Updated: Oct 13, 2020
FAH's 41st Foray into Fatherhood
Fathers, dads, and daddies are a mainstay in FAH's arsenal of characters. Each member of the trio has played a father in sketches over the years. After combing through all 324 videos on their YouTube channel and watching their five live shows, I counted 41 sketches that concern fathers and fatherhood.* Of the 41, Foil has played the most fathers at 24 and Hog the least at 6. Arms falls in the middle of these two numbers at 11 father characters.
As a father Foil is typically, but not always, characterized as open, affectionate, giving, and quite loving, "Sandcastle Competition" being the epitome of this ideal of fatherhood (see blog post #3). But other sketches offer similar moments, such as "Telling Your Family You’re Vegan" or "Leaving Cert Study Nightmare," which show a Dad who cares about helping his child with diet and exams, respectively. Other sides to Foil’s fatherhood sketches show him learning of his new fatherly responsibilities ("Paper Bag Hats"), struggling with the chaos of family around the holidays ("A Very Irish Christmas," "The Post X-mas Sales," and "Christmas Rage"), and handling the weird, whacky, and surprising characterizations of fathers: "Brexit Divorce", "Tennis" and "When Your Dad is a Social Influencer". Foil’s oeuvre is large and wide-ranging and offers us a variety of diverse perspectives about fathers and fatherhood.
Hog has contributed the least to this canon, but he has played two standout fathers. One is in the very funny "Childcare Hacks" and the other is one of the most provocative father characters, and that is “daddy” in the "Chairheads" sketch, which examines such subjects as mixed relationships, family tensions, blatant racism, and finally strange love between a female chairhead and a male human.
Arms, as a father, has a different sensibility entirely to both Foil and Hog. His father characters have run the gamut from the macabre ("The Baby Head Clamp") to the devoted ("A Very Irish Film"). Compared to Foil, it might seem that Arms has yet to establish himself as a definitive "Dad," but all that changed with the recent publication of the astonishingly brilliant "When People Talk to Their Children About You" (July 30, 2020).
The plot of this sketch concerns three characters sitting in a cafe: Arms is Daddy, as he calls himself, Foil, is an unnamed dog owner and Hog, is a person sitting in the cafe, also unnamed. All three people end up sitting close to one another and Arms speaks most of the time to his child (gender unknown, but Daddy calls the child "sweetheart" and "honey") about the people around him. Foil/dog owner, upon arrival to the cafe with his dog, Mandy, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. speaks to his dog about the father and his child. Hog is the outside observer in this scenario. Thus ensues many misunderstandings and escalating exchanges among the three characters.
"When People Talk to Their Children About You. . . "
This sketch offers a way into an examination of fatherhood and comedy through the very creative eyes of FAH, but viewers had their own observations to make when the sketch was first published. Many thought that the behavior of the three characters was very passive aggressive.* I would argue that while there is definitely a component of this in the sketch, particularly in Foil's dog owner character, FAH are doing much more here. Human interactions, unsettling behavior and comedy are all intertwined in a multi-layered and sophisticated way, especially with Arms's "Daddy" character, to create a surprisingly astute examination of fatherhood in all its intricacies.
Who is Arms as a father? He is presumably heterosexual; he may or may not be a single dad, but at the very least there is a mother in the picture somewhere. He is white, middle-class, and financially stable. He is gentle, kind, and clearly very devoted to his child. Although he is self-absorbed, in the sense that everything seems to revolve around himself and his child, he is not at all aggressive with the stranger he sits down next to in the cafe. Yet, while Daddy seems totally oblivious to how his running commentary and "conversations" with his child appear to others, he does not seem interested in making a scene or causing any problems.
Furthermore, we might ask why the father is talking to his child and carrying on conversations in the first place. The age of the child is unknown, but considering the baby buggy is typically used for infants to toddlers, and we don't hear the child, perhaps we might assume that Daddy is caring for an infant who is less than six months old. Still, Daddy is doing what every parent should do: making eye contact, speaking directly to the child, and using adult words. Language and communication are vital to a child's development, so what Daddy is doing with his child - though in public - is entirely correct in terms of psychological and human interactions.
It is actually incredibly impressive that FAH have picked up on this, and have used it in their sketch in such a realistic way.* Most parents will recognize these verbal interactions as being good for their own child, so Arms/Daddy is merely participating in productive parenting practices. But why the high tone of voice? This might suggest someone who has been taking care of a child, alone, for a long time. But it is also part of the "baby talk" genre that parents use with their children. Daddy is using that sing-song tone to get his child's attention and keep the child focused on him, the parent.
Arms is a master at infusing meaning into his voice; so much hangs on how he communicates with his child and with others around him. As he enters the cafe he is already talking to his child, so there is a conversation in progress. If this is a typical pattern in their relationship what does it mean that he continues this in a public place. It could be that he is a rather narcissistic parent, as well as one who has spent considerable time with his child.
But something else is happening here besides self-involvement, and perhaps this is really what viewers were responding to. That is, the very elemental nature of parenting isolation; being with a child and caring for a child to the point of turning inward and not recognizing the rest of the world. This is typical of many women's lives with their children, but I would argue that FAH are changing the way we see gender roles and fatherhood here. Even Daddy's response to not being able to move his child's buggy closer to him when he first sits down doesn't suggest passive aggressiveness, but is simply a way to get a stranger to notice his child's needs in a public place. And, perhaps, in turn, to notice Daddy himself.
It is Foil, however, as the unnamed dog owner, who introduces both tension and passive aggressiveness into the public space of the cafe. As soon as he enters and sits down he uses talking to his dog as a way to avoid speaking to the father about his "big silly silver jeep blocking the entire pavement." Consequently, Daddy has to stop what he is doing with his child to acknowledge the dog owner and engage with him.*
The dog owner effectively disrupts any calm or casualness among the group, and inserts himself by making declarations about Daddy that are actually mean. Only after being provoked does Daddy respond in kind. And who can blame him, for the dog owner is clearly a bit unstable. He's having a full range of direct conversations with his animal in a public place. This strikes me as far more odd and unsettling, than a father speaking to and relating with his child. Passive aggressive behavior is about resistance to change, and it is definitely the dog owner who shows the most resistance as the sketch moves along.
Even when Daddy states that he "didn't think dogs were allowed in here, did we?", it is clear that this is hardly a passive aggressive statement; it is only perceived as such because the dog owner is already incredibly proprietary about his own dog's well being and space in the cafe. Foil is playing the character as quite emotionally sensitive about his dog, Mandy, and her needs. It is he who continues to get more pointedly personal about the father and his child, and what he can or cannot do for his dog because of them. He is upping the tension in a public space, and using this to his advantage to bully Daddy into paying attention to him. Every time the dog owner says something Daddy tries to be accommodating, even moving the buggy away from the dog so that the dog owner can put down a food bowl.
Daddy has been utterly provoked by the lunatic dog owner at this point, when he says to his child, "Come a little closer to Daddy. That's better isn't it? A little bit further away from the nasty dog that could bite you. Ooh scary." His instinct is to protect his child and to acknowledge a possible threat, which shows his responsibility as a parent. It has never been Arms's character driving the escalating exchanges, but Foil's character who entered the cafe already angry about having to navigate a hard parking spot. He clearly treats his dog like a child in the way that he speaks to it and expects the same level of recognition by others that Daddy receives with his human child.
The dog owner states to his dog, "We have to be quiet because there is a baby here. And everyone has to stop everything they're doing when there's a baby around."* FAH are emphasizing the utter entitlement and, I would argue, sheer craziness of people who see themselves as parents to their pets. The dog owner is pushing back on Daddy with something that is not even an issue, but is being brought up by him clearly because of his own intense passive aggressive behavior in the moment. Even Daddy notices this and says something about the dog owner having a "bit of a tantrum," which by this time Daddy is clearly directing the comment at the dog owner himself.
The dog owner antagonizes the father so much so that the final straw is when Daddy accuses him of "eavesdropping on a private conversation with my child" and the dog owner lashes out in real anger, declaring "I'm just trying to have a relaxing time with my dog." But clearly this was never the case since he entered the cafe frustrated and complaining. The dog owner was already on high alert, so to speak, and seemed to be itching for a confrontation. And he gets one in the end, demanding with a stick in his hand, "why don't we take this outside". Daddy has been pushed so much by this aggressive dog owner that he loses it and says, "it looks like somebody needs to be put to sleep." And this is where Hog's character enters the plot.
Hog's role in the sketch is to be the objective observer and almost to lead the audience to respond to Daddy and the dog owner on a visceral level, most likely with uncomfortable laughter. He also is centrally located in all the filming shots so that viewers see his facial reactions to everything that Daddy and the dog owner say to one another. As the comments get more heated, Hog/cafe patron clearly becomes annoyed and disgusted at the two men's behavior in public.
His declaration: "You know I'm sick of this. Back and forth, back and forth. I mean look around. Where's the manager? I've never seen a more embarrassing display in all my life" seems directed explicitly at Daddy and the dog owner. He appears to call out the two men who are suddenly conscious of their exchanges and who both apologize profusely and without reservation. But FAH do not leave the scene there, as Hog states, "were you talking to me? Sorry I was watching the football." But is he talking about football? He has been very aware of the rising escalation between Daddy and the dog owner; we've seen this on his face, but now he tells us that his utterances were merely a response to football, so there is some confusion in this very brief moment for both the viewers and the cafe patrons alike.
In Hog's parting shot, "what a bunch of clowns" the ambiguity of this declaration adds to the consciousness of Daddy and the dog owner as they both seem to recognize and be embarrassed by their previous behavior with one another. By using Hog as the comedy foil, effectively the straight man, FAH set up a deliberate moment of stinging laughter that is quite sophisticated and revealing. His role serves to break the tension at the end of the sketch and take it in another direction. Daddy has been pushed to his limits, and the dog owner has been very antagonistic but they are both apologizing to Hog, who is now in control of the public space.
In this sketch FAH are examining the intricacies of male relationships with children and dogs in public spaces. First, FAH are exposing the public versus private conundrum of parents and how people perceive them with their children. This is a pretty common issue for mothers, who are judged exponentially more than fathers, but FAH are showing that fathers are also sometimes subject to the same harsh judgments by strangers, especially other men. Secondly, FAH are also fore fronting the utter silliness of pet owners, their bombastic behavior in public and their assumptions about what they believe they and their animals deserve. Finally, FAH are offering viewers a chance to live vicariously through Hog's character, who says what we're all thinking when we encounter such people as the passive aggressive dog owner, or even the pushed to the limit Daddy, in a public venue.
FAH, as comedy artists, are really at their best here in this sketch in terms of realistic observations about human behavior and the way people respond to one another in an unpleasant context in public. We can't help but engage with their work because we can all relate; this is also the reason why we laugh and, perhaps, at the same time cringe.
*I watched their live shows via their Patreon page. Click the "fatherhood" link in the first paragraph to access the complete Fatherhood Canon. Interestingly, FAH have posted almost all of the sketches on YouTube from their lives shows that include father characters, with the exception of the utterly odd, “How to Hold a Baby” from their Craicling show (2019). In this sketch Foil plays a father, Tony, and Hog is a baby (a girl), Joe, while Arms's unnamed character is an instructor who teaches Tony and the audience both how to hold a baby, and how to get the baby back to her parents, permanently. The sketch can be seen by subscribing to their Patreon page, or by purchasing the stream or download from their website for €10.
*In the 612 comments currently in the YouTube comment section, there are over 45 that mention passive aggressive behavior specifically. As well, comments on FAH's Facebook page about this sketch repeatedly describe it and the characters in it as exhibiting passive aggressive actions.
*I have wondered if this is a happy accident or whether they have first hand knowledge via family members (they are childless themselves, I believe) of how to relate as an adult to a child in a healthy way. But accident, or no, their use of conversations to develop a bond between Daddy and his child are spot on in this sketch.
*FAH's attention to detail at this moment in the sketch is really phenomenal. Arms / Daddy is actually rocking the buggy back and forth as the dog owner comes in and sits down, so that we are to understand clearly that Daddy is thinking solely about his child in this moment and no one else.
*It strikes me that the title of this sketch is not really adequate, and might have actually been called: "When People Talk to Their Children and Their Dog About You."