By David Silverberg
Imagine throwing your arm around Mats Sundin and casually asking, “So, what do you eat before a game?” Imagine chatting with Ichiro Suzuki, barking with Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams and joking around with Jarome Iginla.
Now imagine getting paid for it. Hobnobbing with star athletes is 25-year-old Cabral Richards’ full-time gig.
Richards hosts Cabbie On The Street, a weekly five-minute segment on 24hour sports channel The Score. He and cameraman Bryan Roy spend randomly questioning passers-by and athletes in locker rooms and stadiums.
To celebrate the segment’s one-year anniversary, Richards’ highly anticipated one-hour “Best O” special will air on Rogers channel 53 on Oct. 18 at 9 p.m.
His fans can’t wait. On his way to the studio to put the finishing touches on his special, Richards is accosted by excited fans. Cars honk and pull over to shake Richards’ hand.
“Cabbie you rock!”
“Happy anniversary, Cabbie!”
Though he is often recognized on the street, Richards is modest about his fame: “I’m just a guy who plays Playstation 2 and eats Doritos.”
Richards, who left Ryerson’s radio and television arts program after three years to pursue an acting career, spends his segment playfully covering topics ranging from sports shows’ theme songs to inventive mascot names.
Whether he interviews a Bloor Street accountant or Colorado Avalanche centre Joe Sakic, the result is a refreshing break from box scores and highlight reels.
I’m an attention hog so I like to entertain,” says Richards, a doughy smile creasing his face. He says Cabbie On The Street is fluffy and light and lets viewers see athletes and pedestrians with their guards down.
Richards sets his Sunday night segment apart from other streeter shows such as Buzz and the now-defunct Tom Green Show by avoiding gross-out humour and keeping the topics sports-oriented.
Richards’ method of interviewing is different from reporters who ask athletes the same questions every day. “I’m just a big fat dude trying to assert myself and talk some game,” he says.
During the show’s first year, Richards got Sakic to flash some “stiff humour” at the NHL awards and MuchMusic VJ Namugenyi Kiwanuka to admit she’d “give up sex for three years” to see the Raptors win the NBA championship.
The funniest moments of Cabbie often come from Richards’ blatant flirting with the women he approached. “I’ll play around with the ladies,” he says, even though most of them aren’t familiar with Richards’ face or The Score.
Richards started working at the King Street studios of The Score (then Headline Sports) in 1999 as an intern writing scripts for news packages. The youthful atmosphere of the studio nurtured his love of sports.
At his Cambridge, Ont., high school, Richards played basketball, football, rugby and “track events for fat guys, like shotput and javelin.”
Cabbie On The Street was developed last August, while Richards was writing scripts for The Score. His bosses gave him a camera and told him to go out and shoot something. The segment began running on Sunday nights at midnight and was eventually used as a segue between shows.
Cabbie, a childhood nickname that resurfaced when he began working at The Score, was a natural choice for the show’s title.
Ultimately, Richards wants to act. He has played a henchman on La Femme Nikita and had a role in The Hoop Life on Showtime. As a freelance producer for The Score, he still has time to chase his Hollywood aspirations and currently auditions for commercials.
“I wanted RTA to be a back door to film,” Richards says. “I wanted to gain knowledge of how everything worked.” Even in university Richards was anxious to get in front of the camera and often starred in his classmates’ short studio projects.
Doing streeter interviews for Cabbie isn’t as easy as it looks, Richards says. Many pedestrians don’t want to be filmed answering questions.
But Richards doesn’t mind insulting himself on camera. In typical Cabbie fashion, he nobly absorbs a rejection from a blonde when he asks her to “come back to his Lovenasium.” He often adopts a charmer persona that entertains and relaxes his interviewees.
“I have confidence in what I’m doing,” Richards says. One of his first assignments was asking hockey and basketball players what gets them hyped before a game.
Approaching Mats Sundin was intimidating at first, he says, but after putting around the all-star’s shoulders and asking a frivolous question, the two talked with broad smiles.
Sundin said he eats chicken and pasta before every game and barely listens to music (apparently, defenseman Bryan McCabe is the resident DJ).
Past episodes of Cabbie featured Richards asking basketball players if he could join their entourages, asking baseball players who they consider to be the best-conditioned athletes and surveying Toronto guys on which male athlete they find most attractive.
On a good day, people respond openly and joke around. On a bad day, Richards has to pry out answers with suggestions and circular questioning.
“In the end it’s all fluff,” Richards says, noting the weekly segment will likely end in a year. Determined to become an actor, he wants to focus on auditions and rehearsals and is ready to hang up the mic when the time is right.
“Even when I was doing plays in Grade 7, I knew what I wanted to do,” says Richards. “I was put on the Earth to make people laugh.” His face cracks into a smile. “But interviewing these athletes that I watch on TV, man, that’s pretty cool.”