Mat Ricardo - “If you want instant money, go buy a uni-cycle and a chainsaw. Light that on fire and play some music.”
A few hours before the second of Mat Ricardo’s Variety Shows takes place at Leicester Square Theatre, we meet up with him at a hotel, that used to be an old courthouse.
“You are sitting in the original cell. Nothing has changed, just the cushions.” a waitress tells us.
“And the table for the drinks, obviously.” Ricardo laughs to the still-straight-faced waitress.
“It is not that long ago. Mick Jagger was here and he is still alive.” she says.
“Yes. Well, that’s debatable.” says Mat, who is dressed exactly the way you would expect a professional gentleman juggler to be dressed: Like a gentleman. He looks the furthest possible from someone who ought to be in jail.
What’s your agenda with these variety shows?
There aren’t any variety shows on television and I work in variety, so that is annoying. I don’t have my own TV channel, but I have the internet. The place where we are now in our culture is that you can make something and put it up, so that’s what I’m doing. There also aren’t really any variety shows being put up in big theatres, so I made that happen too. I taped it and put it on the internet, to prove that there’s an audience for it. Because there is.
Why is there no variety on TV?
The last time there was variety on television was in the 70s, early 80s, and the current executives were children then and their memory of it is that it’s unfashionable. They grew up with what then was called alternative comedy and that’s why that is big now. In the rest of world, variety acts play to sell-out theatres, have their own tv shows and are really popular. In London there are at least 20 cool little basements that Friday and Saturday are packed full of people seeing cutting edge variety and cabaret. It’s a shame that it is not reflected on television. I think it will be, it’ll just take some time.
Are you not scared that if variety gets on TV and becomes popular, that it will have same effect on variety as TV has had on music, stand-up, etc., so all of a sudden everyone will go on TV even though they’re not good enough yet?
That will always happen to a certain extent – there will always be hacks who want instant fame. The thing about street performance is that if you’re a hack on the street, you can earn a lot of money. If what you want is instant money, you can go and buy a uni-cycle and a chainsaw and light that on fire and play some music and you can earn a lot of money straight away. But the little clubs that I work are better suited for people who do something original. It all comes down to how the shows would look – hopefully, they wouldn’t look like some stand-up shows.
Yesterday, you tweeted that you wanted to do more stand-up-clubs?
I think the stand-up clubs are interesting, I don’t often play them because the people who run them are a bit reluctant to booking me. They hear ‘juggler’ and their head fills with ‘circus clown’ or ‘circus de soleil twat’. They don’t see me and what I do, because it’s new to them and that’s okay. When I do them, I do really well.
And you do have jokes!
Haha! I have at least three jokes. 3.5 on a good day. My two previous one-man shows I did at Edinburgh were 40% tricks and the rest was stand-up. I’m a street performer, that’s where I came from. You have to have jokes to engage people. People would be bored if I just came on stage, put on music and juggled. I need to open with a joke. And I love jokes. Two of my three jokes are funny.
You gave yourself a challenge in the last show. You’re going to do a trick that killed Paula Deluca in 1936. Any last words?
If I die doing a juggling trick that killed someone in 1936, that is a fine death. I’m dying on stage, in front of people who are there to see me doing the thing I do. But I have practiced and I can do the trick. I’ve had a former Miss Universe World Champion Bodybuilder giving me strength training. You’ll see that in the show.
But you’re doing things that have killed someone!
It’s not a trick, it’s a physical challenge. I always say: I’m betting my neck on my hands. I’m betting my neck against the skill I hope I’ve learned. Most of my show is me getting a stupid idea and then thinking: Alright, I have to do it.
Comedians often have people coming up to them asking them to say something funny. Do you have people come up to you saying “Juggle my baby”?
I have juggled a baby. I’ve also put a baby on my table and pulled the table cloth out from underneath it. The woman went “Put it on the table!” and I went “Okay, it’s your baby.” They don’t say that though. What they say is: Can you do a chainsaw, how many can you do and you should go on Britain’s got talent. That’s the three things they always say.
You give yourself these challenges and it’s getting crazier and crazier. How will that progress – at some point there must be nothing left to juggle?
I wish. I have most of my challenges already planned – the one for next month, I can’t do. It actually scares me. It could actually genuinely do me some damage. It’s juggling electric carving knives. The blades move 2000 times a minute. The knives came in the post – I tried juggling them without the knives being turned on. And I couldn’t. I have four weeks to learn it – without cutting a finger off. Look, I have a cut here. That’s from spending five minutes with them. I love a challenge. It’s so exciting tonight to say on stage that I’m going to do it, and then I have to do it, I love that, I LOVE THAT.
How long does it take to learn a trick – how many plates did you break, how many babies did you kill?
Haha! With one of my hardest tricks, it took a year for it to work the first time. From then and till it worked every single time? Ten years. It’s true for every skilled artform that 99% of it is practicing. My job is to learn how to do things.
So what should you do if you want to be a juggler?
Do a lot of research. It’s a very old artform – there are pictures of ancient Egyptians juggling. I made sure I knew everything about it. If you want to be a performer, you look at yourself and find out what kind of performer you are. Be a street performer – there is no better place to learn how to be a performer. If you can attract a crowd on a cold, drizzly tuesday in fucking England – working to, well, British people – they don’t want to see a show, so if you can make them laugh – and if you can then entertain them to eventually give you money – that’s an amazing thing and that makes you a good performer. So when you hit a stage, it’s a lot easier.
The Boy With Tape On His Face is performing at your show tonight and he’s quite big in the stand-up world. Do you think that will help your agenda to make variety big again?
Yeah. We both came from street performing. What I always say about him is that if it was anybody else that had reached that level of success I would be so angry, so jealous and so pathetic about it – but he’s so good. I think the fact that he’s got such an insane level of success means good things for people like me. He’s technically a clown, I’m technically a juggler, but we’re both a bit more than that. I see him as the person who’s at the front of the army. He’s there with his machete, he’s clearing the jungle and I’m behind him going: “Don’t forget me.”
He’s the plan for the show. Some people will come to see Al Murray, but they’ll go home thinking of me, Boy with Tape on his Face or Elliot Mason. It’s what we call a ‘switch and bait’ in the business. And that’s how you get more people to come to see more variety shows.
You can see Mat Ricardo’s first Variety Show online here.
You can catch the rest of Mat Ricardo’s Live Variety Shows at Leicester Square Theatre on these dates: 25 Apr, 30 May, 27 Jun, 24 Jul.