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Thursday, 26 January 2012

More of what my camera has seen in New Zealand

A few more photographs from the World Buskers Festival here in Christchurch. Hopefully they'll give you a flavour of the gaggle of sweet, crazy, talented people that are having a little reunion party in this big park.

And yes, we even found time to shoot Lili La Scala in a mundane location!

Home soon, and then on to the next thing. Speaking of which..

Don't forget!


starts on Feb 9th at the Bethnal Green Workingmens Club, London.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

A letter home from New Zealand

It was with my suitcase packed, and weighing exactly the 23kg I was allowed, table packed into ski bag, and camera in my carry on, that I inserted myself into the check-in queue for my Air New Zealand flight to Christchurch. Of course, it wasn't going straight to Christchurch - it was going to LA, and then to Auckland, and then to Christchurch. It was going to be a long day. I perhaps would have been more downhearted about the length of journey if I hadn't glanced across the aisle and noticed my friend Asaf in the same queue, going to the same place as me. Except he had already travelled from his place, in Tel Aviv. Longer day for him.

We were off to Christchurch because we have been invited to perform at the World Buskers Festival. Arguably the biggest and most prestigious festival of street performing in the world, this year it was special, as most of the usual street show pitches had been trashed, along with about half the city, in 2011's series of horrific earthquakes. The whole festival has, this year, been relocated to a gorgeous park - the city badly needed a laugh, and it was an honour to be asked to provide it.

My flights there were fairly comfortable - the discovery of entire seasons of "Arrested Development" in the in-flight entertainment system making it go a lot quicker. I also watched Bogart and Bacall in "The Big Sleep", while sipping a Jack Daniels. Seemed fitting.

As we were making out final approach into Auckland, I kept finding myself looking at a guy a few seats across from me. I was slowly convincing myself that he looked like the famous skateboarder Tony Hawk. Thing is, Tony Hawk just kinda looks like a guy, so it probably wasn't him. Then, after landing, he reaches up into the overhead luggage bin and pulls down - yes! - a skateboard. Totally was Tony Hawk. After going through immigration, I witnessed him be great. There was a kid - a young black teenager - in the airport, also holding a skateboard. Tony sees him, goes over, shakes the kid's hand, exchanges a few words of encouragement, and then goes on his way - leaving this kid with an expression of disbelieving glee the like of which I have never seen. His mind truly blown. How great.

We get met at the airport by the festival organisers husband who drives us to our hotel while telling us stories of the big quake. The side-to-side movement was so great, he tells us, that the street lights swayed so much, they hit the ground and smashed their bulbs. Quite the image.

Once I'm checked in I go down to the park and spend a wonderful couple of hours re-connecting with old friends. One of the things about my job is that half my group of friends are spread across the world, so there are a bunch of people I am very fond of, but get to see maybe once a year if I'm lucky, when we happen to be at the same gig. At a gig this big, it's always a reunion. Every night there's a big buskers comedy show on a huge outdoor stage, compered by the spectacularly filthy Wau Wau Sisters, and as I'm not scheduled to perform tonight, I get to hang out backstage and watch. Fun.

The next morning I hang out a bit with old friend Pete Mielniczek, who hadn't worked much recently, but still managed to completely steal last nights late night comedy show. He shows me where the local shopping mall is, so I can get some supplies for the shows. On the way we pass the red zone. The red zone is the area of the city that's fenced off because the buildings are unsafe and will be demolished. It's about half of the downtown area. As someone told me - the next ten years or so are just about rebuilding the city. Starting again. It's a huge undertaking. You can stop and peer through the fences at long wide city streets that have been stopped in time. Empty of people and lined with cracked buildings, piles of rubble and torn billboards. They look like sets from a post-apocalyptic movie. Unsettling.

The afternoon comes around, and shows start. And they're lovely. Good natured, laid back audiences who have had this festival every year for the past 19 of them, so they know street theatre, and love it. I don't work the street much at all these days - apart from the occasional festival like this one, and a few days at the Edinburgh festival, I'm pretty much an indoor cat these days, but these audiences make it a breeze to come back to it. I have fun, get big audiences, and make earthquake jokes that the let the people laugh at the hellish year they've just had. And I get free ice lollys. Result.

After a couple of days of working, my jet lag is starting to wear off, and I'm getting decent nights sleeps. It comes as a surprise then, when I find myself being woken up at three in the morning by a crazily vivid dream of being in a cabin on one of my old cruise ship gigs. I can feel the ship moving as I wake up. And then, as I hear my toiletries fall over in the bathroom it hits me. This isn't a dream. It only lasted a few seconds - a 4.2, as people tell me the next morning, but there it was. Guess that means I've arrived here properly.

Don't forget!
starts on Feb 9th at the Bethnal Green Workingmens Club, London.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Mat Ricardo's London Varieties opening night!

It is with an intoxicating cocktail of pleasure, excitement and sheer blinding terror that I am able to announce the details of the opening night of MAT RICARDO'S LONDON VARIETIES. Finally. I know.

The idea behind this project is to get the best performers from all of the places where you might see variety these days, and mix them together to create a series of unique, one-night-only line-ups. In addition to this, every month we'll invite an old hand - a master of their craft - or just someone I particularly love - to perform and then sit down with me for a live on stage interview about their life, career and influences.

The whole thing will be recorded as a podcast which you'll be able to download free from iTunes and The British Comedy Guide. But if you want to get the full experience you're going to want to see it live. This is the first show of season one, which will contain between 4 and 6 shows.

So, who's on the first show?


Howard Read is a comic, writer, animator and actor, in that order. He is best known for being one half (and the other half), of Big Howard, Little Howard, the world's first human cartoon double-act. He is also an acclaimed stand-up comic, writer, author, illustrator and animator.

Howard is the creator, star, song-writer and lead animator of the hit BBC1 children's show "Little Howard's Big Question". Described by The Daily Mail as "a joy, with clever scripts that ring true of that magical time of childhood, while, thanks to Big Howard, it's incredibly, achingly funny".

Little Howard started life as filler in Howard Read's first full length stand-up show in 2002. The next year he returned as part of a full double-act in The Big Howard Little Howard Show which was that year's only British Nominee for the presdigeous Perrier Award. Trips to the Aspen, Melbourne and New Zealand Comedy Festivals followed, including appearances on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (NBC) and The Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala (ABC). In 2007 they appeared on The Royal Variety Performance in front of Her Majesty The Queen, and just next to Michael Ball, in drag. Big Howard and Little Howard other TV appearances include This Morning (ITV1), The Slammer (BBC1), and Campbell Live (TV3 New Zealand).


Mandy is one of the funniest magicians I have ever seen. Witty, silly and incredibly clever, she's toured the world with her brilliant brand of comedy and illusion. The only time you'll stop laughing is when your jaw hits the floor.

"Imagine a sexy Tommy Cooper, minus the fez" - Evening standard


One of the most high energy circus acts Britain has produced, and a perfect example of the new generation of British variety performer. Craig's amazing act is in demand worldwide and we couldn't be happier to have him at the London Varieties.


Every career has a start, and mine - like anyone of my age who does the kind of thing I do - started on the street. I learned most of what I do in my years as a professional street performer at London's Covent Garden, so what better way to kick off the first season of the show than by inviting some of the UK's best street performers to sit down and chat about the life, and art, of a street performer. I'll be chatting to:


Rob worked for years in a street theatre double act with Eddie Izzard, and then went on to found Performance Theatre Company, where he used many of the core techniques of street performing to create several hit fringe theatre shows. He also throws knives.


Andre was working as a street performer when he was picked to be the clown in Circus Senso - the UK's first large scale new circus, in the 80's, which is when a teenage Mat Ricardo first saw him perform. Since then he's worked as an acclaimed actor and presenter, and is currently one of the UK's most in demand comedians.


Paddy travelled the globe and made the streets of Edinburgh his home, with just a tiny briefcase, a sharp wit, and the smartest mouth you could wish for. He taught me that if you have charisma and can talk, then you don't need anything else to pull a crowd and make a living. Since retiring from street performing went on to act, teach theatre and put that smart mouth to good use as a stand-up comic.


I'll be talking about, and showing archive footage of one of my favourite old variety acts,
and there's sure to be some very special surpirses...


This should be fun. I hope to see you there.

P.S. I've been nominated for a Time Out Audience Choice award, so if you like me, and you like voting, then hey - why not go here and vote for me? Thanks awfully. x

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Hackney Empire State Of Mind

Very busy and stressful week, as I'm doing all the usual work stuff, plus finalizing the details of the opening night of Mat Ricardo's London Varieties, while preparing to go to New Zealand to perform at the World Buskers Festival next week. I barely had time to get a cold, but I managed to find time, and thus sniffed and sneezed my way through a shoot with the wonderful EastEnd Cabaret. Easy shoot, excellent people, what's not to like?

 Just before Christmas I'd shoot a set of images for SE Electronics of Kirsty Gillmore of SoundsWilde using their awesome microphones. We shot her as a moody cabaret singer at Proud Cabaret, where I often perform. She'd tweeted how happy she was with their microphone, and they'd got in touch wanting to know more about her work - and thus a new professional relationship was born. Awesome how twitter can do that, huh?

Also this week I had the complete pleasure of performing as part of a cabaret show at the Hackney Empire. It was a special show for the cast and crew of the pantomime, and the friends of the theatre, to celebrate the last night of this years panto. These kinds of gigs can often be less than fun, as sometimes a cast would rather have a party and be in each others company that have to sit and watch a show that doesn't include them - but this one was a dream. And something special for me.

Twenty something years ago, when I'd just decided that maybe I could perhaps be a juggler or something, my parents took me to see Circus Senso. It was the first "new" circus in London ("new circus" meaning it comprised entirely of people skills, with no performing animals), it had a cast that included people who had been street performers, and to a shiny-eyed teenage me it was proof that what I wanted to do, could actually be a job. I remember exactly where we sat - in fact, I pointed out the seats while on stage there this week - and I remember nothing at all about the show except one thing - Andre Vincent. He was the clown, and did a running gag with a broom. And he was a street performer. And he was great.

Twenty something years later, Andre has become a friend. Someone I admire and respect perhaps a little more than he knows. Perhaps he knows now. And in the intervening years I've done a bunch of stuff and been to a bunch of places, but, for one reason or another, I'd never performed at the Hackney Empire. Which is why, after doing a very enjoyable spot to a lovely audience there this week, I came off, found a little dark corner backstage, and thanked the theatre.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Little Adventures

And that was the view from the little hill in South London where we saw in the new year. Gorgeous view over my beloved city - enough of a panorama to see a handful of firework displays all going on at once. Although the biggest cheers from the assembled and warmly wrapped-up throng went up for the small gangs of kids shooting their own rockets into the air with frankly terrifying enthusiasm. Then we went home and I necked a rum and coke and fell asleep on the sofa. Start the year the way you mean to go on.

I can, perhaps, be forgiven for my tiredness, because the previous day we had gone to Paris. A little adventure. First Eurostar out, last one back, enough time to eat, drink and wander around. And that's what we did. Rather splendid.

I'd been to Paris earlier in the year to perform as the cabaret for a corporate party in a posh restaurant, and I'd had a nice time. Good gig, and I'd enjoyed having the time to walk up and down the Seine before I had to work. While doing this, I'd seen a con trick being played. I love a good con trick - I think everyone does. As they say in the brilliant movie House of Games, a good con trick only works because the victim is greedy or vain. As long as a con sticks to this rule, I think it's ok to appreciate it without moral complications. The scam I'd seen being played out on the banks of the river (and yes, they tried to play it on me and failed) was the apparently famous "Parisian gold ring scam". It's really simple. Here's how it works:

You're walking along, minding your own business, when you notice someone in front of you bend down and pick up a shiny gold ring off the floor. You both lock eyes. "Did you drop this ring?", says the con artist. Now, if you're honest and/or clued in, you say "nope" and keep walking. Here's what happens if you don't..

The con artist, usually looking a little poor, but with an honest smile, of course, shows you the ring. They show you a mark that proves it's gold. "Wow", you both say. You both look around for someone who could have dropped it, but there's nobody who might have. Perhaps you say "It's you lucky day, you found a gold ring", or words to that effect. The con artist will say "I can't wear jewellery because of my religion", or "The ring is too small for me", or even better "I wish I could buy my family a meal with this ring, but how could I?" - then, if you're male, maybe - "Here - the ring is yours - give it to your wife"

Even at this late stage, of course, you could not take the ring, and walk away. But if you don't..

You take the ring and say thanks, and just before you part company with this poor but honest good hearted stranger, they say "Perhaps you could give me a little money for some food? You have the ring after all.."

Aaand you give them maybe 20 Euros - because c'mon - they have a family to feed, and they did a nice thing by letting you keep the gold ring. The gold coloured brass ring that they used basic but effective sleight of hand to make you think they'd picked up off the floor when it was really in their hand the whole time. the ring worth a penny. Literally.

It's a great con. It only works because the mark thinks their getting something valuable for cheap - a seemingly unbelievable offer from a stranger who clearly sees what a decent person they are, a stranger who might not fully understand the worth of what they have, but could be relieved of it for a small fee.. Greed and vanity. On that trip, I'd had a great afternoon watching the scam being played, enjoying the theatre of it - the performances of the scam artists. So when me and my better half were walking alongside the Seine this week, I told her about the con, and we wondered if it was still being worked here. And pretty much as soon as I said it a woman bent down in front of us, picked up a heavy shiny gold ring and asked us if we'd dropped it. Brilliant. We saw it being worked - successfully - on three more tourists within the space of a half hour walk along the river. Street theatre, kids.

And it made me wonder if this is an exclusively Parisian scam. I'm pretty well travelled, but haven't seen this con being pulled anywhere else. I've seen three card monte in street markets in Malta and on bridges in London, I've seen the famous levitating toy scam that used to be big around Covent Garden but now seems to have migrated to Italy, but I've only seen the ring con in Paris. Are con tricks localised in that way? I'm assuming that the scam in Paris is run by one gang, otherwise surely there'd be fights over turf? Put this on the list of things I'd do if I were a deranged millionaire - travel the world researching the best con tricks.

Incedentally - if you're as into con tricks and associated carny shenanigans as I am, "How To Cheat At Everything" by Simon Lovell is absolutely positively a must read.

 We did a little shopping in Paris, and amongst other things, bought a couple of gorgeous 50's magazine that had the image below as it's centrefold. Perfect thing to end this post with.

See you in the new year, monkeys.