Yesterday, I was talking to multi-talented American stand-up David Mills about gigs that go wrong at the Edinburgh Fringe.
“If you have a gig you don’t want to have,” David told me, “the great thing about Edinburgh is there’s another gig coming tomorrow and the next day and the next day. So you can always redeem yourself. I’m always looking to try to redeem myself.
“It’s like that thing they say about New York: Don’t worry if you fall on your face and everyone sees, ‘cause tomorrow someone else is going to fall on their face and everyone’s going to see that and your failure is going to disappear. And the same thing with any success you get. I say you’re nobody until you’ve got a one star review.”
“You’ll never get a one star review,” I said.
“I’m hoping to get a one star review,” said David. “Some of the greats have had one star reviews.”
“Anyway,” I said. “It’s bad if you get a two star review. But if you actually only get one star, then…”
“…then you’re onto something!” laughed David. “The performers I identify with are the performers who are never satisfied.”
Shows going wrong – or at least diverging from what you thought they were going to be – are not necessarily a bad thing. As evidence…
At the Edinburgh Fringe three days ago, I saw Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia – a very interesting and very funny show unbilled in the Edinburgh Fringe programme. In that, at least, it delivers what you expect from the title.
Yesterday morning, I got a Facebook message from comedian/promoter Nig Lovell saying:
“You should speak to Matt Price about this Machete Hettie gig for your blog. If I hadn’t been there I’m not sure I’d have believed it happened. Part of me is still wondering if I was hallucinating.”
Machete Hettie gig?? I thought. So I e-mailed Matt Price. He told me:
“Hettie says she will be back today with her balaclava this time. It was one of the best contributions I have ever witnessed at a show, but almost impossible to describe in an email. I’m hoping that the drunk people who took the group photo get in touch because we all need photographic evidence. Basically, a couple of audience members did their first gig last night and to be fair to them they stormed it.”
I then bumped into Charmian Hughes, who is performing at a totally different venue – the Banshee Labyrinth – a couple of doors away from Matt Price at The Hive. She, too, had heard of the Machete Hettie gig.
Hettie was from Ethiopia.
I phoned up Matt Price. He told me Machete Hettie was likely to turn up again – at yesterday’s show.
I was already scheduled to see the lovely David Mills at The Hive in a slot immediately before Matt Price’s show, but I then had a ticket to see the unmissable Tim FitzHigham’s show Challenger at the Pleasance venue soon afterwards and I was not going to miss that.
So I arranged to see the first half of Matt’s show again just on the off-chance that Machete Hettie would turn up.
David Mills’ show was, as always, a mystery.
The mystery is why such an audience-pleasing, sophisticated act has not been snapped-up by BBC2 or Channel 4.
The ways of British television at the moment are passing strange.
After David’s show, as we waited for Matt’s show to start, my heart sank. No Ethiopians were in the audience.
But, it turned out Machete Hettie WAS there – I had mis-heard. She calls herself a ‘Leithiopian’ – someone from Leith in north Edinburgh.
She had bright eyes, a lively personality and I wished I had been at the previous day’s show.
Matt yesterday started with the words:
“First impressions are kind of weird because, if you don’t mind me saying, you seem a very nice, very respectful audience, very normal. But then I thought that about Hettie yesterday and, by the end of it, I knew more about her vagina than I knew about comedy… Is that a different friend sitting next to you today, Hettie?”
“Ye mind the half a brick? The half a brick?” said Hettie.
“You had a friend yesterday who was a nurse,” said Matt.
“This time, she’s a dental nurse,” said Hettie. “She just fixes yer teeth in the middle of the night.”
About three people started speaking at once, from different parts of the audience.
“Oh God, there’s more of you,” said Matt gently. “Hello, I’m Matt. I was going to do a show, but Hettie came in yesterday and interjected with things about her vagina and we haven’t looked back since. She had a Brazilian.” Then he turned to a friend of Hettie’s in the front row: “Do you have the footage safely?”
“Yes,” the woman in the front row replied. “We’ll put it on YouTube tonight.”
“Would you like a photo for John Fleming’s blog?” Matt asked.
“Oh brilliant,” replied Hettie. “Aye. Oh aye.”
“It’s a porn blog, but don’t worry,” said Matt. “You told me yesterday about your vagina and today you’re straight in with Half a brick, big boy. I love it. Would you,” he said to the audience, “consider this as not so much a show – more a respite from the rain? Is that OK?”
“Smoked sausage!” said Hettie in dramatic showbiz style.
She had about ten friends and neighbours in different parts of the audience who laughed uproariously.
“Biscuits!” she added.
Matt then brilliantly, under trying circumstances, managed to simultaneously perform his show, interact with Hettie as part of an almost separate show and have an occasional running commentary with two fellow comedians in the audience. It was three shows in one simultaneously, all blending together seemingly naturally.
“Earlier this year,” Matt started, “I was asked if I would ghost-write the autobiography of a criminal and I said Yes. What do you know about crime, Hettie?”
“A lot,” she replied.
The whole audience laughed.
“Now, you might think,” continued Matt, “He has nothing to say, which is why I dipped into the audience just then. But I knew if I said that to Hettie, she would say A lot and it would get a cheap laugh, so I just couldn’t resist doing it.”
“I led a life of crime for 17 years,” said Hettie.
I am now hooked on Hettie and a vast admirer of Matt Price’s ability to tell a good story, control a difficult audience, improvise with control during a show and… well… I am going back to see what happens tonight. Hettie will be back.
Matt tells me he has given her ten minutes on stage at the start of his show.
“John,” he told me, “I am now performing a two-hander against my will. She has turned me from a comedian into a talent scout.”
So I am going back for more tonight – not least because I forgot to ask why she is called Machete Hettie…