Mat Ricardo: A Man Of Many Talents
We are usually able to easily define and categorise certain performers. Whether they’re a stand-up comedian, actor, musician – we can label them and go on our merry way. However, every once in a while you come across an incredibly unique performer, like London’s own Mat Ricardo. A man of many talents who can entertain you with his comedy, tricks, and even the written word.
After I watched Mat Ricardo perform for the first time, I struggled to explain to people what he does. He’s funny, but I can’t call him a comedian. He does tricks, but I could not say he was just some sort of circus act. Funnily enough, Mat himself struggles to explain just exactly what he does for a living.
“Yes, true enough, it’s a bit tricky,” Mat confessed. “I’m basically a modern variety performer. I specialise in feats of dexterity, usually using household objects, and I’m also funny, otherwise, that would just be awful showing-off. My job is to arse around on stage making people laugh, gasp, and clap, by any means necessary.”
Mat’s act has led him to delivering Ted Talks and a performance on the Jonathon Ross show. I first saw Mat perform at the Leicester Square Theatre in London. When he stepped out on stage, truthfully, I was a little disappointed. I paid money to meet and hear British wrestling legend William Regal tell stories, so it was bizarre, when mid-way through the show, out came a performer who I had never even heard of.
Being a huge wrestling fan, I know we’re a difficult group to appease. But despite many of the audience, myself included, being unfamiliar with Mat Ricardo – Mat was very familiar with us.
“I’ve worked with Mr. Regal a few times now, and sure, the first time I was a little unsure of how the crowd would take to me. I was very aware that I wasn’t what they had come to see,” Mat told me. “But once I talk about that elephant in the room, drop a couple of Roman Reigns jokes, and show that I know what I’m doing, then they start to see it as a bonus, rather than an annoyance.”
And a bonus it was. Within minutes, Mat’s confidence and comedic charm were enough to win over the cautious wrestling crowd. He was a bowl full of energy, and he even brought the people in by talking with members of the audience.
Mat started showing us tricks such as juggling balls – which quickly escalated to him juggling bowling balls. By that point, Mat had me, and the rest of the crowd on the edge of our seats.
“Thanks, that’s very nice of you – that’s a fun trick – and pretty perfect for a wrestling-themed show!” Mat enthused. He then went on to explain the beauty of winning over a wrestling audience: “The thing about wrestling audiences – and I speak both as someone who has performed for them, and as someone who has been a part of them – is that they’re passionate. They want to be entertained. And once they’ve decided they like you, they let you know about it. They’re far and away some of my favourite crowds, because of how conditioned they are to being vocally appreciative.”
This desire for a vocal response from the audience is something I hear many performers and sports stars talk about. It’s often the reason many athletes and performers hang on a little too long, they say “the rush of the crowd” can become like a drug. Mat agreed, at times, it can be a drug.
“It certainly can be sometimes. It can be like all the drugs – euphoria after a particular big, or great gig, sure,” Mat said. However, Mat did present the negative side of performing for an audience as well, “dying on your ass feels like a hell of a downer, too!”
Like many dreamers, the fear of failing or failing on stage did not deter Mat from pursuing a passion that started many years ago. “I was a teenager, on holiday at a festival in Yorkshire, and I saw a street performer – a funny juggler. I immediately became his number one fan – sat in the front row of all his shows and marvelled at his stagecraft, his charisma, how he could get a crowd out of nothing on a street corner,” Mat said. “By the second week, I was slowly starting to realise that I didn’t want to be his fan, I wanted to be someone like him.”
Though one street performer inspired Mat to pursue this dream of captivating a crowd through performing the unusual and extraordinary, other performers from different worlds also began influencing Mat and his work. William Regal, the man who introduced me and many other wrestling fans to Mat Ricardo – is not just a friend to Mat, he’s also influenced him in many ways.
While their gentlemanly dress codes are similar, there are subtle details from Regal’s wrestling career that Mat has tried to emulate. “I’ve told him this more than once – there are a couple of moments in a couple of my shows where I’ve completely stolen his legendary sour expression, to underline a couple of gags. I learned from him how to insult an audience in such a way that they love you for it.”
Whether it’s the classic table-cloth trick or various juggling tricks, Mat has made his name by doing things that have left audiences jaws clattering on the ground. But just like other performers – it has taken him years of practise. Mat detailed what the progression involves.
“It’s a continuous process, and that’s the fun of it. As I said, it’s been 30 years, but I still really feel like I’m just getting started,” Mat explained. “I’ll keep doing this as long as I keep having ideas for things that a crowd might find funny, or unexpected, or think impossible. I’m in such a lucky position that I can pay my mortgage with the stupid-ass stuff that comes out of my brain, and that there are people who will come to my shows to see what I’m going to come up with next.”
The variety of skills and acts one gets to see in a Mat Ricardo show is quite incredible; in fact, it feels like I am describing a character out of a novel when writing about his astonishing act. He’s truly a performer that has to be seen to be believed, and if one has not seen or heard of Mat Ricardo, he has some words for you.
“I’m the master of the Fast hands, smart mouth and nice suit. Just like wrestling, the best way to understand what I do, is to come see me live. Good times, guaranteed.”
Words: Humza Hussain