THEY SURVIVED freezing temperatures in America, killer snails ‘down under’, tropical gangsters, and ‘too cool for school’ Californians. Intact and unbowed, they now take on Ireland.
Foil, Arms & Hog, the brilliant Irish comedy sketch group, described as “pure brilliant’ by Tommy Tiernan; “really funny” by Kevin Bridges; and “hilarious” by The Independent”, are coming to the Róisín Dubh on Friday April 4 at 8pm.
The trio - Sean Finegan (Foil), Conor McKenna (Arms), and Sean Flanagan (Hog) - have just returned from a tour of the USA and Australia, an experience Sean Finegan describes as “a learning curve”.
“We survived snow in Chicago and witnessed an attempted murder in Hawaii, apart from that we had very good gigs,” Sean tells me during our Tuesday afternoon interview. “The response in Chicago was great as they love Irish people. San Francisco was a bit cooler, not the weather, but the atmosphere, while LA was a cold melting pot of showbiz, mixing between these great arty nights and standard comedy clubs, where it’s ‘get in, get out’.”
After the US, the lads spent three weeks in Australia for the Adelaide Fringe Festival where they won the Highly Commended Award, although even here there were scrapes with a roughhouse Mother Nature.
“Something bit my foot,” says Sean. “The people in Adelaide were lovely, but otherwise it was highly dangerous. Anything that moves can kill you. Did you know they have a snail there that can kill humans? A harpoon like thing shoots out from it, covered in poison!”
The trio first encountered each other through the Drama Society at UCD. Later they were involved in a stage show of Fr Ted which they toured around Ireland. They were interested in bringing it to Edinburgh but were prevented by copyright issues. Undaunted, they proceeded to the Scottish capital as a sketch trio, and so was born Foil, Arms & Hog. But where do the stage names come from?
“Foil always plays being the straight person, the one audiences can identify with as he’s normal, hence he’s the ‘foil’ for the rest of us,” Sean explains. “Arms is because Conor is always flailing about on stage and waving his arms, but then they said ‘We’ve no slag for Finegan, but wait, he hogs all the good parts!’”
It is a snappy name, and should be easy to remember, but the trio have experienced otherwise.
“In the International Comedy Club in Dublin one night a guy came up and called us ‘Tinfoil, Slummer, and Hutch’ full of confidence, he was that sure. There was a woman as well who said, ‘Boil, Fame, and Weed’ - don’t ask me, she’d had more jars than the other fellah!”
An overall name which emphasises the individuality of each member of the trio, serves also to highlight the different skills and influences each brings to table.
“Monty Python is something we all enjoy, it’s silly and random,” says Sean. “I would like The League Of Gentlemen, but the others would prefer the Marx Brothers. We have varied styles. I like violent, dark, warped humour. Foil would ask ‘Is this clever?’ and Arms is flamboyant and slapstick.
“Those different styles create a good dynamic, and that is something people comment on. Audiences enjoy our stuff most when it seems to be just us messing around or if we screwed up. We usually go, ‘Really? But what about all the clever stuff we did?’ But I don’t think you could get away with any of that unless you first were able to get the audience on side and show that there is an intelligence to your comedy. I think the dynamics allow us to do all that.”
Foil, Arms & Hog write and rehearse sketches in their Clown HQ office in an industrial estate in Dublin, and more recently they have branched out into YouTube, setting themselves the challenging task of posting a new comedy sketch to watch on the site every Thursday.
“It has been demanding, especially touring,” says Sean, “trying to do them while we’re running to the airport, writing, filming, editing, and uploading, but we have managed it.”
Video sketches of note include The Ex-Pope’s Job Interview for Centra, and the Ceol agus Ól series (“they’ve been really popular with Gaelgoirs,” Sean notes), but Hashtag has proven the show stealer.
“There was a sketch by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, which was the same idea, but we did ours a year before,” says Sean. “Then the Irish papers picked up on it. The Star said ‘Irish trio get joke stolen by Timberlake’, but that only helped out video go viral and get more than 100,000 hits. We thought there was something wrong with the counter, but it kept jumping up! So please steal our sketches!”
YouTube has been both a brilliant platform for the trio in bringing their comedy to a wide audience, but also as a ‘training ground’ for developing sketches for television. “It is great practice,” Sean says. “We’re working towards our own TV show. That is the ultimate goal.”
The Róisín Dubh show will feature new Foil, Arms & Hog sketches as well as some old favourites, and perhaps even including ‘The Netmen’.
“We had these nets in the office, and one day Foil wraps one around his head and says to me, ‘For too long, the net people have been persecuted by the humans...’ We’ve even been asked to consider writing a mini-TV series on The Netmen.
“It’s the same with our other sketch, The Chairheads, with this mother, father, and daughter with chairs for heads. Then the daughter brings home her boyfriend and he has a human head, so the father gets very racist, calling him a ‘roundhead’. It’s one of our few ‘message’ laden sketches!”
Support is from Jarlath Regan. Tickets are available at www.roisindubh.net, the Ticket Desk at OMG Zhivago, Shop Street, and The Róisín Dubh.