Arms: " . . . he can't fit in anywhere" [Vegetables Throw a Party]
FAH are masters at playing around with anthropomorphism in their party sketches. They are particularly adept at bringing inanimate objects and concepts to life in individual characters that then interact with each other and create humor. This humor initially might seem rather simplistic or even meaningless, but when examined more thoroughly it is possible to see that there are layers to FAH's sophisticated comedy that is more than just for laughs. They have created nine very compelling sketches in this oeuvre in the last four years, the first of which was published on March 8, 2018. This was "A Party with the Days of the Week". Five more party sketches followed and these were filmed in 2020, the year the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world (party with: months, rooms, medicines, companies, and decades.) FAH and their party sketches are a well-oiled machine of tight writing and structure that works every single time because of the observational humor they employ to point out the funny characteristics of every anthropomorphic attribute of various inanimate entities. As well, the objects often have universal appeal and exhibit enough unique puns and one-liners to keep viewers interested and engaged with the subject matter. In 2021, they produced three of these party sketches (vaccines, vegetables and fruits.) Knowing FAH, I assume that there will be more of these on the horizon or at least I hope so.
It is the last of the two listed party sketches that I want to explore in this blog post, "Vegetables Throw a Party" and Fruits Throw a Party."* In these sketches FAH manage to infuse tension into silly plots that initially seem to be about nothing more than a catalogue of vegetables and fruits and a host of anthropomorphic characteristics. The vegetables and fruits talk to each other, like all the inanimate objects before them and FAH use costumes associated with various colors, along with naming to let us know which veggie or fruit we're seeing on the screen. Both sketches present a cornucopia of delights in the form of food that express themselves, bicker, play music, and exhibit various emotions that most viewers can relate to. The premise of both sketches is a bouncer letting others into a party, much like any bouncer at a club. In the veggies sketch it is Spinach at the ropes, checking names off a list. In the fruits sketch, it is coconut in the same role, both characters played by Arms. The one entity in this mass of vegetables and fruits who is immediately set apart and treated differently in both groups is the unlucky tomato.
It's a stroke of genius to have focused on the tomato as the outcast of both the vegetable and fruit worlds. In this way, FAH are able to create a host of running gags and also a believable narrative that draws us into these two typically blah subjects. Only in cooking shows or films about climate change might the veritable range of fruits and vegetables have any interest to a viewer, but in these two sketches FAH work their magic to make us actually care about the plight of the anguished tomato; the one entity amongst two communities who never quite fits in or finds his place in an accepted clan.
I would argue that the two sketches are connected by several themes: a sense of trying to find one's accepted identity, which leads to discrimination and finally selective acceptance. The tomato, himself, played expertly by Foil, is frustrated at not being recognized for his ability to traverse two worlds. In each sketch the tomato struggles to answer what is he? Who is he? Why isn't he accepted in one group or the other? What is he looking for and how can he find a way forward with his own identity so that he feels part of something and not crushed by a society that seemingly does not acknowledge his existence as a viable and participating member of a community. Take that pun as you would like, but clearly there's a double meaning that I'm putting forward in this analysis.
Vegetables Throw a Party: September 23, 2021
There is an emotional arc of connection that FAH have developed in relation to the narrative plot of the tomato's struggles over the span of the two sketches. The tomato can be both a fruit and a vegetable, mixing in two distinct worlds yet never quite belonging to either group. Therefore, he is always slightly on the outs in each distinct community. This is represented clearly in the comment section on YouTube and the way that viewers responded to the tomato's initial frustrations at not being let into the vegetable party. The plot of this sketch received a range of responses from viewers. Reading the over 1600+ comments concerning FAH's "Vegetables Throw a Party" it's clear that the plight of the tomato didn't really make as strong of an impact on viewers initially, as the fact that cucumber, aubergine, and peppers are all technically fruits as well. In fact, there are an enormous amount of comments correcting FAH on their choice of naming particular fruits as vegetables. These are both observational and imperiously chastising. What is clear is that viewers believe they are telling FAH new and very important information about how to distinguish between fruits and vegetables, but after awhile the statements get a bit tedious to read (and one wonders how Arms managed to get through them all, if indeed he even did.) Still, many of the comments focus on the sheer excitement of another party sketch, with some people even suggesting new plots for future installments in the genre (none very creative or interesting, but it's worth a try, they seem to think.) The tomato is definitely mentioned a few times, sometimes lamented over and pitied, but often just in the context of the fact that he's a fruit and not a vegetable. The line: "knowledge is knowing tomato is a fruit, wisdom is never putting it in a fruit salad" comes up more than I would even like to say. Yep, it's ubiquitous. And of course, viewers asked continuously for a sequel, which FAH listened to and two months later published "Fruits Throw a Party."
I bring up the viewers' perspectives about what is going on in the veggies sketch in order to illustrate a point: people respond to what FAH present and they often respond quite emotionally. This becomes very clear in the second sketch about fruits. But the sheer investment that viewers had in "teaching" FAH about the vegetable world was funny in and of itself. Yet, as I've posited above, there is more going on in the veggie sketch. I see the beginnings of several important narrative tropes, for it is the tomato who is continuously ostracized and made to feel that he does not belong in a group. The tomato is singled out and presented as an odd being in the mix of vegetables getting into the party. The initial joke, of course, is that his name is said differently and therefore he might have a chance to assimilate with the rest of the veggies: tomAHto or tomAAto (let's call the whole thing off!), but neither works. He's not on the list, so he can't possibly get in. Yet, still he tries. This first sketch focuses a lot of attention on the tomato pleading to be recognized and accepted, especially by skeptical Spinach. Standing at the entrance ropes, tomato points in the direction of a group and claims: "oh, I know cucumber! Cucumber, cucumber, hey, we were in a salad together!" At this statement, Spinach stares in disbelief and declares, "really?" When rhubarb makes an appearance and is happily let in by Spinach, tomato is suitably astounded. How can this thing be a vegetable, it's not even used in savory dishes - the standard guidelines for the vegetable universe - no, it's made into pies and tarts, sugar is added to it and it is eaten with ice cream! Still, rhubarb makes the cut.
The idea that one among many would not be allowed into a particular party group drives home the tomato's final act of desperation to get in: he cries, "this is discrimination, it's discrimination!" And, in fact, he does have a point. While viewers observed that several vegetables are actually fruits, is is clear that the bouncer Spinach, picks and chooses who he wants let into the party. Maybe cucumber, aubergine and peppers (all fruits because they have seeds and are scientifically recognized because of this characteristic) are much cooler or more interesting than tomato. Whatever the reason, one veggie, Spinach, seemingly has a lot of power and this is driven home by a call to somebody with the threat of a "fruit acting up." This quells the tomato for a few moments and he seems willing to let it all go, accepting that he is not wanted or even allowed to be let into the vegetable party, effectively making the bully Spinach believe that he, tomato, is going to let it all drop: "it's okay, I understand when I'm not welcome." But being a true renegade (remember, he can live in both the fruit and veggie worlds) and believing he belongs with the vegetables, he attempts one last move to crash the party. Despite almost making it in, he is grabbed by Spinach and gets hauled away, all the while yelling, "I'm a vegetable, I'm a vegetable!!" And he is a vegetable, recognized by millions as being a part of the inevitable and standard use in a savory salad.
So, what is FAH's point in all of this? Well, of course, it is to make us laugh. But I think there's more to tomato's role. Definitely there is a sensibility surrounding the fears that people have of not being recognized for who they are and inevitably being ostracized by others and refused literal and figurative entry into a chosen group. Tomato also represents those people who are often shunned for embracing their unique and individual identities. Where will he go now? Who will accept him and invite him into their party?
Fruits Throw a Party: November 25, 2021
And that's where the sequel comes into play. In "Fruits Throw a Party" FAH continue the narrative of the tomato, but they've ramped up the crisis in identity exponentially. If he's not accepted into the veggie party, surely he will be happily invited into the fruit party! He is now not just a being who needs to be recognized, but he's a tomato on a mission! Like Spinach, who had lots of control over who entered the veggie party, Coconut is now at the ropes, allowing chosen and special fruits in. It's true that cucumber has made it in again and there's no hassle or back talk from Coconut about his presence, but we assume this is because cucumber has hooked up with alcohol and, therefore, has an automatic pass. No such luck for tomato, who has to get in on his own merit and sheer schmoozy determination. When confronted by tomato, we get coconut's utter refusal to acknowledge him; he barely looks his way (it helps here that Arms is so tall) and there is tension when tomato says who he is: tomAHto! Coconut's quick response is no better, "isn't that a vegetable?" After hearing that the tomato is definitely a fruit, we get coconut's disdainful, "yeah, you look like a vegetable to me."
And here we take a deep dive into the struggle for the tomato, or anyone else for that matter who believes in themselves, to be acknowledged and recognized by the very group in which they would like to be accepted. The tomato is up for a fight. An injustice is being perpetrated against him. He was first not allowed into the vegetable party and now, he is not being allowed into the fruit party. And to add insult to injury, he is being asked for I.D. to prove who he is. Yes, granted this is funny. We can't escape that the tomato is being asked for I.D. to prove he's a tomato, but the underlying sensibility is that having to prove yourself is an unpleasant experience and makes people feel unrecognized and eventually isolated. When tomato, rightly, points out that coconut didn't ask banana for I.D. he gets a dismissive look. Produce the I.D. or else vamoose. What choice does he have in the moment? It's his only chance of getting into the party. But then Breadfruit shows up and tips tomato over the edge. The idea that a fruit would be partially named "bread" is too much for the poor tomato who has been trying to convince too many others of his validity as both a vegetable and a fruit. He loses his composure and starts to rage against coconut. Arms plays this moment beautifully; like the best trained bouncers, he stands expressionless as tomato yells, "I was just at the fucking vegetable party and they wouldn't let me in because they said I was a fruit and now I'm at the fruit party and you're saying I'm a fucking vegetable. Well, what am I? What am I, then?" All good questions tomato! You've got a dual identity and the rest of the world just has to accept it and move on! But no, coconut's response is passive aggressive: "what were you doing at the vegetable party?" Tomato gets no emotional satisfaction in the moment of his rage and is caught up short by this question.
And next we see him, he has made it into the party! Perhaps coconut is just tired of being yelled at because clearly he relented and finally let tomato in. But what's this? He's trapped with boring old plum rambling on about his many uses. Perhaps fruits aren't all they're cracked up to be? Well, no matter, he's found his way into some kind of community, or so he thinks! Finally, he will be a part of a group and be accepted for being, well, a tomato. But the parting shot is made by watermelon who shouts: "everybody into the pool, we're doing a fruit salad!" We see the excitement exhibited by tomato: "YEAH!!" The sheer thrill of being involved with people who accept him and want him there, for watermelon has said "everybody" and that includes him, but the community is exclusionary after all and tomato is told immediately, "no, not you, never!" Okay, I guess we can harken back to the priceless saying: knowledge is knowing tomato is a fruit, wisdom is never putting it in a fruit salad (clearly FAH worked this into the sketch brilliantly without even reciting it. How incredible is that?) But the crestfallen look of tomato says it all. He had a belief in happiness, a hope for acceptance, and a desire for acknowledgment of his true identity; he is versatile. He can be in a salad and be sorbet; if only others would talk to him and see that he's not a freak, like watermelon implies.
It's amazing how many people resonated with and commented on the tomato's suffering in the fruit sketch. Tomato's initial anguish at not making it into the party and finally his heartbreak at the lack of awareness of his identity between two groups in which he is trying to find acceptance, really struck people as horrible and even traumatizing. In the 1500 comments (so far) on FAH's YouTube channel, many more viewers talked about the tomato and his journey of trying to get into the vegetable party and finally achieving some success with the fruit party. Clearly, the first sketch affected them more than we knew! There is palpable relief expressed over and over again when they realize that tomato has been accepted. People responded to the tomato's entrance into the fruit party like they had watched a little mini-soap opera unfold before them. One viewer even likened the tomato to being bisexual and declared: "I feel your pain little fella, hope you find your tribe!" The idea of the tomato having an existential identity crisis was brought up more than once, and people openly and unabashedly declared their love for tomatoes in all forms. Often saying that they would take the tomato in and support him, no matter what! Another viewer enlightened us further: "Poor tomato. Biologically a fruit. Culturally a vegetable. Never truly fitting in anywhere." But Arms said it best in the comment section: "We really started writing a pathetic backstory for tomato" and it shows! Obviously, viewers could feel the tomato's pain and tapped right into his troubled journey!
In all of FAH's party sketches, people can relate to the universal appeal that FAH infuse into the inanimate objects through anthropomorphic characteristics, but this happens even more so in these two sketches. I think this is because of the intense emotional component exhibited by the tomato. He is easy to relate to because he offers us an insight into what it means to be on the outside of something looking in and desiring to be part of a community. We all want that and none more than the tomato. FAH tap into that human unease of feeling alienated and lonely through the tomato's quest. And instead of leaving us on a high note of fun and joy, they drive home the truth that some people (or tomatoes), no matter how hard they try will never quite be recognized for who they are and totally accepted. But there is a ray of hope in the form of durian, who stinks so much that coconut is barring him from entering. Perhaps he and tomato can get together and have their own party!
*I was sitting in London's Hyde Park the night after the FAH gig [April 29, 2022] with a fahn friend [she knows who she is] talking about FAH when we started to discuss the veggies and fruits throw a party sketches. We could really relate to the tomato! And we began talking about his journey and how FAH created characters that are so complex. The outcome of that conversation is this piece. Credit goes to my fahn friend for inspiring me to really think about FAH's sketches again on an analytical level! It's been a while.