Interview: Idiots of Ants

Simon ParkinSketch comedy group Idiots of Ants have won a colony of fans and gained a Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination with their well-honed gag-packed routines. As they prepare to match on Norwich, SIMON PARKIN caught up with Andrew Spiers.Simon Parkin

Sketch comedy group Idiots of Ants have won a colony of fans and gained a Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination with their well-honed gag-packed routines. As they prepare to match on Norwich, SIMON PARKIN caught up with ensemble member Andrew Spiers.

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The Idiots of Ants are Benjamin Wilson, James Wrighton, Elliott Tiney and Andrew Spiers. They formed in 2007 and, after a sell-out Edinburgh Festival debut, they have gone on to perform at festivals and gigs all over the UK. Their blend of fast-paced sketch comedy has attracted a large following both live and online.

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t What can we expect to see in Norwich - will it be This Is War, your award-nominated show from Edinburgh last year?

We're going to bring a best of show. We've been up to Edinburgh for three years now and so we're going to bring two or three sketches from our first year show, a few more from the second year and most of them from the third. And we're going to be putting some new material in too as we go along. We're going to mix it up as much as possible. It should be really good fun. This is the first time we've done a tour, so we're trying to make the best we can.

t How does creating a touring show differ from one-offs?

It's a longer show which we've done a few of before and it really means we can get into it a lot more The Edinburgh shows trend to be about 55 minutes long, so it quite nice to extend that and have a bit more fun with things, with a first and second half.

t How did you originally meet?

We met at university and drama school. So we're classically training - every ticket is worth the price! We knew one another and were all gigging on the comedy circuit and we decided to get together and write stuff and so how it went. It's gone quite well, so we've stuck at it.

t What's the idea behind the name Idiots of Ants?

It's a very, very clever pun on the French 'idiot savant', which means fool in the know or idiot genius. We were messing about in Jimmy's flat one day deciding what to call ourselves when Elliot suggested 'idiot savant' and we said that's a bit pretentious, how about we do a very clever pun and it stuck. It's funny actually that friends who've known us since university have only recently said 'I've just got it!'.

t Your look of shirts and ties is very smart. It's good to see you making the effort.

Thanks. We believe sketch comedy should be smart. We seem to make more of an effort than the audience. Not many turn up in shirts and ties yet, but you never know.

t Sketch comedy seems to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance at the moment.

It definitely is in terms of the live stuff. But if you think about the stuff on TV like Mitchell and Webb and Armstrong and Miller, they've all done their Edinburgh innings, as have the Mighty Boosh, but there certainly seems to be a new wave of sketch comedy that people are picking up on. It's great and interesting, particularly as it means more people are aware of sketch comedy. People think you see it on television but not live.

t Are audiences scared of sketch comedy?

I think Pappy's start their shows saying 'it's sketch comedy, but don't worry we're not s***'. People's expectations of it are quite low in lots of ways. But then there are lots of people doing it, some good some not so good, so you can understand it. It's not as easy to understand as straight stand-up.

t Is sketch comedy ready made for TV?

It's interesting because we had TV in mind from the outset in a lot of ways with our stylistic approach. But it is amazing actually just how much we've had to adapt the live stuff. That was a mistake we made early on, trying to imitate TV when you've really got to bring a live element to the audience and make thing theatrical. Certain things that work on TV just don't work on stage, in terms of the attention span.

t You're Facebook skit has almost four million hits on Youtube. Did that surprise you?

It's funny because Facebook was just kicking off at that point. It was that time when people we're just starting to get annoyed with the lack of privacy and old friends from school turning up and saying 'hello, I'm just checking out your life in cyberspace - I'm not a stalker!'. We did that for a BBC3 show called The Wall, but it's now approaching four million hits and it's gone all around the world. My sister lives in Australia and someone showed it to her in a bar, and she was like 'that's my brother!'.

t Has the internet been good for comedy?

It's been great actually. We did a sketch that Youtube chose to feature on their front page global and it was getting hundreds of thousands of hits in a week. With TV ratings you can never tell how many people have seen it, but online you know straight away how many people have watched plus they all leave comments. It's a really exciting way of getting yourself out there, and it's good in terms of transferring to TV because it's a similar medium. We've just shot lots of sketches for BBC online and it's some of the best stuff we've ever done.

t BBC3 come in for quite a bit of criticism. Has it been important for you?

I know people do give it a kicking, but I think it's been important. It has certainly expanded the breadth of the comedy that's on TV. At the moment you've got Russell Howard's Good News that's a great show. It's great that a lot of Edinburgh comedians have been given a chance to have a series and get their stuff out there.

t You'll be back in this region for Latitude. Are you look forward to that?

We couldn't go last year because we were at a comedy festival in Montreal, so we're really looking forward to going back to Latitude. I love the festival; there is so much comedy on and there is whole literary arena and people doing talks and great bands. It should be excellent.

t Idiots of Ants will be at Norwich Arts Centre on April 14, �10 (�8 cons), 01603 660352,