Interview with Card Thrower & Magician Rick Smith Jr

Who is Rick Smith Jr?

When you’re an entertainer, you need to find something that makes you stand out from the rest of the pack. This is also true for performers in the magic industry. With magic man Rick Smith Jr, it’s easy to see that he has what it takes to stand out from your run-of-the-mill magician. To begin with, Rick has three Guiness World Records.

But it’s not just that Rick Smith Jr is a world record holder that makes you sit up and take notice, but it’s especially the kinds of records that he holds. Rick is an expert in throwing playing cards, and holds the record for the furthest distance ever thrown with an ordinary playing card. But that’s just one of the ways he’s made headlines with his card throwing skills. He’s also developed an incredible accuracy with his card throwing, and his insane skills have seen him hit the big time in a “trick shots” collaboration with Dude Perfect, which features his card throwing. The video went viral, and at the time of writing it has around 150 million views! In the summer of 2020 he made a return visit to Dude Perfect, the result being this latest video with even more amazing stunts.

With his unique fusion of magic and card throwing, Rick Smith Jr is in high demand around the world. He’s performed on television many times, for some of the biggest names in the business. Each year he does more than 600 shows for a steady stream of clients, who want to bring his exciting brand of magic and card throwing to their homes, businesses, and events. With a background in marketing, Rick is well placed to serve the needs of corporate customers, while entertaining them with an unforgettable performance at the same time.

Rick has been amazing audiences for around 20 years, and with his remarkable skills and talents, he knows how to use playing cards in a way that few others do. We’re grateful that he was willing to do this interview with us, giving us the opportunity to get a unique insight look at his world, and get some helpful pointers for taking our playing cards to the next level – literally!

The Interview

General background

For those who don’t know anything about you, what can you tell us about yourself and your background?

Well, I’ve been performing magic for over 30 years. I perform close to 600 magic shows a year right now, with my card-throwing being a niche of my act. So I’m not just a card thrower, but I am a professional entertainer. I was an NCAA pitcher in college, and I developed my strength of my card throwing by throwing a baseball 90-plus miles per hour.

What can you tell us about the Guinness World Records you have set?

I have three Guinness Book world records for throwing playing cards. My first world record was set in 2002, for throwing a playing card 72 yards at a speed of 92 miles per hour.

My other two world records were set in 2015 and 2017, one for throwing a card the most accurate, which was 46 out of 52 cards to a target in under a minute. The other world record was for throwing the highest, which was 70 feet and some odd inches straight up in the air.

What does a typical day or month in the life of Rick Smith Jr look like?

Typically, I have been a prize for a fundraising company for the past ten years. I would perform three school shows during the week, Monday through Friday. My weekends, I would travel. I would perform for different companies and corporations around the world, and the school tour thing lasted for ten years. There was 400 shows a year.

An average day: I’ll try to come up with some new material, perform the shows, post on social media, and hang out with family and friends when I can. I work a lot.

What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of magic and throwing playing cards?

Going to sporting events. I was a baseball player, and we’re from Cleveland, so we go to different Cleveland Indian games. I played baseball up until a couple years ago, after I had an elbow injury, where I had to have surgery, which was both baseball and card-throwing-related. So I gave up baseball.

Also four-wheeling, hanging out with family, cooking on the grill – those are my hobbies right now.

Aside from your world records, what would you consider to be your biggest accomplishments, and things you’re most proud of?

I guess my girls. I have a three-year-old, Aubrey, and I have a five-year-old, Averie. Having kids now, it’s changed my life. When I’m not performing, I’m going to dance recitals and taking them for swimming lessons and Little Gym and getting them into sports and baseball and soccer and basketball. So I’m spending a lot of my time with those two, and there’s one more on the way in August. So it’s going to change my life even more, coming up.

Throwing Playing Cards

Throwing playing cards looks amazing, but why should we learn how to do it?

You don’t have to learn how to do it. It’s just something fun to do. Being able to be at a party and being able to take a playing card and be like, “Hey, let me slice that celery in half” – that’s something that I do that no one in the world has ever commonly done. It made me unique as a performer.

I used my baseball background to be able to throw the cards so far, and the accuracy just came with practice. People kept asking me to do different types of challenges, and I kept on testing my abilities. Sooner or later, I was slicing olives being thrown up in the air or taking a cup off of somebody’s head or slicing a vegetable in half.

So if you want to learn it, it’s just a cool skill to have. It’s not going to make you any money, unless you devote your life to it and add it to something that you love to do. Since I loved to be a magician, I wasn’t going to make a living off just throwing cards. It was more of a hobby, and wasn’t something that I was like, “Oh, this is going to be my job. I’m going to be a card thrower.” It just became something that I can showcase in my magic acts, which made my magic acts more popular, which made me more money.

How difficult is it to learn how to throw playing cards for the average person?

The average person can learn how to throw a playing card fairly quickly, with the right technique, the right hold, the right flick of the wrist. Anyone can throw a playing card, just like anyone can throw an object.

Everyone can play a piano and can play Mary Had a Little Lamb, but not everyone can play Beethoven. So if you want to get good with it and confident with it, you’re just going to have to keep practicing it. Doing it well is not something that you’re just going to be able to do instantly. It’s going to take years of throwing and figuring out what the cards can do and what they can’t do. Once you realize what they can do, then you can create the trick shots that you want to create.

What else can you tell us about the process involved in setting your first Guinness World Record for card throwing?

The story with the first world record, the distance world record, comes down to the baseball locker room. In the locker room, before practices, we would goof around. I would perform magic for some of the guys in the locker room. But we would also roll up our socks and throw them across the room and try to hit people. One day, I got hit with a sock, and I didn’t have a sock to throw back, so I grabbed out my deck of cards and took out one playing card, threw it, and gave one of my buddies the worst paper cut of his life. I thought they were going to be mad, but they thought it was the coolest thing that they’ve ever seen. So we practiced throwing a couple cards in the locker room, and that was it for that day.

The next day, one of the other teammates brings in a Guinness Book of World Records. He goes, “Hey, there’s actually a Guinness world record for throwing playing cards, 201 feet, and it’s held by this magician guy named Jim Carroll. I bet you can beat it.” So we called up Guinness World Records. We called up every local news station, every newspaper, everything that you could do. In the year 2002, there was no social media, no YouTube, or anything of that caliber. So if you wanted to get it out there, you went to Associated Press. We went to the Plain Dealer, the News Herald. Basically, we told everybody we were going to break this world record for throwing a playing card, and we had no idea if people were going to show up or not.

What response did you get to your world record attempt and afterwards?

Guinness showed up. Every single news station showed up. Every newspaper showed up. It took about 30 throws because of the air flow in the room, but after I broke the world record, I made the front page of the Plain Dealer. It went to Associated Press and it went viral before viral was a thing. Every news station, newspaper, radio station in the world was contacting me and asking me, “What did you do?” This wasn’t even a stunt, and it wasn’t even “Can you slice something in half?” This was just throwing a playing card 72 yards! It had nothing to do with anything other than throwing a card a long distance.

But the following day, I was in class in college all day after this stuff got published, not knowing what was going on. And all of the voicemails were like, “Hi, this is the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Please give us a call back.” “Hey, this is so-and-so from Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Give us a call back.” “Hey, this is the Steve Harvey Show. We’re doing a TV show called Steve Harvey’s Big Time. We’d love for you to be a part of it. Please give us a call back.” “Hi, this is the Wayne Brady Show, blah blah blah.” I had voicemails from London, BBC, radio, so many different places. I was doing interviews like crazy.

That’s how I got into the card-throwing. It was all a mistake. It was all from throwing a sock, to throwing a playing card, to giving the kid the worst cut of his life, to finding out there was a world record, to breaking the world record, and then getting contacted by media all around the world. It’s crazy.

How did your other two Guinness World Records for card throwing come about?

For the other record, I went on this local station in Cleveland – FOX 8 – and I said, “Hey, I’d like to break a world record.” They were like, “Hey, why don’t you break it on our show?” So it was just a morning segment. It wasn’t anything crazy, and I broke the world record on the segment. I didn’t get any press out of it, other than FOX 8 in the morning. I broke the world record, and sent it to Guinness. They approved it, and I got my plaque.

I broke the record for the height on Pi Day, and we ended up getting thousands of people to show up at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio. We decided to do a magic show, as breaking the Guinness Book world record. I stood at the bottom floor of the science center and hit the ceiling of the science center, and we had people from different news stations there, as well as Plain Dealer, again. It didn’t go viral or anything, and no one seemed to care, other than, “Hey, it’s just the new world record.” But it was an accomplishment. It was right after another surgery that I had on a piece of bone that was in my elbow that I broke that world record.

Do you have your eye on any other records, or do you have any plans to beat the ones you currently hold?

I was supposed to. In April, I was supposed to go to Italy to break a world record for the most cards thrown around a human in under a minute. That’s on hold due to the world situation right now.

What can you tell us about your baseball background, and how has this impacted your ability in throwing playing cards?

My training and ability to pitch is the only reason I could throw cards so well. If you want to break the world record, it’s possible, and I could teach you how to throw a playing card. But the only way that someone’s going to be able to break my world record is they can throw a baseball 90 miles an hour plus. You could flick a card as hard as you want, but if you don’t have that arm speed and that power from your legs and your body to be able to throw a baseball 92 miles an hour, there’s no way in the world that you’re going to get enough power behind your playing card.

I broke the world record in my peak of NCAA baseball. So if I teach a Major League Baseball pitcher how to do it, I can see that they would have a fair chance. But no one’s going to break the record unless they’re an NCAA athlete or higher. I just don’t see it happening. Not to be cocky about it – I’m just saying it’s going to be hard. That day I was warming up by throwing a ball, and then I broke the world record.

The world record has to be set indoors. It has to be set with no wind flow. We had to shut all the air conditioners off. We had to shut all the doors. There was no air flow, and it was weird, because when I first did go break the world record, I kept on throwing 200 feet, 199 feet. It kept on stopping, and then we ended up switching sides, because there was still an air flow, like some kind of vent. We switched sides, and I broke the world record the second or third throw after that. It hit the bleachers and bounced back 15 feet. So maybe I could’ve thrown it a little further, but Guinness took the world record from where the card landed, not where it hit.

Are there particularly memorable experiences you’ve had with your card throwing for TV shows?

America’s Got Talent, the Tonight Show, and Shark Tank were probably my favorite TV shows to appear on. On Shark Tank I was able to perform magic as well as my card-throwing stunts, and it was on a major TV network at a prime time. So they got my magic and my card-throwing out in one episode.

America’s Got Talent was one of the bigger stages that I got to perform on. I never got X’ed, and a lot of people watch that show, so that was another fun one to get recognized from. There were other shows that were fun to be on, like the Tonight Show. They all just have different audiences, and have different reasons for being the best show at the time. With the Ellen DeGeneres show, I got to throw cards with Ellen, and it was a timeframe and different audience that I’d never reached before. The Tonight Show is just a late night show audience, college kids, and was also another group that I’d never reached.

I have a lot of favorite TV shows. Even on Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the first show I ever performed on, I was treated like gold. They flew me to Vegas to film in front of thousands of people, and I got to do stunts for the very first time, ever. I did thinks that I’d never done before for the very first time on TV, and that was so memorable.

Of the many videos online in which you appear, which is your favourite one, and why?

With YouTube channels I’ve been able to work with some of the best YouTubers in the world. When I did the first Card Throwing Trick Shots video with Dude Perfect, the video went viral. It trended in the number one spot on YouTube for an entire day. It had over 20 million views in the first week, and we’re over 137 million views now. They got card-throwing out to the biggest audience in the fastest amount of time, and made me the most recognizable around the world for the age group of kids. Kids would recognize me anywhere I’d go, non-magic-related, just because they’re huge Dude Perfect fans.

But Dude Perfect led into other big collaborations with Mark Rober, the mechanical engineer from NASA; with David Dobrik, going to his house and performing trick shots with all of his friends, and with Florian “Venom” Kohler, the pool trick shot artist from Las Vegas. And there’s a whole bunch of others: Carter Sharer, Juggling Josh, Logan Broadbent, the Slow Mo Guys, the Modern Rogue, and Scam Nation. All of these other YouTube channels have just totally launched my YouTube career; I thought that I would have reached 300 million people in such a short amount of time.

What impact did these viral videos have on your career?

I have been able to charge higher fees and I have been more in demand. I’ve got some of the biggest shows of my life since then. I’ve been able to travel to other countries and do my card-throwing and magic in places that I never thought possible. I’ve had a few agents ask to hire me for different events. I’ve done just card-throwing shows, even if they were only ten minutes long. At times I been paid more to do a ten-minute card-throwing show than for my Las Vegas-style magic show!

So yes, it has gotten me out there, and the demand right after that video was so great that I couldn’t handle all the shows. I started working with other magicians and people in my area, and we developed a really good entertainment agency ourselves called the Cleveland Entertainers, where we book different entertainers. When leads come in and I can’t fulfill them personally, we say: “Rick’s not available, but we have so-and-so that would be a good fit for your party.” It is another way to make some extra money, but it also gives a lot of friends in my network some extra shows that they didn’t have coming.

How many takes does it typically take you to accomplish the kinds of feats we see you do in viral videos like your first video with Dude Perfect and others?

Dude Perfect took place in one and a half days. The first day, we started at 11 and ended at 5. The second day we started at 11 and ended at 1:30 or 2:30, because I had to fly back. Most of the trick shots were fast, and didn’t take a long time at all. The only thing that took time in between each trick shot was setting up the cameras. The trick shots that you would think would be the hardest to take place, like the olive slicer where Cody would throw the olive up in the air and I would slice it in half? A lot of people say “That had to take you all day,” but I can honestly do that one out of every six throws. I probably cut that olive six or seven times, just to get the right and perfect camera angle that we needed for that shot.

Making a basket from a full court? Some people say, “Oh that probably took you all day.” Believe it or not, that was my second throw. It happened, and we were done with it. We had set aside 20 minutes to do that shot, but I did it within the first minute.

No one would believe what was the hardest shot of that whole video. It would be the balloon that was hanging on the second level, and I was standing below, and had to throw the card upwards and pop the balloon hanging about 50 feet away. That was the hardest shot of the whole video, because I had to throw upwards at an angle, and I had to hit the balloon, and I had to pop it. So that one probably took the longest – I think we worked on it for 20 minutes. Then we went to lunch, and we came back. Right after lunch, we were about to give up, and then I got it. So 20 or 25 minutes was the longest we spent on any trick shot in that video. But a lot of them were first or second try.

What instructional videos have you produced that we should know about?

If you want to learn some magic and some card-throwing, I have a free tutorial and some more tutorials on my YouTube channel. I also have some behind the scenes of the card-throwing and some in-depth training on a DVD called Velocity, which is available on my website.

Credit: Interview with Card Thrower & Magician Rick Smith Jr