Interview: Foil, Arms and Hog

Sketch troupe Foil, Arms and Hog talk to Jack Walsh about the makings of a sketch, gay gyms and Irish filmsHidden within the depths of Kimmage is a small, unglamorous office space. Nothing looks particularly out of the ordinary, until you see the mounted cymbals, the trademark closers of a Foil, Arms and Hog set. The sketch comedy trio Sean Finegan (Foil), Conor McKenna (Arms) and Sean Flanagan (Hog) have been developing their own blend of observational sketch comedy for over five years, with their humble beginnings in UCD’s DramSoc. They were quick to comment on the shifting nature of turning professional: “It was a bit weird, there was a little bit of uncertainty about it. The work also wasn’t there at that time to make it full-time but it’s the only way to improve. I think a lot of people will stay with their jobs for years and years but you just don’t get that level of progress.”Working in an office environment, the trio are given the full freedom of essentially each other’s imaginations, something which Flanagan adores when writing: “My favourite ones are the misunderstanding ones, where someone has an idea, and someone else picks it up and make it their own. Like they misheard something and got the wrong idea and those sketches are always the best, they don’t follow a logical train of thought. It’s just an accident in the creative process. The golf sketch’s original idea was I told one idea to Fingo and he said ‘Oh yeah, like this?’ and I was like ‘No, but that funny!’ We said it to McKenna and he was like ‘Oh right, do you mean like this?’ Again, we said ‘No, but that’s even funnier!’”McKenna continued: “It became a sketch about golfers to a sketch about the noises that they make being played by big speakers behind them. Because he couldn’t do the noises without the speaker, he did it from his mouth. And I was like ‘That’s funny how you’re doing that from your mouth’ and he was like ‘No, I meant from the speaker’, and I went ‘But it’s funnier from the mouth’ and he was like ‘Yeah, it is.’”Now a part of the 98fm broadcast team, McKenna excited to mention how the show is going: “It’s a lot of cheesy ideas really, a lot of chat. It’s just a long form chat with a few sketches and some good ideas, and it’s mostly improvised. It’s really a great practice as it has taken us a while to get into our stride and be confident in what were saying. We have stopped doing dead air now too, which is great! The radio has helped the stage, so everything we are doing essentially feeds into everything else”.Although the sketches often discuss Irish goings on, the lads have never described their work as intentionally ‘Irish’, more being what appeared funny to them at the time, as Finnegan explains: “We’re definitely not going out of our way to talk about Irish stuff. The Brennan’s sketch, for example, will be on the BBC in a decade all talking about really British products. That’s a good sketch because it’s funny no matter what you say, you could do ten million different versions for different countries. We went with Brennan’s because it’s a big stupid yellow bag and it looks ridiculous”.Scrawled on the windows of their office are, among other things, numbered descriptions of sketch ideas that are often just two words. Hesitant to tell us the ‘secret formula’ of successful comedy and with the reminder that every sketch will be redone about 20 times, Flanagan explained: “Irish play’, we were working on that last night. It’s now an Irish film, about every single Irish trope ever, like depression and the famine and religion. All the things you would find in every other Irish film, in one film.”McKenna continued: “Another one is gay gym. Basically it’s a gym that, where… here’s the half-baked premise: You know how you see like gym open till 4am? That’s not a gym; you can’t go in and get a month’s membership. And they’re like ‘Well sir, just to remind you this isn’t a gym, this is a place where people go to have sex.’ ‘But you said you have a sauna?’ ‘Nope it’s just a big bed.’ ‘Okay, could I get a personal trainer?’ ‘Again, that’s a prostitute.’ It’s more stand up then sketch really. The ad would be based around a gym pretending to be a gym but every so often it betrays itself.”Never wanting to be described as teases, Flanagan then flipped open a surprisingly organised A4 pad with a new sketch that will most likely be tried out on the radio: ‘Ghost Audition’. The trio then spent the next ten minutes bouncing out the sketch, with each character being swapped and changed, and tiny details being tweaked and revelled in.From a fan’s perspective it’s an amazing thing to watch and, as Finnegan asserts, it’s the reason sketch is such an attractive medium to work in: “The big thing is that you can bring an idea alive. With stand up there’s a certain way of telling it, but I think people love imagining things as it is, like people are already trying to think through a stand ups set in their heads, Like, what would happen if what he was saying happened? Where they tell a joke and act out a scene. If you get two to three people, then the scene just comes alive.”Foil, Arms and Hog will be playing in Whelans on April 13th, tickets are €15 and are on sale now