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Monday, 25 June 2012

What's with the suits?

Photo: Jo Lewis

I once fell flat on my face – literally flat on my stupid face – in front of 9000 people. It was the closing moments of a big German variety festival, and I was taking my final bow. I bounced up the steps to the stage and just caught the tip of my foot on the top step. WHAP. Down I went. The host’s words ringing in my ears, “Ladies and gentlemen, one more time for the gentleman juggler, the hilarious, Mr Mat Ricar..Oh..Oh dear..”. Now, obviously this hurt, both physically and, more importantly, emotionally. But what was the aspect that made me stick out my bottom lip and sulk for the rest of the night? Was it the sizeable gash on my knee where I’d sliced it across the edge of the step? Was it the knowledge that 9000 people had seen my self-esteem plummet through the floor?

No. It was that I had ruined my favourite suit. Chester Barrie, Savile Row. Green windowpane. Fitted like a glove, hung like a beaut and made me feel like a million dollars. I looked down at my beautiful trousers and all I could see was a ragged tear that from thigh nearly to ankle, and worse, blood all over it. That was a sad day.

I didn't always wear suits. I first started performing when I was teenage and impressionable. My influences were the jugglers in circuses or mid 80's street performers, so in the first couple of years of my career my choice of costume was mainly made dependent on the amount of sequins you could squeeze onto it. Then, as my tastes moved to American comedy, my style moved into the Hawaiian shirt phase, often paired with chinos and converse all-stars. Don't judge me too harshly, remember this was the 80's, Ok, no excuses, judge me harshly.

But then as I matured and began to take my chosen profession more seriously, I started to spend more time researching my forebears, the previous generations of music hall and vaudeville performers who paved the way for me. I was a juggler, so perhaps it was time to see what other jugglers throughout history did, what they looked like, and more importantly what they wore. And what I found went on to be one of my most important influences, both on stage and off.

In the heyday of variety, vaudeville and music-hall, there was a breed of performer known as the “Gentleman Juggler”, and they were great. They were immaculately groomed. Dressed in well-tailored suits, silver cuff-links, dress shoes, silk ties. They would have their stage set as a bar or a restaurant – somewhere that a gentleman of the time might go for a ravishing night out. They would saunter on, perhaps removing a top hat and throwing it casually across the stage to land on a hantstand, and they would spend the next few minutes performing stunning displays of balance, dexterity and co-ordination with the things a gentleman might find in the aforementioned bar or restaurant.

They'd juggle fine bone china and furniture, spin bowls of soup on forks, flip spoons into glasses.. and the classic tablecloth-pull trick (and the one that I twisted into one of my signature pieces)? They invented it.

They were dashing, handsome and stylish, and more than that – they were headliners.

They exuded none of the fast, sweaty, attention seeking manner that plagued most jugglers. What they did wasn't showing-off, it was cool. They didn't do lame lines and old gags, they were slick and witty. And I wanted in.

It took years to perfect the feats of dexterity that would form the backbone of my act, but the work had begun. Something I could change right now, though, was how I looked. How I presented myself.

At that time, most of my work was as a street performer, and wearing a suit and tie changed everything for me. It made me feel more stylish, sure, and yes, more confident, but also more accomplished? Is that the right word? Maybe. It made me feel of more worth. As a street performer this was particularly important to me. I'd be on the train going to knock out some shows at Covent Garden, confident that nobody on the train would guess by looking at me, that I was a busker. Not that I was ashamed of it – quite the reverse – most of what I know about performing I learnt on the street, and I'm nothing but proud of my years there, but it was nice to be dodging peoples preconceptions so deftly, especially when most peoples preconceptions of street performers are so wrong.

Once, in my pre-suit days, while hanging around under the church portico that forms the wings to the stage of Covent Garden Piazza, I was asked by a tourist if I was a street performer, I told them I was, they then asked me to point to where I sleep at night. The unpleasant assumption that a busker must be homeless wouldn't have occurred had I been wearing a suit and tie, I think.

I was dressing for the job I wanted, not the one I had. And in doing so, gaining potential audience members confidences. Getting a crowd on the street is much easier if you look trustworthy, and for good or for bad (and despite life lessons from smooth bad guys in movies, Nazis, and bankers), people still do associate a good suit with trust.

So these days my career is a little healthier and my stages tend to be in theatres and cabaret clubs, where people have paid before the show rather than by putting some money in a hat at the end, and this means, of course, that my menswear obsession has gained momentum.

There isn't a men’s vintage clothes shop in London I don't know, and as my knowledge and understanding of the delicious nuances of a good suit increases, so does the wardrobe space needed to house them. My first one man show was even titled “Three Balls and a Good Suit” after my claim that all I need are those things.

And the suits affect my performance more than I ever thought they would.

I have a grey plaid single-breasted that I bought from a tailors on a trip to Venice. I picked it off the rack, put it on, and stood there as a small gaggle of chirping, well-perfumed, middle-aged Italian ladies flitted around me pulling, smoothing, measuring and chalking. I left the shop, had a pizza, did a show, and came back to find my suit altered to fit me perfectly. They gave it to me in crepe paper, folded correctly and tied up with a bow. That was a happy trip.

It's a light cloth, and a good fit, but being Italian, it has a loose hang and moves a little around me when I move. So I love to use it for my hat and cane routine, which is dance-influenced. When I wear it, it helps me feel like I can move well. It helps the act, for sure.

If I'm doing a club spot, something more stand-up comedy based, then I might wear the suit I'm wearing now. Second hand, Savile Row, heavy wool, brown and green check. It has a little label hidden away inside that says “Thorn proof”. It's like a suit of armour. And that's how it makes me feel – protected, safe. It's warm, comforting, tough and hard-wearing, like an East-End pub. And because it has the kind of structured Savile Row cut where the jacket gently holds you at the ribs, like someone encouraging you to stand upright and have slightly better posture. I feel bulletproof in it. It makes me a better comedian. And it was an incredible bargain at £100.

More than individual acts though, I wear suits for two reasons. Firstly, I bloody love suits, so there's that, but secondly, I've somehow managed to squeeze a successful career out of stupid jokes and manual dexterity, it's ridiculous when you think about it -an don't think for a secon that I'm not very grateful that somehow I pay my mortgage from attention-seeking and showing-off. So here's the thing: I think there's something quite wonderful about dressing like a grown-up to do something childish.


Mat Ricardo premières his new one-man show "Showman" in London in June and July, before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe in August, full details here.

His monthly West End variety show has two more shows this year, the next one is June 27th - click here to find out more.

He'd love you to come.

Monday, 18 June 2012


Here are full details and booking information for the two shows that I'm performing at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe.

The follow-up to the critically acclaimed, award-winning
one man show "Three Balls and a New Suit".

A compelling, fascinating and hilarious look at the connections that link every circus, variety and vaudeville performer. Mat will astound you with feats of dexterity from long-lost acts, tell you stories from the forgotten greats of variety, and show you how history lives inside everyone who has ever done some schtick.

Also: Bad language, Edutainment, and a Syd Little reference. You've been warned.

Pre-Edinburgh preview shows

Cambridge Comedy Festival - 19th July, 7.30pm, Click here to book

Revival Festival, Marylebone Gardens, London - 23rd & 24th July, 7.30, Click here to book.

Edinburgh Fringe

The Ballroom, The Voodoo Rooms - 1st-26th August (not Mondays), 5.45pm
Click here to book.

Mat Ricardo's London Varieties comes to the fringe as
Voodoo Varieties!

One of the London cabaret scene hits of 2012, this is a variety show like no other. The Voodoo Varieties will feature an ever-changing bill of the best in circus, cabaret and variety, along with a special guest who will sit down with Mat Ricardo for an onstage interview. Plus rare archive footage of old variety acts, new material from Mat, and a series of unique surprises, and you have good times - guaranteed!

Every interview will also be release as a free podcast on iTunes. Click here to download previous shows.

Previous guests include Graham Linehan, Jenny Eclair, Frisky & Mannish, Lenny Beige, Arthur Smith, Eastend Cabaret and The Boy With Tape On His Face.

You can read reviews of the London show here and here.

Pre-Edinburgh preview show

Mat Ricardo's London Varieties
Bethnal Green Working Mens Club - July 12 - Click here to book.

Edinburgh Fringe

The Ballroom, The Voodoo Rooms - 1st - 26th August, 8.15pm - Click here to book.

Follow @MatRicardo on twitter to find out who each nights special guest will be!

Mat Ricardo's Last London Varieties of 2012

Yes, it's true, there's only one more London show, then we're off to do it every night at the Edinburgh Festival, and then we're taking a well-earned break until next year.

But rest assured once 2013 rolls around, we're going to be coming back bigger and badder!

And we're going out with a bang, with a packed show on July 12th, featuring...

The undisputed heavyweight champion of chap-hop...

The scintillating tap dancing of...

All the way from New York, the hilarious illusions of...

The absurd and death-defying acts of...

And in conversation,
The godfather of alternative comedy...

July 12th, Bethnal Green Working Mens Club
Doors 7pm, Show 8pm sharp.
Tickets only £10

It's going to be a great show, and it will sell out, so don't delay...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Bread and Circuses

Well yes. And to whoever hung that sign outside their house while the rest of the street was having a Jubilee street party this past Sunday, I salute you. And if you don't immediately get what it means, here you go.

So. Yes. Jubilee. It's obvious, and probably correct, to have some kind of issue with the whole idea of the Royals. Sure, Brenda herself is worth a bit over £300 Million, but wait a minute, dead-eyed Tom from the Apprentice wants $25 million just to buy some wine, so that puts Tom closer to the Queen than he is to me. Well that's all sorts of wrong, surely, I mean he's just a good-looking Ian Beale. And no, I'm not sure what point I'm making here. Tell you what though - Nick's recipe idea was gold, and the only reason none of the business knobs got it is because they have their food fucking cooked for them by servants and/or wives. "Who would use this?", asked one. "WOMEN AND REAL PEOPLE!", shouted back my wife.

Anyway, train of thought rants aside, this is a post about the Jubilee. I remember the silver one, in 1977. We had a street party in my grandma's road, and me and another kid played football with a Jubilee-branded football, and then we lost it. I was 8. Luckily, thanks to my mum giving me some DVDs of old home movies for my birthday, I can prove it..

Here I am sitting on a wall at the street party with my dad..

And here I am watching a children's entertainer do the breakaway wand gag...

Please note the rather excellent V-Neck sweater in a design that is currently being re-used by Hackett. Always on trend, people, always on trend.

So regardless of political opinions of Royalty, I have very nice childhood memories of when I last went to a Jubilee street party, which seemed good enough reason to not be too hard-hearted on those that were dodging rain and wrangling barbecues this weekend. And besides, as anyone who knows me can tell you - I love bread and circuses.

Here are some shots from my local street party...

And talking of circuses (See what I did there?) for the June 14th Mat Ricardo's London Varieties are selling.. about half of the tables have gone, so get your tickets quick if you want to be sat at a table. It's another amazing bill, particularly for fans of magic or old-school variety - if you love both, you're going to want to come to this one. Trust me. For more information and tickets, click here.