Rick Smith, Jr. is a card-throwing master. The man holds a Guinness World Record for distance for cards thrown (216 feet and four inches), and has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Ellen, The Wayne Brady Show and dozens more to showcase his incredible slice-‘em-up card flinging tricks. Read on to hear about how he got started, how exactly one wrangles a Guinness World Record, and more.
Club 808: How did you figure out you have the ability to throw cards like you do? Were you younger when it happened?
Rick: It wasn’t when I was young, but I started throwing playing cards when I was pitching in college. I was an NCAA pitcher for Cleveland State University, and I was also a professional magician. And one day in the locker room we were goofing around throwing socks. And I didn’t have a sock to throw around, but having my Bicycle® deck of playing cards that I always have on me—at all times—I took out a card, figured out I could just toss it across the room, and I ended up giving a kid the worst paper cut of his life. But they thought it was the coolest thing in the world, and then I found out there was a Guinness World Record for it, so I applied for the record, and the rest is history.
Club 808: So that’s how it started, just throwing cards around in the locker room?
Rick: Yeah, I was familiar with the cards, since I’ve done magic tricks with them my whole life, since I was seven. But the card throwing came to me in college.
Club 808: Can you tell us more about getting into card magic?
Rick: I learned as many card tricks as I possibly could. That was my whole thing. I learned how to do manipulations with cards, learned how to make them disappear, you’re holding a card and all of the sudden it’s gone. Making multiple cards appear, making fans appear. . . I saw lots of different magicians. They had those specials on. I’m trying to think if it was ABC, NBC. World’s Greatest Magic. They had those on every Thanksgiving for like six years. I watched those as a kid, I’d watch the David Copperfield specials. My dad knew one card trick, my uncle knew one coin trick. . . my neighbor had a magic book, and it was in German, so. I just had a whole bunch of different influences.
Club 808: Yeah, seems like you were primed. So would you consider them a support system for your Cardistry? Your family and your friends?
Rick: They’ve been very supportive. Card throwing, magic and all this stuff put me through college. I was able to buy my first house at the age of 21 just by doing card tricks.
Club 808: Were there any particular mentors that you looked up to or admired?
Rick: One of the best card handlers that I liked when I was growing up was Jeff McBride. He was probably the best card regulator in the world. Michael Ammar was a big influence on me too. He had videos, on learning how to do “card miracles,” Volumes 1-7 type of things. Those are two of the magician’s magicians. Not people you might know, but magicians might know.
Club 808: Did you ever get to meet them?
Rick: I’ve met Jeff McBride multiple times now. I haven’t met Ammar yet. I’ve been able to, I just haven’t had the chance to go to any conventions he’s been to.
Club 808: Do you do this full-time?
Rick: Full-time. I did a total of 606 shows this past year. It’s crazy, is what it is. Two or three a day every single day. When I’m not doing schools, colleges, that kind of thing, I was doing corporate events, and putting on large production shows. Illusions, dancers, singers, jugglers, and myself, doing the card throwing and putting a whole magic act together. It’s different shows. I get hired for close-up magic—which is all card tricks and coin tricks and rubber band magic and turning dollar bills into 100-dollar bills, walking around from table to table, person to person. And then there are little kids shows. You go to a local library and they hire you to come in and do a presentation for all the kids there. Or you go to a summer camp and there are 300 kids. Or you do elementary, middle school, and there are 500 kids. Or you do a 25th anniversary for a huge company. . . all these big companies I represent. I come in and do big magic shows for them at their trade shows, corporate events, and holiday parties.
Club 808: What’s your preferred show setting? Do you like doing the more one-on-one street level, or do you like doing the 500 kids in an auditorium?
Rick: Actually my favorite probably would be the stage magic. I mean, I love doing the close-up magic. . . but yeah, I mean I like close-up magic, and I love doing the card tricks. If I learn a card trick and I’m trying to learn it better, then, so I can’t see how it’s done myself—if I can see some kind of weird thing happening, I don’t do that trick. I have to make sure its perfect.
Club 808: Have you devised your own card tricks?
Rick: I have a few. A few of my own card tricks. I have a lot of card flicks that are my own. Different methods of throwing, different methods of flicking them and catching them, that king of thing.
Club 808: You currently hold the Guinness World Record for longest card throw. How do you set up that process to be a World Record holder?
Rick: Very difficult.
Club 808: I imagine you have to contact Guinness, get that all set up. . .
Rick: Exactly. You have to call Guinness, you have to apply through their online process. That’s the only way to do it. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to get a record now unless you’re 100% sure you can do it. You have to pay one of their actual judges to come out and make sure. Back when I did it, 11 years ago, they flew somebody from London just to watch my world record. So they flew somebody out, I did it at the Cleveland State Convocation center, in Ohio, which is now the Wolstein Center. I had number one newspapers—I had the Plain Dealer, News Herald, the Sun Messenger, the Akron Beacon Journal there, I had all these papers there. Channel 3, 5, and 8, 19 News, Channel 43, all the news stations came. It was a really big deal; for some reason they all came. We sent out one press release and we had 15 people from the media there. And they captured that Guinness World Record. And they had to authenticate it—make sure everything was perfect. Make sure I was opening the box of cards for the first time. They had to measure with a wheel and a steel measuring tape. Make sure there was nothing out of the ordinary, they weren’t off by a millimeter. Everybody had to write affidavits—like full-page, what they witnessed, did they see anything out of the ordinary, making sure everything was 100% real. Then, even though the Guinness world record guy was there, he said, “We have a new Guinness World Record, but we have to take all this stuff now—your videotape, your affidavits, your writing, your pictures, your newspaper articles—all this stuff, we have to take back to Guinness and see what will happen.” But the following day, they released it on the front page of the Plain Dealer, which is one of the largest newspapers in Cleveland. And it went to the Associated Press. And from there, I was contacted from the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Ellen. Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not was my first contact. And when I went on Ripley’s, I contacted US Playing Cards, said, “Hey I’m gonna be on this national television show—can I get some playing cards?” And they sent me a full gross. . . So for the past 11 years I’ve done 20 television shows and every single time I go on, US Playing Card has supplied me with [more cards]. I’ve probably gone through probably 500,000 playing cards since I started altogether.
Club 808: Wow! What do you do with those used playing cards?
Rick: Just keep them as souvenirs. . . I go through probably two, three decks every single day. Maybe more. Sometimes I do autographs, and things like that. I never sell them; I always give them away. And I point people to Bicycle® Playing cards. You’d be surprised how many people keep those cards and bring it back up to me like three years later.
Club 808: Can you remind us of how far your record is?
Rick: Yeah, 216 feet, 4 inches. . . at the time, the Discovery Channel—they measured revolutions per second, which is 186, and at a speed of 92 miles per hour. I mean, I can throw a card through a fat carrot.
Club 808: We also saw that in your videos. We loved the part where you threw it and it hit the button on the blender to turn it on.
Rick: [laughs] Yeah, those are all things that the TV shows make up, you know. They want something different. I even came up with my own magic trick where someone can take a playing card, put it in a deck, I throw all the cards up in the air, I throw one card, and I actually pierce their card in mid-air and stick it to the target. . . I’m actually talking to the Late Show with David Letterman right now about doing that trick.
Club 808: Do you have a favorite deck of cards for throwing?
Rick: I like the regular 808 [rider backs]. Honestly. I’ve used other cards of yours, but if there were plastic 808s that would be even better!
Club 808: Do you have a chance to play playing cards, when you’re not throwing them or doing magic?
Rick: Yeah, I’m thinking about doing that tonight, actually. I’m in Seneca; I’m in the Buffalo area, right next to that casino.
Club 808: What’s your game of choice?
Rick: Blackjack. I’m pretty good at—I don’t want to say counting, but I’m pretty good at seeing different combinations of cards, I guess you’d say.
Club 808: Can you tell us some stories from some of your show appearances?
Rick: Here’s a story from Ripley’s Believe It or Not. When that newspaper thing came out, front page, and went to Associated Press—I was playing baseball at school and I’m getting voicemails. “This is the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, please give us a call back.” “This is Ripley’s Believe It or Not, give us a call when you get the chance.” “Hey, this is so-and-so from the Conan O’Brien Show.” “Hey, this is Ellen DeGeneres, please give me a call.” So I’m taking all these voicemails and deleting them as I get them.
Club 808: What? Just deleting them?
Rick: Yeah, because I thought it they were friends on the baseball team. I was like, “Why are you guys pranking me?” I got multiple, right after the other, boom boom boom, I had seven voicemails. They were like, “We didn’t call you. We didn’t do anything. . . Look at your phone, look at the area codes.” They were all 818, 323, 310, all these California area codes. I ended up going into my deleted voicemails and getting them back. I started calling. And Ripley’s—I remember, it was in college, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not called, and Dean Cain, and Kelly Packard and a couple of other executive producers—they were all on the phone. They said “So. We like your story. We want to come to Cleveland and film you.” So we set up something at the Willoughby Brewing Company in Cleveland. They wanted me to pop a balloon, knock cans over, they wanted to see what kind of manipulations I could do with my hands. They took that back and they loved it. They wanted more footage. They wanted me to go to Vegas. . . and Tony Virga is on there, and he goes, “We need something crazy in front of 20,000 people in Las Vegas.” And I said, “Okay. What do you guys wanna do?” “Can you slice a banana in half with a playing card?” I said, “Sure.” “Can you throw a card into a watermelon?” “Sure.” “Can you throw a card over the Four Queens Hotel?” “Sure.” And I never knew that I could throw cards through anything, or stick it into a banana or watermelon. I said yes to everything and hoped that I’d be able to do it.
Club 808: Did you throw a card over the hotel?
Rick: I threw one over the Four Queens Hotel. It’s on the Ripley’s Believe it or Not footage on my website. . . and all the other shows just kinda fell into place. As soon as I did Ripley’s, Carson Daly called me right away, said, “Hey, we got a spot open.” Then Steve Harvey and Wayne Brady both wanted me on their shows. And then there was a little bit of a year break and I thought maybe that’s it. But then I got a game show called I’ve Got a Secret on GSN. They wanted me to talk about how I’m a Guinness World Record holder and see if they could figure it out. And then it just kept on getting more and more—Attack of the Show, and America’s Got Talent, and Master of Champions. This past year, 2012, I did Shark Tank on NBC. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I did Red or Black, in the UK. . . it’s a game show, it’s huge in other countries. It’s huge in Europe. I just got asked this week to go to Rome to do another Red or Black.
Club 808: What was your role on Red or Black?
Rick: It was a competition between another card thrower in the world who thinks he can throw cards. There were five stations. I was dressed in red, the other person was dressed in black, and it was to see who can complete the stations fastest. We had to cut a flower in half, throw a card into a mailbox, pop a balloon, knock ten cans down. And then the whole game was called “Hanging by a Thread,” so the last one was a 10-pound weight that had an actual thread holding the ten-pound weight, and you had to throw it so hard to break the thread, to hit the button to end the game.
Club 808: I’m going to go ahead and assume that you schooled the person on the British show.
Rick: [laughs] I did, I felt really bad though. I beat him very bad. He was such a nice kid, and he’d hoped. When it was all rehearsal, we were pretty close, but when it came to game time, I just, boom boom boom. You can watch that as well; just search Rick Smith Red or Black on YouTube.
Club 808: Is there anything you’d like to promote?
Rick: If I can promo anything, I’d promo the Art of Card Throwing, which is my own DVD on how to throw cards. How to do flicks, nicks, and other cool tricks with cards.
Club 808: Can you give us any abbreviated tips right now?
Rick: You hold the card like you’re cutting the top of the card off with scissors, with your dominant throwing hand, then bend your wrist as car as you can and release the card like you’re throwing a curveball. . . there’s many different types of card throws.
Club 808: Thank you so much for your time, Rick.
Rick: I’m excited about it. Thanks!
Learn more about Rick Smith, Jr at RickSmithJr.com, or find him on Twitter @RickSmithJr1.