To win tickets to the Foil, Arms and Hog birthday show on April 12th – go here!
Foil, Arms and Hog have been rising through the ranks of Irish sketch comedy over the past six years with their particular brand of off-the-wall humour. When we go to meet them in their offices in an unlikely industrial estate we find their door proudly emblazoned as a “hair retrieval specialists” sandwiched in between solicitors and electrical repair companies. Inside however, the walls are covered in flyers and tickets from sell-out performances and a giant nine of hearts lies discarded on the floor. ‘Arms’ later explains that he once fell down a flight of stairs while wearing it, during a particularly difficult show. The trio of Sean Finegan (Foil), Conor McKenna (Arms) and the unfortunately absent Sean Flanagan (Hog) began their lives together studying and acting in UCD and now, six years later, have just returned from their first ever world tour. They have their own radio show on 98FM and have played to sell-out audiences both here and in the UK and their Vicar Street birthday party represents just how far they’ve come. On stage they exude unbelievable energy, embodying everything from Irish mammies working for a sex hotline to men made of sand in a battle of wits. Totally Dublin picked the brains of Foil and Arms to find out what’s next.
With Hog chasing love over in the States at the moment what are you going to do if he stays there?
S: Well, at the moment obviously we’ve been splitting the money three ways, so if he doesn’t come back that’s an extra 17%.
Tell me about how the group came together from studying in university?
S: We were just all doing plays in Drama Soc and we’d all naturally gravitated towards the funny plays and ended up in a lot of them together.
C: We were also writing scripts and characters and screwing around.
S: It started out that there were a lot of people doing sketches in that society and we fell into that because we had a real appetite for it. Also we all lived quite close together.
C: Yeah there were people that lived in like… Leixlip
S: Yes, geography was a major factor in the forming of Foil, Arms and Hog. We did it for about two years and then realised that people might actually give us money to do this.
C: I mean, not much money. But Sean was still in college, I was working as a lifeguard and Sean Flanagan was trying to become an actor and we were still all meeting up and writing sketches in Mammy’s kitchen.
S: The recession was actually brilliant for us. When we came out of college there were no jobs for the areas we’d studied in. Hog had done engineering, I’d done architecture and Conor had done genetics. So it was such an easy decision, there aren’t any jobs, so why don’t we just do what we love instead?
C: Well I actually was offered a job, it was a PhD, but it was trying to find the genetic basis of tuberculosis. In badgers. They’re culling them for God’s sake!
S: Comedy had a bit of a boom in the recession as well, more comedy gigs opened up, there were more spots and people wanted a bit of a laugh.
How have you managed to reach six years together? With other sketch groups such as Betrayal of Penguins that have made a move into other, solo projects what is the glue that has kept you all together?
S: As a trio I think we, individually, aren’t that talented, so there was kind of no choice there. As a group in comedy as well there’s a bit of outliving the others so you become the most successful by default because the alternatives are eliminated.
C: Well putting in the time really helps, you get better every year and you learn how to work together better. It’s been great.
Do you have any big plans for this birthday party? Can we expect anything different?
S: We’re just going to treat it like anything, we’re just going to go out and have a laugh and try brand new sketches. It’s a bit unusual to do that at this kind of a show but we’ll go for it because the atmosphere is amazing and the fans will be there.
C: They’ll probably be too nice to us though. We’ve tried new stuff in front of our fans and thought it was great and then it’s died on its arse everywhere else. They actually prolong the lives of bad sketches, giving them a little hit from the defibrillator. It would be great if we could do one of the big shows a year though. Tickets have sold well so far but you just never know whether people are going to come back every year.
S: Comedy is great way to keep you humble. I mean you could rock out to 1,000 people in Vicar Street and then die on your ass in front of 60 people in The International. When we were in Hawaii we gigged to like 11 people.
How different is it playing to a huge room like Vicar Street as opposed to some of the smaller crowds when you have such a particular and physical style of comedy?
S: We’ve gradually gotten used to playing to bigger crowds with say the Iveagh Gardens or Kilkenny Cat Laughs as well as our time in Edinburgh.
C: When you’re playing a 100-seater and there’s a corner of the room that don’t like you, it’s really obvious. But when you’re playing to a 1,000-seater and there are ten people that aren’t feeling it, you don’t pay as much attention to it.
S: Normally we quite like it to be intimate so we can mess with the audience and pull them up on stage more easily but there’s something about Vicar Street that remains intimate despite its size. It has a nice feel to it.
C: We’ll probably have to go bigger and more cartoony but that’s OK. The atmosphere is brilliant, it’s the best place to play in Dublin.
So take me through the etymology of the name, how did it come about?
S: Nicknames actually – we had to come up with something really quickly. We slagged each other about how we performed and so I got the Foil, the straight and boring guy that people bounce the jokes off.
C: Arms was just, I mean, my arms and legs are all over the place! And Hog is because he just hogs the limelight all the time and gets all the best parts. In the beginning, Hog had all the best parts, Foil had all the boring parts and I had the occasional weird part. I wouldn’t really do an awful lot so I’d generally have the part that came in at the end saying, “Now, wait a minute!”
S: Hog would be getting all the zingers, and I’d be setting them all up.
Is there a different breakdown in characters now?
C: We try to vary it now for the audience as much as ourselves to keep surprising them. When comedians do the same thing repeatedly it loses its potency quite quickly. Really though, it’s more for us because otherwise we’d be so bored.
Now that you’ve moved into radio and other mediums how are you finding it in comparison to strictly stage work?
S: We really love all the other stuff and it helps to break up writing a stage show all year round. It’s a great release to work on film and radio. We’ve only been attacking film properly for the last year and a half and we’ve really had a lot to learn.
C: Film is really interesting because it’s not like on stage where you get to test what works and what doesn’t in front of an audience. On film you don’t get that opportunity and you have to go with your gut. That said it’s also a lot easier because you can be so much more subtle. So many scripts that we’ve written have depended on a single facial expression to make it work and you can’t really do that on stage because if people don’t see it then they won’t understand the sketch.
S: Stage is the hardest by far. We’d love to have a TV show.
C: It’s hard to convince people who commission [shows] to invest in a straight sketch show where the sketches are largely unrelated. It’s really expensive though because you’re changing location all the time, you can’t really be like, “So, this one is set in the desert…”
S: With the stuff we put on YouTube, we’re working a lot and building up a portfolio and figuring out what works on screen and what’s brutal.
Have you ever considered making the move to the UK or do you think you’ll stay in Ireland?
S: We’ll never leave Ireland we don’t think. We can go and gig in the UK all the time.
C: Ireland is going to be the place that we’ll make a living from it. If you go and tour every single year around the country and do all the arts centres and theatres you’ll make a decent living and that would be brilliant.
S: I mean, look and Tommy (Tiernan) and Neil Delamere.
C: And they have to die at some point.
If you’ve never laid eyes on this incredibly emotive trio you’ll have to make it your business to catch their birthday performance in Vicar Street, 7.30pm, April 12th, with tickets costing €20. You can win one of 4 pairs of tickets to their gig right here
Words: Emily Carson // Photos: Stephen Gallagher