Mat Ricardo: On tour
Hello. My name is Mat Ricardo, and I have been asked to write something about what it’s like being on tour.
I am, fairly obviously then, currently on tour, so let’s get a few ground rules straight here. I am not a stand-up comedian. No cuttingly truthful observations here. No catchphrases for me. I have literally never noticed anything that you also might have noticed. I, dear reader, am a juggler.
For the last twenty eight and a half years I have made my living from my dexterity, from my learnt ability to do things with my hands that most people – and in a couple of cases, nobody at all – can do.
Now obviously I’m funny too, otherwise that would just be the most awful kind of showing off, but frankly just being funny doesn’t really interest me. Why just get laughs when you can also get gasps?
Now this all sounds peachy, sure, but what it means is that when it comes to touring, I start to hate comedians with an all-consuming fiery passion. You know why? Luggage. My incandescent jealously knows no bounds here.
These bloody stand-ups who just turn up, maybe with a little shoulder bag to hold their iPad full of TV pitch ideas, or perhaps – at the very most – a suit bag with their stage clothes in. Lucky, lucky bastards.
Here’s what I travel with, for my current one man show “Showman”: Two huge Samsonites containing all manner of props, including hats that need to be kept un-crushed, a genuine bone china teaset, razor-sharp cordless electric carving knives, and, obviously, three fucking bowling balls.
Oh, and then there’s the fold-up dining table that I need for my signature trick, the reverse tablecloth pull, that goes in it’s own special bag. Add to that the delicious fact that I don’t drive, and what you have is one particularly stressed vaudevillian currently inhabiting train stations and airports across the globe.
Wouldn’t have it any other way though. Because once I’m at the theatre, and unpacked, and warmed up, and in my beautiful three-piece suit, the trial of dragging all that stuff around the world becomes spectacularly worth it.
Here’s the thing: When people buy tickets to a stand-up, they basically know what they’re going to get. This is, of course, both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because it makes ticket sales a little easier, “A comedian. Like on the telly. I know what that is. Ok, cool” but it also means that the comic has to be a special brand of excellent if they want to exceed expectations.
I’m a bit of a different gambit. There’s no variety on TV, in the UK at least, so people have less of a preconceived notion of what they’re being asked to buy a ticket to. “A juggler? Like in the circus?” Well, yes and no, and mainly no.
Variety hasn’t been on TV for decades, so when people think about what a juggler might be, all their mental images are dated and unfashionable. Now, things are getting slightly better on this front – the resurgence of burlesque and cabaret has brought with it an revival in the variety arts, which means that people are slowly realising that this stuff is pretty great, but still, I do have to work a little harder to get people through the door.
But once they’re in, and once the lights have gone down and my black & white correspondents have hit the stage, it’s all good. The upside of working to an audience who don’t know quite what to expect is that if you’re good – and since I’ve been doing this for near-on three decades, I’d better be good by now – you pleasantly surprise them. You change minds.
An hour with me and they’ve seen me risk my life, genuinely, twice. They’ve heard me talk about a vaudeville performer who died on stage in 1936 while attempting a death-defying trick, and they’ve then seen me perform the same trick. They’ve heard me talk about the greats of my art form, who are now forgotten by all but the most nerdy variety geek.
There are dropped jaws and belly laughs, often simultaneously. The hour I spend on stage is the result of the practice that took all my adult life. They’ll see tricks that are so unlikely and impossible-sounding, that when they describe them to their friends the next day, their friends will assume they are liars.
After every show I play, I get tweets saying much the same thing: “I didn’t know what to expect, but it was amazing!” and although this sounds like the worst kind of humblebrag, the point is not that I’m amazing, but more that such a healthy section of my audiences are people taking a gamble on something different, and then having that gamble pay off massively.
Every time that happens, I score one for the return of variety, and get a daffy grin on my face as I realise that my lifetime of practice perhaps wasn’t in vain, and that I might have a few more years of struggling around the world with my stupid bloody suitcases.
P.S. My newest trick involves a yo-yo. It doesn’t need its own suitcase. It goes in my pocket.
Mat Ricardo: Showman, Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh, 31 July – 16 August, 8.10pm, pleasance.co.uk