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Thursday, 14 October 2010

Its that time of year again...

Yes, the time of every year when I get an email from some poor little researcher who has been told to source some acts for the upcoming season of the costcutter of light entertainment: Britain's Got Talent.

Yes. Every year they ask. Every year I tell them to go away, and every next year they ask again.

For context, here's what I got a couple of years ago:

Hi Mat,

I hope you are well. I have just seen your website and watched videos on your amazing act, and therefore thought I would let you know, in the hope that you might want to apply, that ITV1's hit entertainment show, 'Britain's Got Talent', is back for a third series and this time it's bigger than ever!

Hosted by Ant and Dec; the show gives entertainers the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a panel of three of the most influential people in the industry: Amanda Holden, Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell. The show is open to absolutely anyone – any talent, any age - simple as that! Over the past two years we've had a huge variety of acts apply including comedians, ventriloquists, dancers, magicians, acrobats and animal acts.

The last series of Britain’s Got Talent was watched by nearly 15 million viewers and is hailed as one of the most successful talent shows of this century giving many acts some great exposure, an amazing platform to launch from as well as turning some acts international! We are now back with our brand new third series and we’re looking for a brand new winner. Auditions have already began and we are still receiving thousands of applications every week. So why not come and audition and show Britain what YOU have to offer. We are especially keen this year to make sure that we have the best variety talent in Britain on the show and from what I have read about you, you are one of the best.

Many thanks for your time, and the best of British to you,

Fairly nice, polite email. Although I take issue with the use of the CAPS. Also notice that they mention the huge variety of acts that they've had apply. Not win. Apply. Because we all know that only a singer or dancer will win because Simon Cowell needs to have music royalties coming off the back of the show. (Little known fact - the dancers that get to the late stages of the show get given Cowell-owned music to dance to. It's picked for them.)

Anyway, so here's my reply:


Thanks for the interest. Whenever a new season of your show comes
around I get an email like this, regular as clockwork!

I'm not interested. If I'm being honest I find the idea of my life's
work being judged by people like Piers Morgan who know and care
nothing about the genre in which I work, but who are simply
interested in furthering their own shallow media profile, just
about the most uninteresting and unpleasant proposition I
can imagine. I wish that there were variety shows on television,
like the ones I have performed in across Europe and Asia, but
there are not.

All we have are tacky, predictably exploitative talent shows
which cheapen everyone involved, and variety in general.

Also, I'm simply too busy. I work pretty much constantly,
sometimes alongside previous winners of America's got talent,
ironically. They won their place, I earned mine, but we all
ended up at about the same level of success. I'm happy with that.

I look forward to getting another email from someone on your
staff around this time next year, when I can respond in a
similarly snarky manner.

And so it goes on every year - they email me, I tell them to get lost in a way that is, at least, entertaining for me. It's as close as the show gets to being entertaining for me.

Which brings us to this years' email:

This email is confidential and may well also be legally privileged.
If you have received this email in error, you are in notice of its status.
Please notify the sender immediately by reply e-mail and then delete
this message from your system. Please do not copy or use it for any
purposes, or disclose its contents to any other person: to do so
could be a breach of confidence.
Thank you for your co-operation.

Any views expressed in this message are those of the individual
sender and may not necessarily reflect the views of The RTL Group
or its associated companies.

I've taken out the researchers name, but yeah, that's the whole email I got from them. Completely blank except for the legal notice at the bottom of the page. Which I am ignoring.

So I sent them back a blank email of my own, and then got this:

Hi Mat,

Sorry about the blank emai, I am currently working on Britain's Got Talent. We will be holding auditions in Manchester towards the end of October and carrying on around the UK until the middle of December. I just wondered if you would like to apply for the show. I stumbled accross your website and you are exactly what the judges are looking for this year.

It would be brilliant if you would give me a call on the number below to chat about it and I can let you know about the forthcoming auditions I have attached our poster to this email, which has a direct link to our website where people can apply and register.

EVERYONE is welcome!!

Do let me know if you have any problems opening it.

Many kind regards and best wishes,

So, no "Best of British" this year, but they've continued the use of CAPS - used here, it seems, to reassure me that they'll take ANYONE, which they see as a plus, but I see as a minus.

My reply:

Thanks for the email.

I wonder how I'm "exactly what you're looking for", since BGT has always been won by either a singer or a dancer, rather than a cynical, dry and introspective variety comedian.

I joke, for the lols.

I've recieved an email like this (in fact, *suspiciously* like this) every year, inviting me to embark what would no doubt be a moving personal journey to your show. Every year, I poiltely (and I hope, with a degree of wit) decline, citing the following reasons:

(a) You show is awful. Just awful.

(b) I'm a little busy with actual, real, paid work for real audiences who have paid to see me.

(c) See reason (a)

Sorry if I seem unduly rude, but strangely, I have no desire to be fodder for three talentless, witless and crass judges in your shiny floored light entertainment slaughterhouse.

I look forward to your email this time next year.

I don't post this to seem like a grumpy git, but if that's how it comes across - to paraphrase Bill Hicks - it's because I am.

It makes me so sad that the pretty much the only place to see variety on British TV is such a tacky meat market talent show - especially when it's such a hot ticket in so many live venues at the moment. I have such happy memories of the shows of my childhood that inspired me to choose the life I have - shows hosted by people with a knowledge and love of the medium - people like Paul Daniels and Bob Monkhouse, who would, each week, bring the most amazing comedy and variety performers onto the little screen in my parents front room in North London.

People who say that a straight variety show wouldn't work on TV these days know nothing, about variety or TV. You'd just have to make it well. Craft it with love and style and substance, and you could show a whole new generation of viewers that amazing, hilarious, death-defying and beautiful things created by devoted, driven, creative professionals that are going on in variety theatres and clubs all over the world - including pretty much all of the cities that the BGT cattle calls will be held in.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Reviews for the Edinburgh Fringe 2010 production of "Mat Ricardo: Three Balls and a Good Suit"

Tales From the Life of a Jaded Novelty Act

My one man show premiered at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe, as part of the Laughing Horse Free Fringe. Here are some collected reviews.

"Five stars for a juggler? I assure you, no mistake. And the prejudice which makes such acclaim seem surprising is just one theme of this wryly reflective show, which mixes envy-inspiring physical skill with a well-told, deeply personal tale.

There’s no shortage of street performance in Edinburgh just now – but up close and personable, Ricardo demonstrates a subtlety of wit and technique which just wouldn’t work among the mayhem of the Royal Mile. In this intimate venue with a captive crowd, there’s no need to climb a ladder and juggle a chainsaw; but his audience gasped just as loudly when he bounced a teacup off his shoulder, landing it neat and unbroken back on the tray. He throws cigar boxes around, whips tablecloths away, and balances this and that on his nose. It’s impressive, it’s often hilarious… and if it were all he did, it would still be a fine way to spend an hour.

But – while you’ll surely be impressed by his mastery of his craft – that’s not what makes this show. No, its true strength lies in its storytelling, looking back over a life spent perfecting this least-understood physical art. Like all street performers, Ricardo knows how to keep a patter going – and his travels have given him plenty of material to share. In what other context could you name-drop the Krankees, before launching into a story about an escapologist being carted away? Be warned, though: while it might sound like this is a good show to take the kids to, both the language and content are distinctly for grown-ups.

And there’s something else grown-up about the monologue. It’s infused with a bittersweet sadness – a reflection on a career which, as it grew more successful, demanded more and more time away from the things which make life truly worthwhile. You’re a fool if you believe every anecdote you hear in this show, but the darker parts of Ricardo’s story must surely be for real. It’s disarmingly candid and, at times, painfully poignant – but like the showman he is, Ricardo always has a joke standing by to defuse the tension and lift the mood.

When he performs, Ricardo says, he has just one aim: to send the audience away saying there’d been something in his show they’d never seen before. Well, you know what? It worked. For the first time, I looked at a juggler and saw what he really is: a skilful and committed artisan, the equal of any of the high-falutin’ actors I’ll rub shoulders with this Fringe. And the bonus of an hour spent with Ricardo? I laughed myself silly too."

"A pleasant Tuesday night out, and not all of it spent at the Pleasance; part pleasure, part work (although the work was unpaid, and pleasurable). At 7.30, having shared fatigue around the kitchen table with Richard Herring, I rolled up at the Three Sisters on Cowgate to see gentleman juggler and AIOTM photographer Mat Ricardo recount his life in street performing and variety, illustrated with some truly astounding feats, many of which I’ve seen, filmed, but never up close like this.

His show Three Balls And A Good Suit is quite a change for him, as it involves more talking and less throwing things up in the air. But the linking passages about his life on the cruise ships (“trapped on a floating prison with two and a half thousand cunts”) and on the cobbles of Covent Garden – as well as hanging out with Monkey off of Monkey in Tokyo and appearing on the bottom of the bill with Bradley Walsh and the Krankies – are delivered with panache and good humour. The space he’s in is clearly way too low-ceilinged for a juggling act, but Mat adapts to survive, and occasionally steps offstage so as to create an extra few inches. After 20 years in the trade, his juggling is predictably excellent. A small audience (“quality not quantity”) couldn’t have been more responsive, clapping and whooping and gasping on cue. Some of this stuff is mind-blowing, not least the cigar box routine, and Mat’s piece de resistance – which he rightly saves for the end – removing a tablecloth and, uniquely, putting it back on, without unsettling a single cup or plate."
Andrew Collins

"The gentleman juggler may not be a common character here in the 21st century, but the form is most certainly not dead. Mat Ricardo in Three Balls and a Good Suit seeks to emulate the great W.C. Fields, along with a class of jugglers who were not circus performers, daredevils or freaks, but gentleman. They entertained, told stories with bravado and class, and, yes, did a trick or two along the way. I can’t say how Ricardo stacks up to Fields, et al, but his stories ring with bravado and his juggling tricks are impressive with a touch of class. While he tells the story of how his career as a juggler has adversely affected his personal life, he weaves a variety of tricks. He claims to be the only one who 'puts the tablecloth back on', and, indeed, he does. He also executes a delightful and rarely performed hat and cane act that he says is 'too subtle for street performance'. Lucky for us, it works beautifully in a dimly-lit bar.

Had I paid a reasonable admission, I would have been satisfied and charmed. That it was a free fringe show made it feel more like a diamond in the rough. Even when performing more typical juggling acts like balancing cigar boxes (we learn not to call them bricks), Ricardo adds something a little less ordinary, and a little classier. In this instance, you’ll want to keep your eyes on the wine glass."
Ezra LeBank
Total Theatre

Running time: 1 hour
Suitable for small-mid size theatres or large cabaret venues
Ages: 18+

Friday, 1 October 2010

Quick & dirty portrait of Stu Goldsmith

Stu Goldsmith

Had a lovely morning shooting headshots for comedian/childrens TV star/street performer/Edinburgh festival success/nice young man Stuart Goldsmith. After we got the shots he needed, I kept him after school for a quick little portrait shoot for me.

I wanted to try to do something in the style of those gorgeous old 60's David Bailey portraits, but with a more dramatic depth of field. Pretty happy with it.