A Pile of Wit

Thu 1st – Sat 10th August 2013


James Cetkovski

at 08:56 on 4th Aug 2013



If you’re going to call your show A Pile of Wit it had better be good. “Witty” seems like one of those adjectives you can’t really use about yourself. Hubris, you know.

“A Pile of Wit” isn’t nearly good enough. It’s fairly standard, less than inspired improv. Viz.: the final scene was a song for which the audience provided the theme: “I need a life event that occurs between ten and twenty,” said one of the Pile. “Seventeen,” replied an audience member. The Pile didn’t do itself any favours when it accepted that suggestion. There followed a short, semi-musical narration of a seventeen year old anticipating being able to take his driving test, taking his driving test, and being pleased about having passed his driving test, with many interludes of nonsense like, “Rhyme rhyme rhyme rhyme” that occurred when the designated Pile member couldn’t think of anything meaningful to add.


It wasn’t all like this, and maybe it’s unfair to give a low point as my only example, but the truth is that the higher points just weren’t that memorable. At pretty much any improv show an audience has to be willing to endure a fair amount of dross patiently in order to be rewarded for a handful of golden moments. The extraordinary pressure improv comedians constantly face to be spontaneous, creative, and funny is what makes the moments of gold so lustrous and the moments of—well, it rhymes with “wit”—so very excruciating. But today the ratio of dross to gold wasn’t high enough, and the gold we were offered wasn’t especially pure. The interludes of nonsense were frequent; too often the Pile found itself defeated by its scenarios. There’s a certain amount of comedy that can be extracted from a comedian admitting that he doesn’t know what to do, but this kind of comedy thins very quickly indeed. 'A Pile of Wit' soon found itself in the terrible territory of sympathy laughter. There’s nothing worse than the pity of an audience you’re trying to amuse.

Don’t get me wrong: I think improv comedy has to be one of the hardest things to do there is, up there with Alaskan crab fishing and concert piano. I have serious, serious admiration for anyone who’s willing and able to do it, and this most definitely includes the members of the Pile, who despite everything above are really not untalented folk. But, somehow, despite its absolutely astonishing difficulty, there is a good amount of decent improv comedy in the world. So if 'A Pile of Wit 'wants to keep charging people money to watch it do what it does, it’s going to have to do it better. And it should maybe change its name.


Florence Strickland

at 10:01 on 4th Aug 2013



I’m always unsure how improvisation, especially comedy, should be reviewed - or if you can actually review it. There’s a basic formula, but most shows are different. It definitely takes courage and your own bodyweight in energy to bash performances out every day. So here we had The Antics’ offering of their improv comedy on a Saturday afternoon, calling their show ‘A Pile of Wit’ – confidence itself. For the performance that I saw, all the pieces were in place, but they didn’t quite fit together – if I’d come on another day it might have been better.

I hate audience participation, it usually leaves me dying of embarrassment in my seat. However, The Antics’ dealt with this element of their performance quite well. It may have been someone’s mum, but there was no meanness to their comedy and the audience member wasn’t close to tears after being ridiculed back to her seat. So far, so good.

The range of individual personalities within the troupe meant that the strongest members constantly refreshed the ongoing games that the comedians played out for us. On the other hand, the weaker members whose jokes sometimes fell flat, slowed down the energy that the others had built up. There was therefore a frustrating element to the performance. Despite the energy that was thrown about by some, a quicker pace would have been better. This was especially the case in the less successful parts of the act.

Impersonating Jimmy Saville was always going to be an interesting choice. Thank god it stayed on the right side of the wrong topic. I kind of felt like the comedian realised what he’d taken on halfway through, but he did just about pull it off. But, I suppose this was all in the spirit of improvisation.

As a whole, the act dealt themselves a hard task; secret envelopes naming the next thing they had to act out, suggestions from the audience, and on-the-spot decision making. Things that fell flat meant three minutes of boredom. A success was bound to be a winner as the audience were always looking for the next joke. It was funny, but I’d like to go on another night to see whether a different hand might deal a better performance.


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