might notice, after Penn & Teller handed me the trophy, Teller gave the tequila a whiff.) And I might have drank some of the tequila before I went onstage…
Did you expect Teller to grab some of the cards and inspect them like that?
I didn't expect him to grab the cards, but I was happy that he did because they're totally ungimmicked and unaltered. Still, when he went for them, I pretended to be worried, as if I was afraid he would find something suspicious on them.
Are you interested in doing more live performances now?
I'm playing the Magic Castle next week. My first paying gig in 16 years!
You invent a lot of cool tricks that are available on Penguin Magic. I love Penguin Magic, so naturally, I hope this trick will soon be available there. What do you think?