Matt Winning on Edinburgh Fringe show Ragnarok

With three shows in his hectic Fringe plans this year, it's no wonder Matt Winning's had his mind on the end of the world

Feature by Craig Angus | 29 Jul 2016
  • Matt Winning

Matt Winning's had a hectic weekend. He’s been to Marseille and back in 24 hours, on a whistlestop football tour to watch Iceland take on Hungary at Euro 2016. He was rooting for the North Atlantic Islanders, which comes as no surprise as we recall an old sketch – a foul mouthed hip-hop group called Focal Point, which he starred in alongside Richard Gadd and James Kirk.

He laughs at the recollection. “Yeah, we did it at a night called Stockholm Syndrome in Glasgow,” he says. “Gadd and Kirk both had quite well defined characters, I just came on with a guitar and didn’t really say a lot – but I ended up one night doing an Icelandic fisherman thing. Both of them went, ‘You’re never doing that again.’” It’s a story that tells you a lot about Winning; no matter the stage, you can’t shake the sense he’s dying to throw something new into the performance.

Having played in bands in his youth (“If I ever do give up comedy,” he says, “I’d like to play in a band again, playing Metallica covers”), Winning’s been doing stand up since 2009, initially venturing out to perform as a way of leaving his parents' house. Soon he was landing bigger gigs, meeting like-minded people and performing – for example – as volatile tennis star Steph E Graph, complete with jokes about deuce, love and Richard E Grant.

Last year, he took his debut solo hour Mugabe and Me in 3D to Edinburgh. It was a career high point, in which Winning confidently addressed his complicated relationship with the dictator and committed fully to the third dimension aspect of the show (with “the most expensive opening joke at the Fringe”). Having performed at Edinburgh on various bills since 2010, there was a feeling that the show was both a breakthrough and a send-off.

Looking forward, Ragnarok sees Winning return to Opium on PBH’s Free Fringe, and while writing a follow-up has had its challenges, it’s also given him a blank canvas of sorts. By his own admission, he’s got the opportunity to build a show, rather than parachuting lots of – admittedly first-rate – gags into a story about the pros and cons of your dad being Robert Mugabe.

“The story in Mugabe and Me was fairly loose,” says Winning. “Ragnarok has more of a narrative. There’s still tangents, but I’m trying to keep it fairly tied to an idea.” Day-to-day he’s a researcher in environmental and climate economics, and his work life has given the show a tight theme. "The show is kind of about the end of the world, and Ragnarok is the Viking version of that.” 

It all sounds very serious, but then he swiftly brings things back to familiar territory. “There’s a great bit about corn on the cob,” he continues, before spilling out some plot details, best left unspecified, about the distant, distant relatives of Matt Winning.

Another busy summer awaits. A new sketch group – I Am Wario, comprising Winning, Stuart Laws and Anne Klein – have a debut show, and there are two special 100 Year Anniversary shows with the Bearpit Podcast crew to think about too. He says the importance of the latter group – and Stockholm Syndrome before it – can’t be underestimated. “I think I’d have given up at some point if I hadn’t been at some stage doing those two things. You arrive with mad ideas and have a place to try them out. It makes you realise you can do whatever you want.”

That includes doing a show about the Viking apocalypse. “I’m taking a little step into the unknown – and I like that. I think that’s what Edinburgh should be.”

Matt Winning: Ragnarok, Opium (Upstairs), 6-27 Aug, 3.45pm, PBH Free Fringe.
I Am Wario, Sneaky Pete's, 6-27 Aug (not 17), 12:05pm, PBH Free Fringe.
Bearpit Podcast: 100 Year Anniversary, Pleasance Dome, 23 & 26 Aug, 11:30pm, £5.