Idiot of Ants - fast paced sketch group have a fan in John Cleese

“IF YOU want to guarantee putting a smile on your face, it’s hard to think of a better show to see,” so declared The Daily Telegraph about the English comedy sketch group Idiot of Ants, who make their Irish debut in Galway next week.

Idiot Of Ants play The Laughter Lounge in the Róisín Dubh on Wednesday April 21 at 8.30pm, and as Galway audiences will be coming to the Ants fresh, what can they expect to see on the night?

“It will be a collection of fast paced sketches,” Ant member James Wrighton tells me during our Tuesday morning interview. “It will start off being set in World War II and we will move from there. We will do about 17 or 18 sketches and a few songs, and take the audience out to dinner...”

So we’re going to be wined and dined as well as entertained? “We set up a table as though we were bringing you out for dinner and we sing a song about how the night went from there,” says James. “We had to change that once though. We were playing Scarborough in a venue where they serve food, so if we did that sketch people would have thought we were about to bring them out their dinner!”

At the show the Ants will also give a demonstration of their new Wii game Urban Sword Fighter 3.

“Andrew and I play the game and we control Ben and Elliot who are in it,” says James. “It’s a Wii game and we’ll have Wii swords, and a great backdrop for the fight. There will be audiovisuals and audience participation, but we will take the whole thing down a different route you don’t expect.”

The Ants are Andrew Spiers, James Wrighton, Elliott Tiney, and Benjamin Wilson. All were in London in 2006 trying to make their way in comedy and acting. James and Ben knew each other from Birmingham University and eventually came across Andrew and Elliott. All had a shared a love of sketch comedy, particularly Monty Python, The League Of Gentlemen, and Simon Pegg, and an interest in forming a troupe.

The group’s name is a pun on the term idiot savant, a rare condition in which a person with developmental disorders has an area of expertise, ability, or brilliance in contrast with his/her limitations. An example is the British artist Stephen Wiltshire, who draws highly detailed architectural scenes, after seeing a building or photograph for only a few seconds.

“We liked the term as we are all playing idiots on stage,” says James. “Idiot savant was a bit pretentious though and people might expect a French group, so we thought ‘Why don’t we have a pun on words?’ Also the website name was available. If you Google idiot savant you get thousands of websites, but with Idiot of Ants you just get us.”

Ambitious from the start, the group staged their first show in January 2007 and it received such a positive reaction that they felt confident enough to invite Ryan Taylor, the comedy programmer for the Edinburgh Festival, and to see them. So impressed was Ryan that he is now the group’s manager.

Two years later and the Ants have enjoyed sell-out shows at the Edinburgh festivals plus a 2009 Edinburgh award nomination. They have recorded sketches for the BBC and Channel 4, and the Ants ‘Facebook in real life’ and ‘Wii Breakfast’ sketches have become phenomenally popular on YouTube.

They are also enjoying praise from the critics: “Idiots of Ants invest intelligence and showmanship in all they do,” said The Times while The Independent declared them to be “hugely enjoyable…mainstream success surely awaits”.

A ringing endorsement of the group came when one of the icons of sketch comedy, John Cleese, introduced the group at the HBO British Gala and gave them an interview (which can be seen on www.idiotofants.com ). What were their impressions of the great man?

“He’s an absolute legend, a true gentleman,” says James. “He rehearsed and rehearsed and was fine tuning his act all the time before he went on stage. That was encouraging to us to see someone so experienced work hard at what he was doing. He had to introduce us at the show and afterwards came up to us said ‘Was that OK?’ People say when you meet your heroes that you’ll be disappointed, but that wasn’t true for us at all.”

In Basil Fawlty, and in many of his Monty Python characters, Cleese often played an uptight, stiffly formal man, who was always a hair’s breath from snapping into a manic rage. Having been face to face with Cleese, how close is he to those characters he portrayed?

“He’s pretty close,” laughs James. “He will swear like no one else. We got him riffing about Idiot of Ants and he just went off on one. It was amazing to see him go off on a rant like that, he was just like he was on Fawlty Towers.”

The Ants are looking to make the break into television and have laid some ground with a pilot for E4 as part of the Funny Cut season. They also recently completed a series of sketches for BBC online which are due to be aired later this month.

“The internet is an incredibly good testing ground for the material to see how it goes down,” says James. “We’ll have to wait and see, but hopefully it will lead into a TV show as that’s what we want.”

Support on the night is from Eleanor Tiernan and Eugene Maher. Karl Spain will be the MC. Monty will be DJing afterwards. Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.

 

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