2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival:
• Idiots of Ants

Posted on 19 April 2012

UK troupe Idiots of Ants (say that fast and you get “idiot savants”) brings a high level of polish to their sketch work. Much of their material could happily insert itself into the likes of BBC television shows Big Train or The Armstrong and Miller Show.

Idiots of Ants start with their strongest and lengthiest sketch, which is set in World War II, then move on to a series of sketches covering traditional comic material. It would have been nice if they had ended with another corker, but they do bring the show to a nice climax by finding ways to cleverly involve the audience.

Sketches included training for dads to be, how to execute fart pranks, and strange new 3D console games. At first the segments could be shown on any early evening television show. People laughed loudly and there was a delightful sense of being able to relax and have fun. Then the sketches started wandering over into blue material, and though it was funny too, I felt disappointed. These guys have the skill and talent to make adults laugh through genuine wit. When you have such a clear advantage, why not run with it?

I did take exception with one of their sketches about a hens night. I will pass on the lecture that was given to me and a classroom full of comedians by the male owner of a comedy restaurant. When you tell deeply sexist jokes or perform deeply sexist caricatures, the men will laugh and you may think “people are laughing.” In fact less than half your audience are laughing. Women are much more likely to go to live events than men. You alienate the women then neither they nor their husbands or boyfriends, who they jollied to go along, show up at your venue again. The women will be very polite about it, but the restaurant starts having a hard time getting sufficient punters to sustain itself. You don’t have to be a feminist to recognise the economic reality.

A certain amount of gender caricaturisation is fine. We laugh at the absurdity of misunderstandings. At some point gender humour becomes a form of mockery and bullying, either direction. If you aren’t certain whether you’ve gone too far…just find people of the relevant gender and ask, “Do you find this insulting or off-putting?” You will have people who say, “it’s fine” while thinking it’s not and some who will get upset at anything, but at least you have a greater chance of finding out where the balance lays.

One point I would congratulate the Idiots of Ants performers on is their use of multimedia. Computers and digital projectors have become ubiquitous at comedy venues. Most of the time they are used badly. Comedians let their amateur film productions do too much of the work for them. Worse, if they run moving images while they are performing, it will almost always upstage their live work. Sadly, people are more likely to be glued to the screen than you.

Idiots of Ants not only used their multimedia to enhance certain sketches, such as the console game segment, they also found ways to make it an interactive tool to include their audience. I was genuinely surprised by their real-time photo manipulations.

These guys are a talented bunch. I’m certain they’ve got solid comedy careers into the future.

Peace and kindness,



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