Two Days with Joshua Jay

May 2008 – not actually an interview but a shared experience

Joshua JayJoshua Jay is a magic phenomenon. Still in his mid 20s, he has performed and lectured in over forty countries. He has won countless awards, amazed countless celebrities and invented countless tricks that are sold and performed all over the world; he has written three bestselling magic books (see Session, below) and has his own column in Magic, the magicians’ magazine with the largest circulation. Not only that, Josh is an extremely accomplished and widely exhibited photographer, and has written and starred in an award-winning short film, called The Heckler. Oh, and he also speaks French.

Originally from Ohio, Joshua now lives in New York, though he doesn’t get to spend much time in his apartment there because he’s so often on the road.

The road is where I come in. Josh’s UK tour in April and May of this year involved a great deal of shuttling up and down the country, as well as across to a few places that are not, strictly speaking, part of the United Kingdom – such as the Isle of Man, Ireland and, um, Hungary. Ever since we didn’t manage to see him during our visit to the Big Apple in January, Josh and my friend Iain Moran had been corresponding and looking for an opportunity to meet and talk, beyond what’s possible in the brief moment after a lecture. When he heard that Josh was going to be struggling on trains to get to Chester and Birmingham, Iain offered to pick Josh up in the car and drive him door to door, showing him a few sights along the way (Josh is a keen sightseer). This excellent plan was flawed in one vital respect: Iain has neither car nor driving licence. Fortunately (particularly for me), I have both and was able to act as chauffeuse for the two magicians.

The Joshua Jay Lecture 2008

Our primary job was to make sure Josh arrived at his lectures safely, in good time and with all the stuff he needed. I’m thankful to say, we achieved this, though it was at some cost to Iain’s and my nerves on both occasions. It’s amazing how many little problems can arise when you’re in charge of the welfare and schedule of a VIP. Traffic, delays, wrong turns, slow service, things being unexpectedly closed, things being unexpectedly really expensive… How I longed for a genuine magic wand! At least it didn’t rain on my watch – we had probably the sunniest days of the tour.

Joshua Jay lecturingAnyway, the lecture was, needless to say, fantastic. Iain had already seen it in London, at The Magic Circle, but he was happy to see it again on two consecutive evenings. I must say, there’s so much in it that I was also happy to see it twice. I admired how much thought had gone into the structure and pacing of the lecture, as well as the beautiful creation of the tricks themselves. Josh is a great performer and, even after I knew how everything was done, I very much enjoyed watching him go through his magic routines.

One of the highlights for me was Printing, in which the magician appears to print on a blank card the face of a playing card, the back of a playing card, his business card, the card box, a facsimile of his close-up mat, whatever is around… This was invented by Dominique Duvivier, who, with his daughter Alexandra, runs Le Double Fond in Paris (see my website Paris Magic to find out more). Josh has added some extra ‘prints’ and made the trick his own and it’s an absolute joy to watch, exactly the sort of magic I love.

Other highlights were Three-Coin Vanish, in which Josh makes three coins appear and then disappear; Vegas Visit, Josh’s cool spin on the trick where, however many cards the magician puts down, he’s always got six in his hand; and Josh’s card trick for blind people.

So what is Josh Jay really like?

Josh and GeorgieFirst and foremost, I think I would say stimulating. I thoroughly enjoyed our two days together and went on buzzing for at least a week afterwards. Whilst hurtling up and down the M6, Josh, Iain and I had wide-ranging discussions, which usually began and ended with magic but covered languages, teaching, philosophy, psychology, technology, history, art, Paris, Italy, Sicily, films, books, big business and law. Of course, I love magic but it’s not my full-time job and I sometimes get left behind during in-depth analysis of obscure moves and who invented which variation on what. So I appreciated Josh talking about so much other stuff as well and I found we had quite a lot in common: he lived in Paris for a year, I lived in Milan; we’re both interested in language and languages; we both like reading, writing and literary/film criticism. In Josh’s blog, you’ll find a section about Magic Films, in which he discusses and evaluates the portrayal of magicians in various movies. I am fascinated by this type of analysis too, though for me it’s books.

Having met Josh and seen the way his mind works, I was inspired to read his book Session. This is a magic manual in the guise of a story. The setting is a restaurant, where Josh has arranged to meet his friend Joel Givens and have a magic session, talking about tricks and exchanging secrets. It’s a satisfying tale in itself and explains how to do a lot of stunning effects. I skipped over most of the card moves, I must admit (cards being Josh’s passion but not really mine) but I got several nifty ideas for tricks with other items such as straws and coffee creamer. Although it’s not meant for beginners, I think anyone with an interest in doing magic would enjoy it and I encourage you to get hold of a copy. A word of warning, however: do not read this book in the evening if you want to get a wink of sleep!

Josh and Iain’s session over lunch at the Ask restaurant in Warwick was less eventful than the one with Joel but still fun for me to watch. The food was incidental as bottom deals, culls, side steals and sneaky passes filled the air and multicoloured playing cards covered the table. Our waiter lurked, hoping to pick up some tips (of the magical variety), while I sensed the people at the next table thought card magic was up there with trainspotting in the yawn stakes. All the world’s a stage but it doesn’t always come with an enthusiastic audience.

Two months of solid touring is a demanding undertaking and, five or six weeks in, I felt it was beginning to take its toll. The travelling is hard enough – particularly with enormous suitcases full of merchandise – and the lecturing must be very tiring. Then there’s the endless socialising, the never having a minute to oneself, the being in a foreign country but not feeling one can criticise it because everyone is being so kind and trying to help… I may be projecting on to Josh some of what I would have been experiencing in his position but there’s no doubt he was exhausted. The night between our two days, he got back to his hotel room around 2am and then spent a couple of hours answering business and fan e-mails and keeping in touch with his girlfriend, Sarah, three thousand plus miles away.

Josh works like I don’t know what – perhaps a cross between a carthorse, who just keeps going until it’s all done, and a racehorse, whose elegant grace is inherent however little sleep he may have had. But thank you, Josh. Your contributions to the world have already far exceeded what most of us can hope to achieve in a lifetime.

I consider myself privileged to have had these two days with Joshua Jay and I very much look forward to meeting him again. If you ever get the chance to see him, seize it with both hands.

You can read more about Josh and his magic on his website: