How Do You Feel About That?
How do you feel about that?* This is the classic therapist's question that has been parodied and satirized probably since the advent of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, a practice that came into vogue in the 1890's. Lying on the psychoanalyst's couch - an iconic image - is another common theme of therapy parodies; if a person is lying on a couch and someone is seen sitting in a chair opposite or behind that person, as Freud truly intended, then we know it must be time to talk about our feelings. FAH have capitalized on this particular image of the couch in the March 22, 2018 sketch, "Alcohol Goes to Therapy." In their second therapy sketch, "A Bad Relationship with Money" (July 25, 2019), this time the therapist - played by Arms in both narratives - is counseling a male couple who sit on a couch and argue about their problems. The structure of both sketches is premised on relationships and therapy sessions but of course FAH are also playing around with language and treating both alcohol and money in anthropomorphic terms - a practice that they use a lot in their sketches - so that both of these inanimate objects are imbued with human characteristics and they talk too!
Part of their humanness has to do with their emotional connections with others. In classic FAH style, there has to be a twist in what initially seems to be a rather mundane activity. I would argue that FAH's twist in these two sketches is how they present us with multiple layers of intimacy predicated on the use of the couch as a way for men - or alcohol and money - to open up about their feelings, thus creating a link between themselves, the therapist, and in turn, the viewer. Moreover, there is both a homosocial ("Alcohol Goes to Therapy) and an implied homosexual intimacy ("A Relationship with Money") in the respective sketches that is allowed to be there in a comfortable and safe way for viewers to take in, accept, understand, and even laugh. FAH show us that in the context of these unique therapy sessions it is entirely acceptable to laugh, and laugh a lot because of the universal sense of human connection; even alcohol and money in all their anthropomorphic embodiment feel the pain of a rejection, heartbreak, or a bad relationship.
FAH create in Arms's character the archetypal image of the white, middle-class, educated male therapist who is entirely non-judgmental and kind. In both sketches Arms wears a brown jacket and a nondescript shirt. He holds a pen, and glasses, and has a pad that he continually writes in, presumably taking notes about his clients' lives and narratives. FAH also perfectly capture the ambiance of the stereotypical therapist's office as well; the high backed leather chair, the iconic couch, and the ever present plant, wilting in the corner. In the later sketch from 2019, a degree on the wall is added, presumably to drive home the knowledge and education of the therapist and the €150 price tag per session. In terms of the therapy session structure, Arms sits in a chair opposite his clients and we get many filmed angles during the sketches of each participant and their communications with one another, thus widening the scope and deepening the viewer's intimacy with both the therapist and the client.
Alcohol Goes to Therapy is below (1:56 minutes)
At the heart of the comedy in these two sketches is Arms. In both narratives we are presented with his soothing presence, epitomized in his voice. Arms sets the tone as the calm, steady, and interminably understanding therapist who is there to listen, and prompt with mild, rational questions that allow the clients to wander all over the place in their sessions, complaining, and fighting with one another. FAH suggest that the therapist is a somewhat passive person who patiently tolerates the emotions of the upset and irritated clients without being at all affected himself; Arms portrays the therapist as a master at remaining mostly undisturbed by his clients' life turmoil. This contrast between tolerant therapist and emotionally volatile clients makes for some really interesting, funny comedy.
Starting with "Alcohol Goes to Therapy," it is possible to see that the conversations that the therapist has with Alcohol, played by Foil, are quite realistic in terms of a person's actual needs in life, so that the structure of the therapy session has merit and weight. There is an interconnected duality between the person and the inanimate object, alcohol, that FAH create by having Foil speak about alcohol from an anthropomorphic perspective. At the same time that Foil is talking about himself as a person, he is portraying alcohol with insightful knowledge about how the actual product affects a human. For such a simple premise - that of the therapy session - this sketch is actually incredibly complex.
For example, when asked by his therapist, "how was your weekend?" Foil/Alcohol* responds as the inanimate object and as if he's a real person, making for a multi-layered reading of this scene. Foil says, "Same as usual you know, it's like one day you're the most popular guy in the world, everybody loves you and the next day they can't stand the sight of you." This observation about himself can be applied to an actual person, but of course is the physical response that people have to drinking - we want it and then we are sorry we asked for it.
And then in steps Arms, the helpful therapist, to prompt Foil/Alcohol to further elaborate on his fraught and misunderstood life with the question: "You feel like you're being used?" This, of course, is applicable to a human or the misuse of alcohol, but at this point lets accept the premise that we're dealing with alcohol, the human, and then all merges together and we can examine Foil as a living, breathing anthropomorphic specimen of feelings and substance. Foil/Alcohol imbues more meaning into his responses to his therapist by following the lament that people who don't want to be around him, suddenly do; his insight is, "I'm just so pathetic, I say yeah." Alcohol is pathetic? Yes, just like so many people he feels the human need for acceptance and understanding.
This prompts his therapist to ask, "You feel that people are always blaming you?" It's a leading question - kind of like what someone would ask in a courtroom - and doesn't quite fit with the narrative that has been set up so far, but of course FAH need the plot to move along. Still, we now get more lamenting and complaining from Foil/Alcohol, who says that his friends blame him for all of their bad actions. The pivotal moment in the sketch turns on the next question from his therapist, who is appropriately worried - as any good therapist would be and Arms is nothing, if not a good and thoughtful therapist - and starts to explore how Foil/Alcohol might find help from better people in his life: "Do you have friends that you could call and talk to?" And then we hear about Kevin.
The homosocial - the platonic, but very close friendship between men - is definitely emphasized here with Foil/Alcohol and Kevin. Foil explains: "well it used to be Kevin. Oh we did everything together. We used to meet up everyday, all day long." Kevin has a wife and children, but he searches out Alcohol for a seemingly more personal and intimate relationship. But then later Kevin breaks up with him because Alcohol "cost him his job and his family." Foil/Alcohol is clearly upset by this, so much so that his therapist smooths the way, by saying, "We'll come back to Kevin," which is one of the funniest lines in the entire sketch, delivered by Arms in a comforting and directive way. But it seems that Kevin is a relationship that mattered greatly to Alcohol and because of that he is actually quite bitter about this breakup. He is off and running now on the complaint warpath about his misunderstood life. He barely acknowledges his therapist at this point, he's just simply complaining. The list is long: people hate him, they've "formed hate groups against" him, and he doesn't get to defend himself.
The second leading question - we're back in the courtroom again and moving the plot along - from the therapist is more loaded: "People are conspiring against you?" For Foil/Alcohol this is permission to get even more bombastic about his complaints because now it's not just people, "It's the government too." He has to cover up, he gets taxed more than anyone else, he can't "operate heavy machinery," and the clincher in the entire scene is that "people won't even let [him] go near their kids!" The therapist's response to this statement is moderate disbelief and a momentary pause in accepting Alcohol's tirade about people being against him entirely. To hear Alcohol lament that he can't go near children is a little creepy, and Arms, the therapist, registers this moment with a "uh huh," which clearly says, "hold on there, buddy, perhaps this isn't what you should really be complaining about!" Yet, another funny moment elicited by Arms's response to Alcohol's unreasonable complaining.
It's hard to feel sympathy for a guy who follows up his declaration that he can't be around children with an emphatic, "How do you think that makes someone feel? I'm not a bad guy" as if that's a good argument for this worry of his. Yeah, thankfully you're only saying this to your therapist Alcohol because otherwise you might be in real trouble. And here is where FAH really draw us into this humorous moment because we are observing actions, feelings, and things said that we would not otherwise have any opportunity to hear or know ; it is the intimacy between two people that we are seeing in the therapist's office, this very private space. As viewers we have been allowed in to observe, and ultimately to laugh, but we are left with a sense of unease that Alcohol is just like everybody else; as "a depressant" he's offered pills by his therapist, but these come with a dire warning to stay away from himself? The anthropomorphic structure helps us see that Alcohol can never catch a break in life. Ultimately, he's no different than the rest of us in our quest to be accepted, understood, and to feel okay about our existence.
The intimacy of the therapy session is even more apparent in FAH's sketch "A Bad Relationship with Money" in which we are introduced to Joe, played by Foil, and Money, played by Hog. In this instance it is pretty clear that Hog is money since he is "dressed" as a €50 note.*
A Bad Relationship with Money is below (1:38 minutes)
FAH set up this most recent sketch concerning couple's therapy in order to create, again, the multi-layered, anthropomorphic structure to examine how people relate to money and at the same time how couples work things out in therapy. In this sketch there is a definite emphasis on a homosexual connection, but one without overt displays of affection. This works out really well because it is clear that Joe and Money are angry at each other so there is no need to hold hands or show that they like each other at all. Of course the other comedic layers in the sketch all concern money puns and lots of wordplay that tie the "bad relationship" to economic problems.
In this session with Arms, our resident therapist, it is clear that Joe doesn't want to be in therapy at all but that Hog/Money thinks it's incredibly necessary for the relationship to succeed. It is called "A Bad Relationship with Money" after all, so of course they're in therapy! * In this newer sketch, Arms is a bit more pointed about his first question: "So, Joe. Your relationship with money isn't great?" Our sense of how the session is going to go - ultimately not well, as Joe and Money battle it out on the couch about their relationship - is apparent immediately. Joe's emotional and rather angry response is: "This is ridiculous, we don't need to be here" and Money says emphatically, "Yes, we do." So we understand at the start that there is friction in the relationship and little agreement; this sets up the classic couple's therapy structure as well, one that FAH use to their advantage for great amounts of humor throughout this sketch. The therapist's question of "who would like to go first?" elicits an immediate response from Money who declares that Joe is "so clingy," and Joe barks back, "No, I'm not."
Like many couples who are in therapy to try to salvage their relationship, Joe and Money do not agree on much, nor do they see eye to eye about the same issues. And similarly to the earlier therapy sketch there is a multi-layered structure: the couple face typical problems such as one person being more sensitive to the relationship struggles (Joe), than the other person (Money). It is Joe who shows the most emotional connection to the therapist by declaring that, "When I'm with him I'm so happy but . . . then when he's gone I get really sad." This lament is premised on the idea that Money is resentful of Joe's clinginess and inability to be independent in the relationship. Again, here we are as viewers in a privileged position to see into the therapist's session with this gay couple who are really struggling to make things work.
The brilliance of this sketch and its comedic force is the complex meanings that are presented in the way Hog/Money expresses himself about his lover/partner Joe. He asserts to Joe "You know if you want me around all the time, you have to work for it." Of course this statement is applicable to any relationship, but in this instance Hog/Money is playing on the idea of work and earning money. Again, FAH are dealing with the complexity of the anthropomorphic identity of Hog as Money; he is an object of desire in more ways than one: he is desired by Joe as a partner (this is the human side of the sketch), and he is desired for his monetary appeal (this is the anthropomorphic side). It's really quite sophisticated writing and humor that FAH have created in this sketch.
Like any helpful therapist, Arms steps in with a suggestion that Joe "share" his frustrations and concerns about the relationship. Joe's sharing has to do with the fact that after being out with Money at night, the next morning Money disappears and is bopping around to different places to be with people in other countries . So the implication here is that they have an open relationship, one that suits Money more than Joe. Money likes to hang out with various people, especially in Switzerland, and do drugs, cocaine to be exact. Money is a player, pure and simple. Joe seems to be a homebody and resents Money's lack of commitment. The issue of questions arise, as if Joe is pestering Money for too much information after he has been out with others.
It's a classic problem relationship, probably more than just "bad" as the title claims, but pretty awful actually as it becomes clear that neither Money nor Joe really listen to one another or try to compromise with each other about anything serious in the relationship. Meanwhile, it is impossible for the therapist to get any words into the sparring between the two partners. He keeps trying, but to no avail; he is continually thwarted by his clients' insistence on talking constantly. The couple have taken over the space completely and their arguments move along in the way that most do in couple's therapy: they become so self-involved that they forget anybody else is in the room. As Joe points out so astutely: "yeah, yeah, yeah. They say money talks? But does he listen? No." Well, neither person in the couple is listening to each other and they're certainly not listening to their therapist either.
The intimacy of the session suddenly becomes quite acute when there is finally a pause and the therapist asks: "How are things romantically?" And it is here that FAH make a foray into some heightened sexual wordplay and humor, although the anthropomorphic structure still exists and as viewers we understand that this is both about the couple themselves, and also about how money has literally changed in the way it is handled and dealt with in an economic culture. Here we take on the idea of this couple both connecting sexually - thus the implied homosexual relationship - and the significance of the word "contactless" which Money emphasizes in monetary terms with his statement that he "has lost interest", another money pun. However, the main result of this brief, personal information is that the couple move quickly into arguing again and yelling at one another, using the therapist as a captive audience.
But Arms/therapist gets the last word in, closing the session on his own summation of the entire relationship. Joe is the mature one, who "loves money more than anything else in the world" and Money needs "some time to mature." Yet, at the end of this therapy session it is clear that the couple have barely progressed in solving their "bad relationship". Working things out on the iconic therapist's couch has not succeeded, and the intimacy of the therapy session has proved to be even less fruitful than might have been imagined. Joe sits and sulks and Money crabs about the therapist's assessment; nothing has changed; as in life, couples do not always survive even with therapy, and certainly people's relationships with money do not succeed. Sometimes we just have to call it quits and declare bankruptcy.
*In these two FAH sketches, there is never the typical therapist's question: "how do you feel about that?" in the sketch proper, though it does surface in "Alcohol Goes to Therapy" in the outro. It is interesting that FAH do not include this classic line; this surely makes their therapy session sketches much more sophisticated in their humor because they eschew the common for more interesting comedy.
*I am purposely using Foil / Alcohol interchangeably to show the connection between the anthropomorphic inanimate object (alcohol) and the human and also their duality in the sketch.
*In the comment section for "A Bad Relationship with Money," for which there are currently 161 comments, someone asked FAH: "Where did you actually even find a giant fifty quid costume?" and FAH's reply was: "We made it 😁."
*It is unclear if FAH meant this, but it seems that this particular sketch could also be seen as a parody of money/debt counseling, playing on the connection with therapy and a couple sitting on the couch getting help and support with their money problems so that they can find a way forward in their relationship, or concomitantly get out of debt.
Photo of Arms copyrighted by Luca Truffarelli.