Boys from Britain triumph again [by James Wenley]
British sketch comedy quadrangle Idiots of Ants were my favourite acts in their Auckland debut at last year’s Comedy Festival. Amidst an amusement of stand-up comedians, Ants are a fresh and lively point of laughter-filled difference. Sketch as a form seems to be viewed as a bit antiquated today – it had its heyday in the Oxford/Cambridge humour of Monty Python, and the form has been noticeably absent in New Zealand since the days of Billy T James. What the members of Ants (Andrew Spiers, Elliott Tiney, Benjamin Wilson and James Wrighton.) do so well is take both a clever meta-ironic commentary on the form, but also wholeheartedly embrace the silliness of it all. And in Model Citizens especially it’s how they use us – their audience – that takes the show to a gleeful brilliance.
It doesn’t take them very long at all when the first sketch starts for the Idiots of Ants to turn to us and break the fourth wall – the loose premise of the show is that the boys live in a flat which just happens to have one very special feature: a live audience who think everything they do is funny and then mysteriously leave after an hour. It’s just the start of many wonderful moments between the idiots onstage and the ants below, including the song ‘The man who took the audience to dinner’, which extends the idea of group dating to its logical extreme, and has the audience enthusiastically participate with powerpoint provided dialogue. It all culminated for this reviewer with a knock to the head with a stale bread roll flung into seating. This isn’t a show that pulls up red-faced audience members onstage, but the audience’s participation is an important part of the show. And the Ants lads charm us enough to make us want to too.
Sketches often revolve around absurd ‘what ifs’, like what if all conversations happened at gun-point? Or what would happen if the hangman game played out in real life? They avoid politics or too heavy social commentary, but if there is something deeper to be taken from the frivolity, many sketches do speak to schizoid blokes in a post-post feminist landscape: they coo over babies before tossing them in the air or, in another, they apologise if they have offended the front row, which happens to be made up entirely of women. Sketches run from 5 seconds to a good five minutes, and some material is weaved and reincorporated throughout the show.
Some sketches are familiar for those like me who saw their show last year, like their favourite ‘Dad Jokes’ sketch, which was also televised as part of the 2012 gala, and played out as I had remembered it. What it did provide was an opportunity to reflect on how good their craft is: vocal inflections, physical quirks and well honed timing exactly rehearsed to deliver the most laughs. But they also can adapt at lightning speed to whatever each night’s audience throws them. They are a team that know and play to their individual strengths, a unit that together produces comedy gold.
The flatmate premise that ties Model Citizens together is not as conceptually strong as their self-titled show last year, but is perfect as a first introduction to Ants, or for continued appreciation for second-comers like me. Their encore, which manages to get the entire Q audience to stand and join in, leaves you with an exhilarating feel-good factor as you leave the theatre… to be greeted by the Ants members giving out free badges and encouraging us to tell our friends if we liked it – “it’s a big theatre to fill!”. Well I liked it, so, if you want a break from those comedians behind the microphones, Idiots of Ants are your men.
Idiots of Ants: Model Citizens plays at Q’s Rangatira as part of the 2013 NZ International Comedy Festival until 4 May. Details see Comedy Festival.