Updated: Sep 13, 2020
FAH Tackle A Cross-Cultural Relationship in "The Chairheads"
To understand love through the eyes of FAH is to see and feel something unique and original. And although there are few sketches about non-familial love in their repertoire, the ones that do exist focus on love and its power to bring people together, often from disparate groups, or tear them apart.* Moreover, in typical FAH fashion love resonates on both an emotional and a political level, especially in one of their most unusual and interesting sketches, "The Chairheads" (2013).* This sketch is approached from a cross-cultural perspective, so that we understand that love, no matter who it involves, is both universal and incredibly empowering, though often uncomfortable and even very challenging.
"The Chairheads" was originally seen in FAH's 2012 live show and then on October 17, 2013 they published a version of this sketch on YouTube.* It is this version that I will examine. The plot is pretty straightforward. Deirdre, played by Arms in a lovely pink colored dress, is waiting on her beau, Jonathan, played by Foil in a debonaire black suit, to come pick her up for a date. He arrives with a flowering plant, and Deirdre asks him to come meet her Dad, Mr. Peterson (who she calls Daddy), played by Hog, who is in a respectable tweed jacket. The sketch plays out as a classic nightmare of the boyfriend meets the father for the first time, and much fighting about Jonathan between father and daughter ensues.
Below is the sketch "The Chairheads."
The shift from the live show to the video put up on YouTube is an interesting one; it is much more complex, nuanced, and certainly more provocative than their live sketch. Both are brilliant in terms of content and comedy, but the YouTube video offers more layered political material. FAH explore not only the unique love between a chairhead and a human, but they also examine such subjects as family differences, unpleasant and biased stereotypes, an interesting foray into the purity of race (borderline Eugenics), and finally a celebration of female sexual desire and feminism in the form of the strong, forthright woman who speaks her mind, played so provocatively by Arms.
FAH play a lot with perception and perspective in this sketch. We take for granted that chairheads exist at all, and also that a human would be dating one to begin with, but FAH have that ability as expert comedians and actors to set the stage for a story that we take on board immediately. The sketch opens with melodic music playing in the background and Arms, as Deirdre, is anxiously awaiting her date Jonathan, while her father reassures her, "you look beautiful." This is a rather idyllic scene between father and daughter, and one that plays into the idea that chairhead families are perfectly normal and acceptable. We need to understand this important fact for what is to come later when Jonathan, the human boyfriend, arrives.
In this first scene we are also asked to accept that Arms is a woman, and a chairhead woman at that; our perception of Deirdre/Arms is based on the dress she/he wears which indicates femaleness. This is further emphasized by the pink bow on the chair and the gold bracelet on Arms's right wrist. Arms takes great care to signify his identity as a woman, especially through his physical gestures, but mostly through his voice. His voice is always very expressive, and in this sketch he brings in warmth and a distinct emphasis on caring, particularly in the way she/he talks to Jonathan. We take it all in and accept the premise: here is Deirdre waiting for her boyfriend to arrive, and she is nervous and anxious about this event. Her Daddy / Hog is reassuring her that she should "stop worrying" because all will be well. But as is usual in any FAH sketch, we are unprepared for what is to come and it is this abrupt change in tone, just seconds later that makes our perception of the chairheads and our perspective about the situation change radically.
When Jonathan / Foil arrives we discover very quickly that Deirdre has not told her father that she is dating a human. But it is made clear immediately that Deirdre does not expect her father to respond to Jonathan in the way that he does. Jonathan says casually and politely, "Hey, Mr. Peterson, it's great to finally meet you." This implies that there is longevity in his and Deridre's relationship and that he expects her father to be as accepting as she is to his humanness. But when Daddy turns to greet Jonathan he is shocked by what he sees in front of him, and is not shy about his response. His exclamation of "Jesus Christ" is emphasized by an active movement of his chair, showing almost a double-take (a genius move by Hog).
Daddy shows his utter disgust immediately by calling Jonathan a name that Deirdre explains is not "politically correct" and this is Homo Sapien. She declares that the right phrase is: "a human person born with a face where their chair should clearly be." This long explanatory phrase is distasteful to her father, who balks at adhering to, presumably, the chairhead society's new rules for treating humans fairly by respecting who they are and supposedly naming them with dignity. This immediately sets up a dynamic about inter-generational prejudices that is continued pretty consistently throughout the sketch.
Yet the use of the words "should clearly" in the politically correct descriptive phrase are also highly problematic. They are suggestive of a definitive definition of Self; that is, the Chairheads are the superior race, and are making a political exception to their population by acknowledging that there could be the possibility of an aberration - someone born with a face - instead of the accepted chair. The idea is that there is no real acceptance of the human, just a capitulation to a knowledge of their existence and a basic level of recognition of their status in the chairhead world; yet, that status is presumably a low one because they are not meant to exist.
The contrast to this insidious bias against the human is set up clearly through Deirdre's acceptance of Jonathan as more than just an aberration. She embraces Jonathan for himself, not even recognizing that he is different from her, and loving him for who he is as an individual. Moreover, she is willing to battle her father's clear prejudice against his daughter's cross cultural relationship in order to support Jonathan and to show her love and devotion to and for him. This characterization of Deirdre as a fighter and a woman who stands up for rights suggests a definite feminist perspective on the part of FAH in this sketch, or at the very least on the part of Arms who is playing this character.
Deirdre's acceptance of Jonathan, the human, is first emphasized when he arrives at her house and tells her "you look amazing," and then he kisses one of her chair legs. This intimacy between the two of them shows their closeness and attraction towards one another. Deirdre calls Jonathan "sweetie" and is very excited for him to meet her father. This is clearly a relationship that both chairhead and human believe in and embrace. There is a natural affinity between the two of them that Arms and Foil emphasize in their body language and interactions with each other. However, upon being introduced to Daddy, Jonathan is immediately marked as an unacceptable person in Mr. Peterson's home. In fact, Jonathan is treated incredibly poorly and without any respect at all.
Even after Deirdre chastises her father for his horrible language about Jonathan and tells him what he should be saying, Mr. Peterson declares, "Every day there's something new I can't say. Can't call them "homos", "homo sapiens", "roundheads", "roundabouts", "roundodendrons" and he caps this all off with the offensive line, "next he'll be able to vote." We're gathering a picture here of the culture surrounding the human in the chairhead world, and the very nature of the radical love that is occurring between Deirdre and Jonathan.
If Jonathan cannot even vote in this chairhead world, then he really has no power at all and he is confronted by this lack of power in Deirdre's father, a man who clearly presents himself with all the control in the world in which they live. There is a hierarchy presented by Daddy when he speaks to Jonathan, and it is one based on who has rights and who doesn't. However, this hierarchy does not exist between Deirdre and Jonathan; instead their relationship is on an equal footing in which there is clear mutual respect and love, and, therefore, it is presented as much more powerful than the prejudice that exists against all humans.
After her father's unpleasant outburst Jonathan says that he's just going to leave, but he is prevented from doing anything of the kind, interestingly, by Daddy himself who just seems itching for a fight and who declares that Jonathan needs to "shut your mouth homo sapien." This immediately puts Deirdre in a position of being the champion of her human boyfriend and, in fact, all humans as she begins to speak with an understanding of acceptance, declaring to her father, "you can't say those things" and "you're living in the past, dad!" Deirdre's statements show Daddy's caustic response to Jonathan as incredibly offensive and lacking in all understanding of who Jonathan is as an individual person, and the love that exists between these two young people.
But these comments of Deirdre's also show her strength as a woman in the chairhead culture; she is determined to speak her mind, and to be heard. The contrast between Deirdre's willingness to be clear about her beliefs in the face of her father's prejudice against Jonathan is further emphasized when Daddy states that humans are "genetically inferior" and he drives home this racially divisive point by declaring further that "the statistics are there." He seems desperate to keep Deirdre and Jonathan apart, and presents these shocking statements to her as if they have relevancy and meaning, but in fact this only makes her more determined to fight for her boyfriend's integrity as not just an important person in her life, but also someone who matters in the chairhead world.
Here we make a deep foray into the idea of a pure race (borderline Eugenics) - that of the superior chairheads - who see humans as dispensable and utterly without value or use. To invoke statistics is to also suggest that there is some kind of science behind the understanding that the human is inferior to the genetically superior chairhead. This is a radical moment in the sketch and one that does not exist in anything else that FAH has created, ever. The hint towards a Eugenicist view is an interesting and clearly troubling one, but they don't stay with this for very long. It's put out into the narrative, and then Deirdre takes us down another path when she says that Jonathan "went to college . . . And he was president of the law society." At this point in the sketch, Deirdre is also touching Jonathan, evidently to reassure him and her father that she is on Jonathan's side, supporting him one hundred percent. Moreover, she is bent on convincing her father that Jonathan is smart even though Daddy clearly views him as unintelligent and inferior, based explicitly on his beliefs in statistical science.
It is hard to believe that there is humor at this moment in the sketch, but Foil, as Jonathan, brings us back to just that when he says, "actually, I was chairperson." This, of course, offends Daddy, who sees Jonathan as both less than the chairheads, and as well, taking jobs from the chairhead community. Jonathan, in Mr. Peterson's eyes, is therefore, an absolutely awful person who doesn't belong with his daughter, ever. And the more Jonathan tries to explain the situation - "there were no chairperson candidates" - the more irate and angry Daddy gets about this miscarriage of justice: "You got a job that's clearly meant for a real chair person." Daddy goes so far as to poke Jonathan in the chest and tensions rise considerably here. Deirdre, all the while, is sighing and visibly upset by this exchange.
And then FAH take a dramatic turn and the sketch moves unbelievably quickly into the sexual realm with Daddy's strong declaration, "Jesus Christ my only daughter is fucking a bubblehead!" This statement might be seen as offensive if Deirdre responded to it that way, but she just takes control of the situation and confronts her father with her own information about her intimate relationship with Jonathan: "That's right dad, I'm banging a bubbleman. And you know what? It doesn't even end there, sometimes I even let him sit on my face!" Again, she is touching Jonathan's shoulder at this point, emphasizing that they are together and that she is in control of herself and her choices.
Deirdre's is the voice of the 21st century woman who doesn't take any shit from anybody. She's not going to feel any shame about her sexual activities with a human; instead, she's going to confront her own father and revel in what she enjoys. It's a pretty radical and, frankly, insightful statement for FAH to make in this sketch about women and their sexual desires. And this is what I'm arguing is the feminist side of this narrative; women's sexuality is often buried and pushed away, but here FAH bring it out into the open and celebrate it, if only briefly.
Of course, prejudices become more apparent at this point in the sketch because of Deirdre's forthright statements concerning her own sexual desires. Her father immediately goes to the societal judgement of, "My only daughter's a slut!" Despite Jonathan's mild embarrassment at Deirdre's revelations about their sex life, he shows his love and devotion to her by confronting Mr. Peterson about his statement, ""Okay, you, you watch your mouth, sir!" to which Daddy replies in a threatening way, "You want to say that to my seat, big man?" This confrontation between the two men turns on Deirdre's reputation as a supposed "slut," a misogynist construct based on the belief that women who enjoy sex are incredibly promiscuous and, therefore, are effectively whores in the eyes of men and society.
FAH use chivalry on Jonathan's part to undermine Daddy's societal view and to defend Deirdre's reputation with her father and effectively support her as an individual. Jonathan, however, is at a disadvantage from the beginning of his meeting with Mr. Peterson, who has continually attacked and goaded him into pure defensiveness and when Jonathan finally steps in to defend Deirdre's honor and her actions with him, Jonathan says, "Alright, just, just back off, stool sample!" There is, of course, some playing with words here because a stool is an actual wooden object and also another name for bowel movements, so which is it in this moment?
Is Jonathan saying that Mr. Peterson is a shit? Perhaps, or he could be using the phrase "stool sample" as a derogatory term to describe the chairhead, so that there is an understanding that this particular phrase in the world of chairheads is profanity and offensive. It is up for interpretation; I would argue that it can be read both ways and because of this it is actually really funny. Yet, even Deirdre is appalled by Jonathan's behavior in the moment, and he is shocked at himself. But he's been utterly provoked by Mr. Peterson's treatment of him and his inflammatory statements about Deirdre, so we really can't blame Jonathan, who shows immediate remorse with Deirdre and begins to apologize right away, saying: "No, I, I, didn't mean to say that!"
Of course, Mr. Peterson hopes that Jonathan's misstep with words will turn Deirdre off to him, but it has the opposite effect, and Deirdre declares, "Come on Jonathan. We're leaving." The emphasis here is that the two young people understand one another and the strength between them; Daddy is on the outside of this intimate communication and closeness that they have together. Deirdre chooses Jonathan over her father's clearly prejudiced and old-fashioned views of not just humans, but also of herself as a woman with her own identity and choices in life.
And then Mr. Peterson tries one final time to wrench Deirdre away from Jonathan, when he says, "Deirdre, you can't go!" She is really having none of it and addresses her father in a direct way, asking: "Why not, dad, give me one good reason" and at the same time she takes Jonathan's hand, showing her independence and emphatic respect of Jonathan as a human and as an individual with worth. She is definitely emphasizing her own strength at this moment, and the love that she shares with Jonathan.
The sketch ends on a dramatic cliffhanger that has the feel of a soap opera. This moment is both funny and painful as Daddy declares that he is "dying" and Deirdre is shocked by this new revelation. The maudlin ending, replete with sad music, is accentuated by Daddy explaining to his daughter that he has "dry-rot . . . The doctor says it's in my face." Interestingly, by the end of the sketch the "face" has become almost meta-textual. Each being has a face, used in different ways - Deirdre's is sexual, Daddy's face is rotting, and Jonathan's human face is an aberration, not meant to be but it is.
The final moments bring us back to perception and perspective; what matters in the end to Daddy is that he gets the attention from his daughter that he's been angling after ever since Jonathan walked through the door and presented himself as the unwanted and undesirable human boyfriend. But the larger perspective leaves us with the understanding that Deirdre as a strong, determined chairhead woman will always be with the man she loves, and that Jonathan, as the devoted human boyfriend will stand by her side in solidarity.
*There are very few non-familial sketches that have any emphasis and a premise concerning outright love between two different kinds of people or entities. Besides "The Chairheads," FAH have in their "love repertoire" A Bad Relationship with Money (July 25, 2019) and Brexit Divorce (November 29, 2018). There are some of these non-familial relationships in their live shows that are not published on YouTube, but I'm leaving those aside for the purposes of this essay.
*FAH recently posted an edited version of this live sketch on August 6, 2020 to their YouTube channel. The original, in all its unedited glory, is on their Patreon page. And in the comment section on YouTube for this most recent version (for which there are 183 comments versus 87 comments from the original posted in 2013), FAH was asked how they came up with the idea for this sketch and they said, "We were really stuck for ideas and Hog picked up a chair and started talking."