Comedy blog

Matt Winning: what makes a dictator laugh?

matt winning edinburgh fringe 2015

Stand-up comedians have a lot in common with dictators: a great deal of charisma, a burning desire to have people hear what they want to say and an over reliance on the rule of threes.

It’s no surprise then to hear that comedy weirdo and co-host of the cult Bearpit Comedy Podcast Matt Winning has gone all Last King of Scotland and decided to create an Edinburgh Fringe show based around his experiences with an African despot; in this case Zimbabwe’s prime prick in charge Robert Mugabe.

With his run about to start at Opium we asked Matt to explain the comedy preferences of his five favourite dictators.

There are egotistical A-holes all over the world. Thankfully most of them slip through the net and become lifeguards, bankers or their own ITV3 show. However, every now and then one slips through the net and is put in charge of a country, whether by force or popular vote. I am of course talking about dictators. Imagine having your own country. It sounds nice but in practice it appears to go hand in hand with oppression, restrictions of liberty and every now and again the slaughtering millions of people. So it’s necessary to have a sense of humour otherwise you won’t sleep at night.

Here are five famous dictators and their favourite types of comedy:

Joseph Stalin

Joe was born with two adjoined toes on his left foot and therefore couldn’t walk very fast. The other kids would make fun of him and call him Joseph Stalling. He spent the rest of his life getting back at them through torture, kidnapping and starvation although he couldn’t remember any of their names so he was indiscriminate.

His favourite comedy act were the duo Hammer and Sickle who performed together from 1922 – 1930. A young whimsical double act whose catchphrase “Trot on Trotsky” they became a huge success after being championed by Stalin who made them the first comedy act to play Red Square. Hammer went on to form another double act with Alexsander Sledge while Sickle started doing shows about capitalism. Uncle Joe then went on to be responsible for the deaths of around 27 million people.

Pol Pot

An idiot who hated all things high-brow. Despite the quirky name Paul was awful at pottery. His first business – Paul’s Pots – failed miserably and so he went into his second passion – dictating. He managed to kill about 25% of the Cambodian population in only 4 years. His immense dislike of people with glasses meant he intensely disliked acts such as Robin Ince, Jenny Eclair and Sean Lock.

It has been suggested his favourite TV show ever was Big Break and in particular, the trick shots and the banter between Davidson and Virgo.

john virgo pol pot

Pol Pot had a brief second career as a snooker trick shot specialist. He was no match for John Virgo though.

Vlad the Improviser

A brutal bastard by all accounts, Vlad III Dracula ruled in Romania from 1456- 1462. He got his nickname from the fact he would require no prior planning of the army when undertaking battles with his enemies. Always saying “Yes” to a battle meant that Vlad was constantly fighting on his dictator ship which sailed down the Danube. He trained at Third City Improv along with Attila the Hun.

Adolf Hitler

Adolph (short for Adolphin) led Germany until 1945 when he shot himself dead at an open-mic comedy night in a bunker. If you’ve not heard of him you might have heard of the World War sequel in which he was the main antagonist. He was originally an artist – the artist formerly and still known as Adolf Hitler. Adolphin therefore enjoyed the intellectual comedy of Berlin’s alternative scene.

Some say he didn’t have a sense of humour. Others say that he did and it was so highly developed that he made it look like he didn’t and he would only laugh at the bits that “didn’t work”. His favourite act was “Phillip Phillips” who didn’t really do jokes as such as his act essentially involved urinating on drawings of sausages from different regions of Germany.

Robert Mugabe

As someone who has gotten to know Mugabe in the past I can firmly say he is a grade-A nutjob. The Zimbabwean dictator has a love-hate relationship with Britain. He considers himself a British gentleman despite fighting for years for independence and when he Labour government, under Tony Blair, refused to continue paying land reform subsidies agreed upon in the Lancaster House agreement of 1980, he turned his back on British comedy scene.

Until 1998 his favourite act was the British comedian Russ Abbot. However, since then he has started watching a lot more American acts and can be heard banging on about Louis CK, Ham Adams, Patton Oswalt and how he listens to Bill Burr’s podcast every week.

Matt Winning: Mugabe and Me (3D)
August 8-29, 3.45pm

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