Saturday, 26 September 2015

Bayley and Sasha

This is an essay about professional wrestling, so if that ain't your bag, or you're not curious, or if you're rolling your eyes, then there's no need for you to stick around. In the words of Malcolm Tucker, “Off you fuck”. The rest of you, who love, understand, or at least don't pre-judge one of Americas great contemporary theatrical forms, this is for you.

Wrestling is about moments.

Its theatre and its reality and sometimes, when the stars align, something happens that is both theatre and real life simultaneously. This happens in no other artform, except occasionally perhaps circus, and its something very special indeed. There are moments every wrestling fan will tell you about. Foley soaring off the top of the cell. Jericho first arriving on Monday night and being unleashed on The Rock. Mick telling Hunter that he can't beat him, “But he knows a man who can”, before transforming before our very eyes into the feared Cactus Jack. Shawn saying “I'm sorry. I love you” before superkicking Ric into retirement. The Undertaker's bell. If you're a fan, you're smiling right now. Moments, you know what I mean?

Sometimes wrestling is also good at stories, but sometimes, just like any soap opera (which, of
course, is to some extent what it is), sometimes the plotlines inspire more eyerolls than jaw-drops. And often it was the female wrestlers that got the crappiest deal.

Wrestling doesn't have the most sparkling track record when it comes to depictions of women. WWE, throughout its most popular and financially successful period, even with talented and beloved performers like Trish Stratus and Lita failed dismally much of the time. Plots centered around bitchiness, fighting over the affections of men, and – even in the lycra-heavy world of wrestling – wearing as little as is humanly possible. There were matches held in giant bowls of pudding, matches where the winner was the first person to yank off the dress of her opponent, and occasionally, inexplicably, just plain old swimsuit beauty contests held in the ring. On a wrestling show. It felt like the scripts were being written by the kind of guy who'd step in front of a woman on the street and block her path to say hi, and then when she ignored him, would berate her for being a stuck-up cow. Women were all either sluts, bitches or frigid. It was insulting to the performers and to the audience, and it made being a wrestling fan really difficult for a lot of people. Fast forward a decade though, and it looks like we might be entering a little golden age, which brings us to Bayley and Sasha.

NXT is the WWE wrestling brand that showcases the new talent being groomed for big league stardom. Developmental, they call it. But in an odd twist, it's become the far better show for wrestling fans to watch. It's short, light on its feet, smart, and is chock full of hungry talented performers who relish every opportunity to get in front of an audience and impress. I adore it. One of the things that they've been working hard on doing, is reinvigorating womens wrestling. They've been bringing in some of the best talent from the independent circuit, and having them train with Sara Del Ray, one of the best female workers on the circuit for years. And it's working.

Bayley is the new champ, and she's got quite the ground-breaking character. In an industry where performers play demons, dead men, supermodels, rock stars, superheroes and much more, Bayley is...nice. I'm not sure it's ever been tried before. She's a scrappy underdog. Positive. Glad to be there. Full of high-fives and smiles. Goddamn it, her t-shirt says “I'm a hugger”. And people LOVE her. More importantly, a whole new set of people love her - young girls - the very audience the previous depictions of women would have repulsed.

Her current nemesis, Sasha Banks is a whole different deal. Dripping in gold, styled up the wazoo, sunglasses on, and swagger firmly activated. She holds up her hands on the way to the ring so you can read her full-knuckle rings that say “legit boss” - and indeed, she used to be the boss, the champ, until a couple of weeks ago, when Bailey won it from her.

On a recent NXT show, Bayley had just had a match. She was celebrating in the ring, the crowd showing their love, and Bayley riding the cheers. She took the microphone and started to thank them, and as soon as she started talking, Sasha's music hits, and here she comes. Now, of course, this is a traditional piece of heel behaviour – crash the good guys party and spoil it. Be a bad loser. But here they did it everso slightly, and beautifully, different.

“I didn't come here to belittle you, or berate you”, says Sasha. Wait, what? You're the bad guy. That's exactly what we expect you to do. “I came out here to congratulate you”. This is important. There's no bitchiness here, no personal hate. These are women acting like athletes at the top of their game rather than knock-off “Real housewives”, and it's refreshing. It encourages the audience to admire them both, even if we have a favourite. Sasha says that everyone's been saying that at the last show, they had the best match – and the crowd chant as one, “Yes you did”. She says that people have told her it was the greatest womens match the company has ever seen (Which might genuinely be true, it was a barn burner), and then there's a fleeting moment when she looks at Bayley, looks around at the crowd as they chant “Match of the year”, and she visibly nearly cries. It's amazing. Remember when I said how wrestling is best when its the theatre and reality clash together? There it is.

Then she gathers herself and tells Bayley that last time she was better for only three seconds – a clever way of referring to the match-winning three-count pinfall – but now she needs to prove that she is better. Again, this is important. They're not going to fight because of some kind of playground feud. They're not fighting over a boy, or over who said what to who. They're fighting because they're professional fighters vying over a belt that tells the world who the best athlete is. It's simple, empowering, and with performers this good, totally compelling.

Then we're at the final act. Matchmaker William Regal comes out to join them, with a shit-eating grin, and a glint in his eye bright enough to power the Blackpool illuminations. He grants their wish, and tells them that their match will headline the next big show. The first time a womens match has ever – as far as I know – main-evented a big American wrestling show. It's payback for bringing the house down last time, and the crowd love it and lose it.

Bayley and Sasha, the crowd chanting “Holy shit!”, slowly take it in. They look each other in the eyes, grins spread across their faces, and they shake hands. And everyone knows this is going to be good. Everyone understands what it means. And there's your moment.

October tour dates ahoy!

Friday October 9 - now on sale
Palace Theatre, Westcliff on Sea

Saturday October 10th- now on sale
The Quay Theatre, Sudbury

Saturday October 24th- now on sale
The Otley Courthouse Theatre, Otley

Tuesday October 27th- now on sale
The Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis

Thursday December 3 - now on sale
AGB Overpelt afdeling Palethe, Overpelt, Belgium

Friday December 4 - now on sale
CC de Werft, Geel, Belgium

...and this is what you might see...

A week in September

So, here was my week.

Up stupid early. Espresso. Trundle case down potholed streets to my local station. Sucking on an apple candy I got in Korea while in Essex on the way to the Seychelles. Yes.

Heathrow express. A ten minute journey that still feels the need to try to upsell you to its spacious first class cabin with complimentary drinks. What kind of douchenozzle business traveller is so fragile that he feels the need to be in first class for the bloody airport shuttle? Anyway.

I get checked in by two bloody wonderful rum south London women, who are flabbergasted that I'm only going go to be in the Seychelles for one day. They immediately start aggressively flirting, telling me that they should come with me and that we should all stay for the whole week, while cackling at me. They weasel out of me what I do, and ask me my opinions about Americas got talent, recently won by fellow Brit Paul Zerdin. I spill some gossip, mention that since there were so many non-Americans in the final this year, it must be safe to say that America no longer has talent, and they hoot with laughter and tell me what a nice man I am. Then they move some seats around so I have a whole row to myself. Thanks ladies. They wave goodbye, shouting after me that next time I'd better take them with me.

More coffee. Big breakfast. I always eat a big meal before I get on a long flight. As a vegetarian, you can never be sure what creative and terrifying interpretation of my diet an airline is going to slide onto my tray table. I once got a single, huge, slimy mushroom.

At the other end I'm met by Kim. Militarily efficient. "Are you mat? K, let's go" which only adds to the feeling I always have on gigs like these, of being a hired assassin. In and out before anyone realises whats gone down.

It's early morning by the time I get to my hotel, so of course my room isn't ready yet. I'm tired from the flight. Feel covered in a thin slimy film of foggy exhaustion, so I'm a bit grumpy. "Would you like a coffee by the ocean while you wait?" the grumpyness vanishes pretty quick.

They serve me a spectacular espresso.. All treacley and gorgeous, and a mayalsian diet coke that, according to the label,contains sugar. It also rather delighted fully tastes of cardamon. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday morning than sipping on it while I stare out at the perfect green and blue stripes of the horizon and feel the warm salt air on my face.

Once my room is ready, I dump my stuff and go for a swim. Best way to kill the tramps mouth feeling of jetlag, I've found. Then some nice room service and I'm ready to go to work.

A driver arrives to pick me up, and eyeing my suit, says "you look slick, man. You're....a magician?" Close I tell him, juggler. "Juggler? Well maaan that's even better!". YES. YES IT IS.

As we bounce around the island roads to the show he points out local ares of interest. Rocks that make a bong when you hit them, his house, and some naturally occurring steps down to the sea where, he assures me, there is probably some kind of sea monster. Oh, and a huge rock that looks exactly like a pig. Well, it looks a bit like a pig, from certain angles, but he's convinced it's a porcine doppleganger of the first order. "How can you explain that? You cannot. YOU CANNOT". Well, alright then.

A few hours later and I'm back at the hotel. Another swim, this time in the dark, some more room service, and in no time I'm back on a plane heading home.

One day to decompress and then I'm back on stage at the London Wonderground on the banks of the Thames. Love this venue. First time I played it, which was, I think, with Al Murray, I felt a little intimidated by the scale of it, but these days I feel right at home. I was part of Lili La Scalas "Another Fucking Variety Show" - a show I'm a regular cast member of when it plays the Edinburgh fringe, but since I wasn't there this year, it felt great to rejoin the family, as it were. I had a very fun set, and stayed around to watch the rest of the excellent show and take some photos.

Friday night saw me back with Lili, along with a cast of swashbuckling low-life, for the Salon Des Artistes cabaret at the Cafe Royal. Intimate, beautiful room, and everyone was on fire tonight. Headliners Eastend Cabaret took the roof off the place, topped only by Lili's final song which brought the audience to their feet. What a fine way to make a living.

One more private show, and then I'm slipping out of the country for a week for a little holiday. I know it might seem that much of my life falls into that category, but trust me, there's a big difference between what I did this week - lugging some suitcases full of props halfway across the world, plagued by nerves, stress, and knowing you have to deliver whatever the circumstances, making sure you find a way to make your work succeed in whatever venue or audience gets thrown at you, no matter how jetlagged, tired or unsure you feel - and spending a week wandering around somewhere beautiful, looking at, eating and drinking delightful things, with Mrs.Ricardo.

Oh, and if you like my photography, please do follow me on instagram - I post many more photos and videos there than you'll see here. Thanks!

When I get back, I've got a handful of UK tour dates, so if you're near any of these places, or know someone who is, get yourself in my audience...
Friday October 9 - now on sale
Palace Theatre, Westcliff on Sea

Saturday October 10th- now on sale
The Quay Theatre, Sudbury

Saturday October 24th- now on sale
The Otley Courthouse Theatre, Otley

Tuesday October 27th- now on sale
The Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis

Thursday December 3 - now on sale
AGB Overpelt afdeling Palethe, Overpelt, Belgium

Friday December 4 - now on sale
CC de Werft, Geel, Belgium

..and here's a taster of what you might see...

Mat Ricardo mini showreel 2015 from Mat Ricardo on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Korea Defining

Sorry about the pun, I'm jetlagged.

Twenty-something years ago, I was asked to go and do a gig in South Korea. Long, and very complicated story short, it turned out to be the single worst gig I've ever done, by a country mile, and involved contracts being torn up, agents jumping to their feet and threatening to fight me, serious injury due to negligence, the possibility of losing both a decent amount of money and my passport, and a scary van ride that we were convinced was going to end in the middle of nowhere next to a shallow grave rather than the promised airport. As you might imagine, for a long time, a gig in South Korea became short hand for a thing to run in the opposite direction from.

Not any more.

Last week, after a couple of decades and change, I returned to South Korea, to take my one man show to the Busan International Comedy Festival. I knew very little about the festival before I went, so had little idea what to expect. What I got was far and away one of the nicest gigs of my career.

Pusan is a beach city, and reminds me very much of Miami. Long sandy beaches curl themselves around Mandelbrot coastlines, bookended by the occasional sprouting of clumps of shimmering skyscraper hotel blocks. Miles of delicate white suspension bridges link the various parts of the sprawl, and gave us perfect postcard views of Haeundae, where we'd be living, as we drove into town from the airport, the warm breeze curing the film of stickyness that long-haul flights coat you with.

Every building in downtown Haeundae is covered with signs, neons, animated lightups, screens and pvc banners. The grey city blocks are made gaudy and beautiful by a different sign, for a different thing, in a different colour and font, on every floor. The blocks end up looking like stacks of old VHS cassettes labelled by different people at different times. "MEAT", "CHICKEN & BEER", "WHISKY, BEER & DRINK", "TOM & TOMS COFFEE", "SEXY LIFE"..

I check into my hotel, plug into the wifi, and am immediately greeted by a message from some old street performing pals. Daniel and Kim, "Street Circus", had seen that I'm also in Busan, as are they, and are asking where in town I'm staying. Turns out I'm staying two floors down from them in the exact same hotel, so next morning, we're all at breakfast, once again talking about how cool and random our lives are that the last time we saw each other was a year ago in Toronto, and here we are in South Korea, having had no idea that we'd be meeting. How lovely.

On this trip, I have a sidekick, the mighty Taz. The show I'm performing on this trip is a little more tech heavy than my usual stuff, so Taz is handling all my sound and lights, and is brilliant at it. It's also really nice to have someone to hang out with and share the ridiculousness of my job with. A witness. And if ever a gig would need someone to reassure me that, yes, this is really happening, then it'd be this one.

The first bit of performing I was down to do was a short spot in the opening night gala. I had been told that this was quite the event, but was fairly unprepared for what a huge affair it turned out to be. Two thousand people in the live audience, and the show was being being broadcast live on television. The first few rows of the audience filled with local celebrities, the casts of famous Korean TV shows, and important Korean politicians and leaders. It all started to get a bit giggly. I was lead into a holding area filled with the products of all the sponsors, and was immediately given a bottle of Coca-Cola. Great, I like Coke. Wait a second. This bottle of Coke had me on it. That's ridiculous. More giggling.

Then my name is called, and I'm pointed out to a stage, where I stand and strike a couple of casual poses while dozens and dozens of press photographers pepper me with flashguns, while my face is streamed live to the three giganto-tron screens that frame the stage, and beamed to millions of doubtless confused Korean homes. The stage manager waves me off the stage, and I walk down a gangway that cuts through the audience. A thousand people of each side of me hanging over the barrier for high-fives and selfies. I get halfway down before it hits me. This is as close as I'll ever get to feeling what a wrestler feels when they make their Wrestlemania entrance. I slow up. Start to work the crowd a little more. Play around some. Then I'm at the end of the walkway and I take my seat and await my turn to do my thing.

My spot went well, getting some lovely big loud reactions from the crowd and a standing ovation from the cast of one show, which was lovely of them. Then there was eating, drinking, and jetlag, so it was time for bed.

The next few days involved gala shows in a four thousand seater venue, along with lots of great Korean comedy acts. Always great to be able to watch a comedy act working in a language that you're completely in the dark with, and yet to be able to still genuinely laugh at their work. I had some lovely shows, quickly learning to modify my comedic rhythms slightly so that all the right moments fall into place and get the laughs they're supposed to. I must have been doing ok, because by my last show, they added a big gas jet pyro that went off on my final bow, right in front of me. Hilariously, they neglected to tell me about this, and so instead of a triumphant cool besuited guy taking his final bow, what they got was an English guy going "Hey.. Thank You, Thank You so WHOAAAAA okaaay". All good lolz until someone gets pyro'd through the roof.

Me, Taz, Dan and Kim went out for dinner together after the first night of shows and explored the town a little. We found ourselves in a long street full of fresh seafood. And by fresh, I mean eels, fish, crab, lobster etc all in big tanks waiting to be picked out, expertly hacked to pieces, flash-fried and presented on a polystyrene plate for your enjoyment. We also stumbled, along with a group of African American travellers, on a stall selling jet black eggs. Just normal looking eggs, but matt black. Curious. As Kim, and one of the guys tried them, his friend screwed up her face. "What's with the black eggs". Quick as a flash, I pitched in, "They're just eggs. Why you gotta be like that? Some of us don't see colour, y'know?", which received the greatest deadpan stare I've ever got, before she broke, grinned widely at me and chuckled hard. Phew.

We ended up eating at Mr.Jungs, what seemed to be a fairly traditional beer & fried stuff restaurant. It was great. Sweet potato cakes, spicy sweet cold noodles, thin crispy potato pancakes, lots of sauces and dips, and cheap cold beer. Contentment.

The next couple of days were spent shuttling around in a taxi, across those curving, gently arching bridges that link the districts, while the radio played fizzy, whip-tightly produced K-pop, making the whole thing feel like playing a level of the videogame "Outrun". We found some time to go shopping at some markets, where I picked up a pair of Barack Obama socks for Mrs.Ricardo, because why wouldn't you? And every night I had a performance of my one man show. I'd been, if not nervous, then at least conscious about working to an audience that spoke much less English than some of my usual crowds do, so I'd booked a rehearsal room for the week before I came, and worked long hard days to put together a low-language, high-skills version of the show, featuring routines choreographed to some lovely swing and jazz tracks. After the first night, I was thrilled that the work had seemed to pay off. Everything worked, and people seemed to love it. The cherry on the cake was the final night, where I had a nice big crowd full of students, young people, comedy people - all of whom were totally up for what I do. They were clapping and dancing around on my entrance music, and it just got better from there. So great a crowd were they, that I had to work hard to wipe the grin off my face, scared that I'd end up looking like an idiot, when I'm supposed to be looking all mean, moody and cool!

The last half of the trip, perhaps because they kept me super busy in the days, and happily drunk and fed in the evening, seemed to whip past, and before long - just as the jetlag was subsiding, it was time to come home and kickstart that biliousness all over again. Which brings me to now, waiting - as William Gibson writes in the wonderful "Pattern Recognition" - for my soul to catch up with me, after yesterdays full day of travel, and attempting to hammer out this blog post.

For twenty-odd years, South Korea stood, in our house, for "Worst gig ever", in one week, its been changed to "Best".

 Took my camera, of course..

Want to see "Showman" live? Autumn tour dates ahoy:

Palace Theatre, Westcliff on Sea
Saturday October 10th- now on sale
The Quay Theatre, Sudbury
Saturday October 24th- now on sale
The Otley Courthouse Theatre, Otley
Tuesday October 27th- now on sale
The Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis
Thursday December 3 - now on sale
AGB Overpelt afdeling Palethe, Overpelt, Belgium
Friday December 4 - now on sale
CC de Werft, Geel, Belgium

Friday, 14 August 2015

The Man From The Man From Uncle

I was sitting at home. I can't remember what I was doing, but a safe bet would be either dicking about with a new trick or watching wrestling. The phone rang and a stranger started to explain to me that he had been tasked with finding someone who could not only do, but also teach, the tablecloth trick to the star of a new big Hollywood movie. Apparently my name had come up several times, so here he was. I said that yes, it's teachable, and he told me that he'd be back in touch with more details soon, and no, he wasn't allowed to tell me the name of the star or the movie or anything else.

Which is how I found myself, a couple of weeks later, standing in a hastily erected gazebo in the middle of a muddy field, next to a fully-laden dining table as Henry Cavill strode toward me, dressed in an all black special ops type outfit, covered in mud and fake blood, thrusting his hand out for me to shake with a confident and charming "Hi, I'm Henry, so what are we doing?".

My first thought as the heterosexual, long time married, professional that I am, if I'm being completely honest, was, "OMG he's gorrrrgeous" but I swiftly regained my composure. But heavens to betsy: hunktown.

So we spend a little while talking about the trick, and picking props, and working it through, and by the time we said goodbye, he'd pretty much nailed it. Everyone seemed very happy, and the plan was that I'd be on set for the duration of the shooting of the relevant scene to help wrangle the props, keep Henry up to speed on the trick, and generally make sure that my part of the scene ran as smoothly as possible.

So, couple of weeks later, Monday morning, and I'm in a car being driven to Goodwood racetrack, where a city of trailers, production trucks, hair and makeup units, stunt teams, catering and famous folk have gathered to film a couple of scenes for Guy Ritchie's reboot of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."


Here's how four of the five days of my week there went. I arrive, go get breakfast from the cheery and expansive catering truck, and go sit in a bus. I mean it's comfy and nice and warm, as has sparkly showbiz lights running around the walls, but it's still just a bus. And I watch movies on my tablet. And then, at lunchtime, suddenly there's the sound of stampeding support artists, and the bus suddenly fills with chattering extras, all dressed in the most beautiful cool 60's duds, inhaling as much lunch as they can. They talk and gossip about what they've been doing, and I pick up on a few overheard details, trying to build a mental picture of what the scene actually looks like. Then they're gone, and back to work, and I'm left with the bus to myself to watch more movies and graze more snacks, until, at some point around 4pm, a nice lady will pop her head in, say "Ok, you're clear Mat, your car is ready when you are", and I'll go home.

That's how it was for four days, but on the fifth day, things got a little more involved.

It was my first time actually seeing the set, and holy crap. A huge cocktail lounge had been built, filled with dozens and dozens of extras, barmen, waiters, cool countesses and hipster dudes, through which our heroes would saunter, before stopping at a balcony, outside of which actual genuine vintage racing cars would zoom by, and beyond the track, another hundred or so extras watching the race. This is the kind of scene that, had I seen it on screen, I probably would have assumed was largely CGI, but no, real people, real racing cars. Only the cocktails were fake.

I chatted to Henry, we looked at the props, he practiced the move a couple of times and all was well.

Then Guy Ritchie introduced himself to me, thanked me for being there, said how great my trick will be in the scene, and was generally very affable and blokey. He walked over to talk to some film folk, then, across a set filled with actors and crew, he turned and yelled across the hubbub at me. "Mat, mate..", he said, "So apparently you can put the tablecloth back on the table too? Is that right?", I told him, yeah, I can, and that I was the first person in the world to learn it. "You wanna teach Henry that, too?", he yelled.

That kinda put me on the spot. Changing the terms of a deal, on set, in front of everyone. Ballsy fucker, I thought, but then again, it is his house. "Sorry", I yelled back, "My contract is for pulling it off", then I chanced a little ballsyness of my own, "You're not paying enough for putting it back on"

Genuinely, and I promise you this is true, there was a silent, and seemingly way too long pause. Until Mr. Ritchie broke it by grinning and saying "Fair enough.", another long pause, "FUCKING great trick though!"

I said thanks, and took a long deep breath out, and everyone went back about their showbusiness.

The rest of the day was spent hovering behind cameras, watching the scene over and over, watching Henry nail the trick pretty much every time (Good teacher), and generally enjoying being on a major movie set. Even if you're a jaded and cynical old showbiz grunt like me, big movie sets are still incredibly exciting places to be. The crew are like a military unit - everyone a specialist, working as a well-oiled team to push the overall thing forward.

After a long day of repeating the same thing a zillion times, we wrapped and I was cleared to go home. One last firm manly handshake with Henry and a couple of crew members, and I was in a car, having signed a piece of paper saying that I couldn't talk about any of this, or post any of the pictures you see here, for nearly TWO YEARS.

Yep, this all happened in Autumn 2013, and only now am I allowed to admit my involvement. Almost like being a spy.

The movie looks like it's going to be pretty fun. Stylish, witty, and paying tribute to the source material, which I'm a bit of a fan of. I can't wait to see it, and not just to be the only person in the cinema cheering a tablecloth.


Oh, and if you're new to this blog, have no idea who I am, and have come here via "Man From Uncle" related mullarkey - here's a little video that'll show you what I do...

Feel free to follow me on the various social media stuff listed on the right panel :)

Monday, 3 August 2015


In the late 1990's, somehow, I found myself a semi-regular cast member of "Cilla Black's Moment of Truth", a big Saturday night shiny floored game show. It was originally adapted from a Japanese show called "Happy Family Plan", and ended up being cancelled because people thought it was too cruel to the contestants, but it ran for four seasons and I cropped up every so often in all of them. There I am, in the picture above, looking like a Lidl Derren Brown.

My job on the show was to devise and demonstrate a physical challenge that the contestant had to learn within a week, and perform on the show in front of a live studio audience, in order to win big prizes. It was a fun thing to be involved in, and I ended up pulling tablecloths, flipping spoons, throwing hats, stacking glasses, flinging cocktail shakers, and all manner of possibly learnable skills.

The best part of being involved, though, was getting the chance to work closely with Cilla Black. The first part of each challenge was a pre-taped outside broadcast. Cilla would arrive at some poor unsuspecting schmucks house, with me in tow, and genuinely knock on their door unannounced with a TV crew. The rest of the family would know what was about to happen of course, but the one doing the challenge would be blissfully unaware. It never stopped being huge fun watching someone answer their door on a drizzling wednesday evening to find Cilla bloody Black standing there all smiles and "'ALLO CHUCK, BET YA DIDN'T EXPECT THIS, DID YA? WELL? GOING TO INVITE ME IN?"

Of course by that point the post-Blind Date Cilla revival had fully happened, and she was basically the queen of ITV. Totes an icon, but still, to the public, a brassy working class girl. People would recognise her, be totally starstruck, but at the same time feel completely fine about yelling something friendly and saucy at her, safe in the knowledge that she'd grin and yell something back, which she always did. Good quality to have, that.

I was even less of a nobody than I am now, but from day one she was warm, friendly, and fun to work with. When she could see I was nervous, she was encouraging, and when she could see me getting cocky, she'd say something to tease me back down to size. She taught me the right way to kiss her hello on camera, and, wonderfully, by season two, when I was becoming part of the team, started calling me "Our Mat".

When you're filming, especially on location, there's a lot of standing around, so we'd occasionally chat. I got to tell her that her version of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" was one of my wife's all time favourite records, and she was genuinely pleased to hear it, telling me that some people had forgotten that she was a singer. I was glad I got to do that.

Click this and watch a beautiful young Cilla belt it live, and remember her for what she was truly born for, and I'll remember her for the time she watched me perform a trick live on the show, in front of an audience, perfect first time, and then, when we went to commercial, telling the crowd "It didn't bloody work once in rehearsal! Luck!", before shooting me a huge wink.

Always loved this portrait of her by one of my favourite photographers, Jane Bown.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Cold call

So, I was in my office this week when this happened..

<Phone rings>

Me:    Hello?

Her:    Hi, yeah, just updating our database and we see that you've been involved in a road traffic accident recently, is that right?

Me:    Well, I killed those kids.

<silence for a few beats>

Her:    Are you fucking with me?

Me:    Well, you started it.

Her:    No I didn't?

Me:    Yes you did. You scam-called me.

Her:    It might not be a scam.

Me:    Did you just say "It might not be"?

Her:    It might not be.

Me:    But it is, isn't it?

Her:    How do you know? Have you been involved in a road traffic accident?

Me:    Well, I don't drive, and have never been in an accident, so no.

Her:    Oh

Me:    Yes. Quite.

Her:    Ah. But. Ah. You see. What sometimes happens is that someone with the same name as you WAS involved in a road traffic accident, and gave your number instead of theirs. That sometimes happens.

Me:    Wait. You're telling me that someone with my name, just happens to be carrying around the phone number of someone with the same name as him, so he can give it to the police if he's ever in an accident?

Her:    Um, yes? You never know.

Me:    You don't think that it's, perhaps, more likely that your evil boss just bought a bunch of phone numbers from some awful company that sells peoples private info for a quick buck, and you're just trying your luck?

Her:    Could be.

Me:    Are you on commision, or on a wage?

Her:    Oh, I'm on a wage.

Me:    So you don't care how much time I waste of your work day?

Her:    God no.

Me:    Ok. Hi!

Her:    Hi!

Me:    You must get some shit from people you call, doing this job, right?

Her:    Oh god yes. Had death threats, people saying they'll kill my whole family, that kind of stuff..

Me:    You know why that is, right?

Her:     Oh yeah.

Me:    You do an awful, bad job, that isn't necessary, and people hate it.

Her:    Yeah.

Me:    Well, I'm not on a wage, so I'm going to say goodbye now.

Her:    Ok! Have a nice day.

Me:    You too. Don't let the shit get you down, but also, y'know, change your job.

Her:    Yeah. Good idea. Bye!

Saturday, 13 June 2015


I was standing in the lobby of a theatre this week, about to go and see a one man show by another old vaudevillian, Jim Dale, when twitter told me the very sad news that Dusty Rhodes had died. For those of you not familiar with the world of pro-wrestling that I sometimes talk about here, this will mean little, but the rest of you will know what a huge loss this is.

One of the greatest stars of the 70's and 80's, and an important figure afterwards, he didn't have the jacked-up look of a modern wrestler, but instead, portrayed the big, rambunctious, blue collar badass everyman. The kind of dude who'd be the life of the party, but also be first in line to hand out an ass-whuppin' if things went sideways.

And boy could he talk. That's what I first loved about him. Working-man poetry delivered in a lisping Texan drawl that was made for people to do impressions of. If you've ever seen one of the final shows in any of my runs, then you would have heard his words, as I always end the last show of a run by thanking the audience with my favourite of his lines:

"I have wined and dined with kings and queens, and slept in an alley eatin' pork and beans"

Earlier this year, my friends William Regal and Robbie Brookside took great delight in telling me that Dusty had been watching some of my stuff on youtube, and loved it. Brookside said that they'd shown him the reverse tablecloth trick, and he'd looked at him sideways and said (and please start your Dusty impressions now) "Where's the gimmick man? Where's the gimmick?"

There's a very special feeling to hearing that someone whose work you love, enjoys yours back, and just as it happened with Regal and Brookside, when it happened again with Dusty I was a bit bowled over. Along with the aforementioned Brits, he was instrumental in the success of the brilliant NXT show, and I started talking about the possibility of going over to Florida where it's filmed to hang out, and see a show. And part of the fun of that idea, undeniably, was the chance to meet Dusty.

It's a testament to how loved and respected he was in the wrestling world that on the day of his death, dozens of wrestlers - big, testosterone packed behemoths, tweeted about the last time they stopped by his office for a hug. How wonderful.

It makes me very sad that I'll never get to meet him, but I'll keep on using his beautiful words, I'll keep on doing my awful Dusty impression, and I'll be grateful that my friends that were his friends made that connection.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Gearing up for the big one

You find me, dear reader, mid-tour. And it's a very happy place to be. Other, more jaded and cynical comedy schmucks might moan about the lonely hardships of touring, and sure, criss-crossing the country dragging two suitcases full of tricks behind you on the ever-unreliable public transport network, while not seeing your loved one as often as you might like, can be a downer, once I get to the show, it balances right out and then some.

I am, as I say towards the end of "Showman" not a famous person. I'm not on any comedy panel shows. My artform is still, despite my best efforts, pretty damn niche. But that's kinda good. It means that while I have to bust my ass to get the word out about my shows, and work hard to seduce people into buying a ticket, once I have them, I can deliver. My mission at the moment is to change minds. People look at my poster, maybe read something about me, perhaps look me up online, and they take a chance on me, and that's all I need. I'll work as hard and as funny as I can, and send them out at the end needing to tell their friends about me.

My most recent stop was at the newly created Birmingham Cabaret Festival (and Birmingham peeps - there's still time to catch some awesome stuff in the fest, so GO), and I had a hell of a lot of fun there. I was also lucky enough to get a rather nice review, which I will, if you'll permit me, quote a little of here..

Who doesn't like being called a rock star? Nobody, that's who. Thanks Birmingham :)

But the next date in my tour is the big one, the grandaddy. On the 3rd of June I'll be performing "Showman" for one night only at the London Wonderground. A beautiful spiegeltent slap bang on the South Bank, right next to the Thames. I cannot wait.

This is and important one for me personally, and I'll tell you why...

There's me, grinning like a loon at my own billboard, as Al Murray gurns down at me menacingly. I wanted that picture taken for one specific reason. The Wonderground, my venue for the show, and the location of the billboard poster, is literally thirty seconds walk from where, not that many years ago, I used to do street shows. Every weekend, I'd lug my gear in from South London in the early morning, get in the queue of performers and sit on my suitcase for hours until it was my turn. Then I'd battle apathy, violent breakdancers, and the great British weather, to try to earn enough to pay the rent. It was simultaneously a beautiful way to make a living, and often a heartbreaking one. No feeling as good as going home with a backpack heavy with money from hats, and no feeling worse than knowing you cant pay the rent that month because, after waiting all day for your spot, it rained.

So it's about as literal a signifier as I could wish for. By returning to my old stomping ground, it literally shows me how far I've come. My wonderground show will be special, and it's my only London tour date for the rest of 2015, so please come, and bring your friends, and spread the word.

Let me change some minds and drop some jaws.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Holy Shit!

It was that time of year again - WWE was in town, and lately that has meant a couple of things. Number one: Overly excited nights at the O2 arena with Mrs. Ricardo watching people beat the tar out of each other in variously entertaining and impressive ways. Number two: Getting my annual hang out with British wrestling legend and pal William Regal.

This year he was doing one of his spoken word shows in London and had asked me to open for him, which I am always very happy and honoured to do. One of the lovely things about being "a turn", as regal would call it, is the ability to work anywhere. God knows I've done that - from the Palladium, to the lobby of a Tescos, I've been booked to play everywhere you could imagine, and to every audience. Very few audiences, however, are as great as a wrestling crowd.

Conventional wisdom states that in a basic wrestling match there are, in fact, four, equally important, participants - two wrestlers, the referee, and the crowd. They all talk to each other, and as a group, decide how the match goes. Wrestling audiences, when they're on form, can exhibit an amazing kind of group wit (As an example: in one of the shows at the O2 this year, when one of the grapplers was injured and was taken out on a stretcher, the entire audience started chanting "NHS! NHS!", which was, frankly, a hoot).

What this means is, that a wrestling audience realises that they can play with the performer. This isn't heckling - their goal isn't to stop the show, or steal the attention for themselves, but rather to add to it. So, during my spot, when I chastised an audience member for being too vague, the whole crowd started chanting "BE SPECIFIC! BE SPECIFIC!" at him, before dissolving into laughter. And then, when I put up one of my signature tricks, this happened. Which was great.

Anyway - thanks to everyone who came to see the great Mr. Regal - I hope you liked me too! If you did, please do come and see my one man show "Showman", I'm in Brighton, Birmingham, Gateshead, London and Yorkshire in the next few weeks - full details at the bottom of this post. Jaws dropped, GuaranDAMNteed. ;)

In the meantime, a couple of words about the WWE shows.. Notably enjoyable, these days, is watching current WWE womens division goth badass Paige, who I first met when she was a tiny child running around backstage while I performed in an odd little comedy show with her mother, the equally feared and cool Saraya. Paige has both her mothers good looks and ferocity, and it's great watching her do so amazingly well on the big stage. It was also a pleasure to watch NXT star Neville do his stuff in his home country. I'm a huge NXT fan, and remember watching Neville, when he had a different name, in a couple of British shows years ago. I think NXT has reinvigorated a lot of slightly jaded fans love of wrestling - that's certainly a little true for me, and it's amazing to see the talent that it's both attracting and developing.

Here's a few things my camera saw over the weekend...

And just before you go...

Here are the next few dates - click each one to be taken to the relevant info and booking page...


And here's what you can expect from the show...

If you like what I do, spread the word!