“So. Yes. I did. And some of you might have questions.
I have been previously unenthusiastic about the rise of talent show formats. Particularly so, about Britain’s Got Talent, which seems often to poke at people’s encouraged delusions more than it celebrates their talents (Although big love to my old friend Barbara Nice who crushed it). It makes me very sad that the only viable place on television to see variety artists do their thing, is in a competitive format. I don’t see variety shows as competitions, I see them as families of different kinds of people, with space at the table for everyone. I’ve never, though, lambasted performers who chose to appear on these things – everyone makes their own choices on what to do, and we’re all just trying to make the best living we can out of whatever that is. Like Ice-T used to say, respect the hustle. It just wasn’t my hustle.
How, then, did I find myself in Los Angeles, earlier this year, smiling into the blue steel abyss of Simon Cowells gaze? Well, there were reasons.
Lately I’ve been working on hard on my mental health and am occasionally going through the process of reassessing previously held opinions – particularly the negative ones – and investigating their validity. Stress-testing one’s moral compass, so to speak. And at the same time, exploring if some of my opinions, are, frankly, more trouble than they’re worth. I’m an evolved enough human to admit when I might have been wrong about something, but also I’m shallow enough to get a huge amount of glee on those occasions when I’m proved correct.
Then there was the artistic reason. I had a new act that I thought might work really well. An act that, I suspected, might be cool, fun and fairly bulletproof. And once you suspect something like that, well, temptation sets up camp in your soul.
Also, I wouldn’t be truthful to myself, or to you, if I didn’t say that there was an element of “fuck it” at play here. As I get older, I find myself caring less about things like this, and instead, pursuing things that might be, well, interesting. Curiosity feels like a decent enough motivator for adventures, and I was curious.
But I’m burying the lede here. These reasons, though truthful and honest, are all tertiary. There was one central motivating factor in my decision to step onto that big shiny studio floor, and it happened nearly a year ago.
As you might know, last year I premiered a new one-man show, “Mat Ricardo vs The World”. The show was created by releasing a viral video in which I bet everyone in the world that I could learn any skill or challenge that they dared me to. People tweeted me challenges by the bucketload, and I picked the best ones, spent a year of my life learning as many as possible, and from that I made the show. (Sidenote: I think it was my best work, critics agreed, and it sold out every single nights of its Edinburgh fringe run and then went on UK tour, so YAY ME!)
Every night I performed the show, there would be a moment, about 10 minutes in, where I would show on a screen a montage of some of the craziest, most un-learnable, insane, and downright suicidal challenges I received. It was a funny way of showing the audience that I really did get hundreds of challenges – that the premise of the show was genuine.
Every night, I’d stand there, watching the montage of tweets, listening to the laughs that each one would get. And every night, one would stand out to me..
And pretty soon, I would wait for it to appear, and laugh to myself, as it became clear what I had to do. I had to answer the challenge. I had to do the very thing that people knew would cause me the most existential pain. I had to walk into the belly of the beast, because someone from the internet had dared me to. I had to make a leap of faith into enemy territory, in the hope that I would return safe, uninjured, and with stories to tell. I was a clown walking toward a banana skin, knowing it might hurt, but that it would almost certainly be entertaining. The gamble, as always, is that the pain fades quicker than the laughter.
Rest assured, it all went exactly as I predicted, and at the same time, totally not. I waded chest deep into a strong cocktail of vague truths, old fashioned kayfabe, and all the crooked fun you might expect. There were bruises and smiles, but I knew there would be. I figured that this might be an experience worth documenting. That it might provide stories.
And I did, indeed, return home with stories. And they’ll get told. Next year.
In the meantime, if you’re in the vicinity of the Edinburgh fringe this August, you might want to click on the image below and come see the me host the variety show that sold out three London seasons, and will – guarandamnteed – drop your jaw…”