Updated: Sep 1, 2020
The Driving Instructor Teaches us How to Cry in a Car Safely: Blessed be the Seatbelt!
Anybody who has ever driven a car, taken a driving test or lesson, or even been in the passenger seat knows how much it is possible to do in a vehicle. Sometimes we treat our cars like second homes, eating, sleeping, talking, and doing all manner of unmentionable things in a vehicle (fill in whatever you want here; if you're thinking it then you've either done it, know someone who has, or will be doing it in the future.)
In a series of four sketches that FAH published on YouTube between January 29, 2015 and June 21, 2018, they introduce us to an unnamed driver taking a driving test, played by Foil, and Michael, the driving instructor who is administering the test, played by Hog. Foil is really fabulous in his role as a confused, surprised, and befuddled driver, but this is truly "the Hog show!" He drives (pun intended) the plot, the emotional content, and the humor in these four pieces of comedy art. Foil does what he does best: acts as the comedy foil - the straight man - to Hog's interpretation of a distraught man who is alternately sober and instructive and then completely hysterical, sobbing, and focused on his lost loves, including a problem proposal, a failed marriage, the inability to see his child, and the shock of divorce.
Each installment begins with Foil (unnamed driver) and Michael introducing each other; three episodes run along these same lines, and the final one simply jumps right into the actual driving lesson. As well, each episode has a basic plot structured around the premise of a man taking his driving test and being confronted with the turmoil and heartbreak of the instructor. What is hysterically funny about these four sketches is just how emotionally out of control Michael / Hog is during his time in the car with Foil. He clearly brings his personal life to work and capitalizes on being in a car with a single person whose sole attention is on him and the road. Michael is so clearly unstable sometimes it is a wonder that the driver is even able to concentrate on the road at all.
Taken together the four sketches show an emotional arc of change in Michael's life that the camera captures in great detail. Throughout the sketches there are two consistent themes, those of heartbreak and humor. Hog is the master of crying on cue and in these videos he is especially excellent at it. The way the video is shot and edited also helps to emphasize the emotional range of Hog's character, Michael, and the immediacy of his various traumas in life. We, as the viewers, get to see and feel everything up close and personal just as Foil does as the driver of the car.
We get an inkling of what each episode is going to focus on when Michael hands the driver the keys to the car. The first episode (January 29, 2015) begins in this classic way:
Michael: I'm Michael.
Foil: Nice to meet you Michael.
Michael: I'll be your examiner for the driving test.
Foil: Yeah, sure thing.
Michael: Best of luck.
Foil: Thank you.
Michael: And here are the keys to the death machine.
Michael: Hmm? Car keys, keys to the car.
The emotional intensity of each sketch in the series has to begin fairly quickly and the first episode sets the stage for what is to come with the other three. The plot of this one is pretty straightforward: everything begins normally, but then quickly switches gears (pun intended). Michael seems to be just chatting with the driver in a mild way, but then he begins to talk about a terrible accident that happened with himself and his girlfriend. The sketch revolves around Michael’s pain and anguish about this accident and Foil’s uneasy and uncomfortable responses to the man sitting beside him alternately sobbing, drinking alcohol, eating amphetamines, sleeping, and freaking out about how he was too scared to save his girlfriend.
We get such brilliant lines as: "She's trying to take the high heels out of her face," and upon waking up in the car, "I can't save you, I'm too scared."
Michael switches back and forth from his examination of himself ("you're a coward, you're a coward") to instructing Foil on being "too far out" or telling him to "make a left" - very banal instructions in an otherwise incredibly stressful situation for the driver. And of course this is what creates such wonderful humor in the first of the four sketches. Meanwhile, both Michael and Foil continue to wear their seatbelts throughout the entire sketch, and in fact, it is clear that driving safety is paramount to them both. Foil seems especially careful with the actual driving part as Michael freaks out beside him. Consequently, the more out of control Michael gets, the more in control of the car the driver seems to be - he is literally faced with a hysterical person in the passenger seat, but he manages very well driving around, following directions, and keeping his cool while Michael devolves into a lunatic.
The big comedy riff in this first episode is when Michael starts explaining that "there are too many babies pressed up against the glass so you can't see the road . . . do you know what sound a wiper wakes when it's wiping babies off your windshield . . . it goes squeak waaahh, squeak waaahh, squeak waaahh." This bizarre description of the accident that Michael experiences with his girlfriend is also when the driver (Foil) begins to lose it emotionally; faced with Michael's breakdown Foil's own emotional response is triggerd and he starts to cry himself, compounding the humor in this moment. It should be noted that this is the only time that Foil cries in the four sketches, although he does show some anger and frustration in the final video of this series.
The driver's request to "go back to the test center" is met with complete silence because Michael has ingested a handful of amphetamines and seems to be in a semi-comatose state. The driver's instinct is to escape, (this is the only time in any of the sketches that Foil leaves the car), and this seems like the response of any sane and sensible driver stuck in a situation like this with an instructor, such as Michael.
The second installment (May 26, 2016) in the Driving Instructor sketches starts out in this way:
Michael: Hi, I'm Michael.
Foil: Nice to meet you.
Michael: I'm going to be your examiner for the driving test.
Foil: Great, yeah.
Michael: Here are the keys to a lifetime of regret.
Michael: Hmm? Car keys, keys to the car.
The structure of the second sketch is exactly like the first one, and Michael is back as himself but Foil seems to be a different person because they introduce themselves to one another as if they’ve never met. So there is a little bit of a strange split in the space / time continuum here that never gets resolved over the four sketches. Michael progresses in his story, and in his life - girlfriend, child, divorce, proposal - but Foil remains the same, including with the similar responses to the insanity next to him.*
In terms of the plot in this second sketch, the driving test starts out normally with Michael directing Foil, as the driver, to "take off just as you would, I'm not even here," which of course is the whole set up for the humor in this episode. But then Michael says something cryptic: “We can all make mistakes. I’ve made a few” and we’re off down a path of dark emotional turmoil. The rest of the plot focuses on Foil taking his driving test and Michael exhibiting strange behaviors: bouncing in his seat to get comfortable, yanking on his seat belt aggressively, sobbing and asking Foil to help him with his seatbelt and to hold him, sleeping, drinking alcohol, and once again generally acting like a lunatic in the passenger seat.
Foil is a genius in these sketches playing the straight man. In fact, I'm just going to call him "the Big G" for how he manages to show such expressionless, flat, and in many ways, timid emotional responses to Hog's total insanity right next to him in the car. In order for Hog's wacky humor to work, Foil must not respond too much to what is beside him, but instead he has to play the befuddled and perplexed driver to a tee. The contrast between the two is literally like night and day; Hog is emotionally hysterical, and Foil is calm and reserved. It is comedy gold.
In this episode we learn that Micheal is a father and that he has a son and a wife/girlfriend named Mary. He's trying to see his son, but is rebuffed by Mary who clearly refuses this request. This results in the comedy cornerstone of the sketch, in which Michael takes a giant stuffed Olaf out of the boot of the car (a character from the Disney movie, Frozen), and is seemingly going to take it to his son. When this doesn't happen he returns to the car and upon getting in whaps the driver accidentally with the stuffed toy and declares, "she wouldn't let me in, she wouldn't let me in." This is a moment of Hog's heartbreak humor at its finest. We feel his pain and frustration but we're laughing too. And no matter what happens, Michael and the driver wear their seatbelts!
The third installment (September 21, 2017) begins as the other two above with Michael making a strange declaration that the driver then questions:
Michael: Hi, I'm Michael. I'm your driving instructor.
Michael: So, best of luck and here are the keys to a failed marriage.
Foil: Sorry, what? The . . .
Michael: Keys to the car.
In the third sketch of this fabulously funny series, Foil once again appears to be a different person and Michael is the same driving instructor. The plot of this third installment is a bit more emotionally sober. We see a much more critical Michael in this sketch. As well, this is also the longest of the four sketches in the series at 2:55 minutes and it is probably the most developed around a narrative plot.
In this episode we learn that Michael has gotten a divorce, so there is a lot of getting in and out of the car and doing things like picking up shopping, and shirts that Michael says are his (along with a lamp, a clock, and a TV), taking a call from someone who appears to be his ex on the phone, and seeing his ex wife go into another man’s house. There is also desperate pleading with the horses to win as Michael listens to racing on the radio, huge amounts of crying and Foil patting his hand, and the requisite eating and drinking alcohol in the car. Everything that Foil is asked to perform for his driving test has something to do with Michael's life. For example, pulling over and "trying some parking" is about Michael picking up groceries from the shops.
In this episode, like the previous two, Micheal drinks a lot of alcohol, and declares "that I'm starting to feel like a human being again" presumably because of it. If we were going to think about the range of activities that take place in a car (unmentionable and otherwise), we might move into a dark place and think about those people who are effectively homeless and live in their cars, doing exactly what Michael is doing in this car, which is practicing daily living activities and seemingly feeling the better for them.
We see him eating cheese (after declaring "I haven't eaten in days"), Cheerios, brushing his teeth, and using deodorant. So that the car is being presented - especially in this episode - as an all purpose vehicle for many other uses than just taking a driving test. In fact, Hog shows us that while wearing a seatbelt, it is also entirely possible to sleep, cry intensely and reach over to the driver to get some emotional comfort and hand patting/holding.
Interestingly, in this installment there is background classical music, which serves as a contrast to the rather acerbic behavior of the instructor towards the driver himself.* But the music is not carried all the way through, it ends a few seconds before the full sketch itself ends so that the driving instructor's final act of seeing his ex and asking Foil which house she's going into feels a little creepy and strange.
It is unclear why FAH chose not to use music in the other three sketches, but the effect in this sketch is that the music doesn't suit the mood of what is occurring inside the car itself, which is a lot of chaos and unpleasantness on the part of Michael. He is effectively using the driver as his chauffeur to take him places in order to get stuff done. As well, Michael ropes the driver into helping him put things in the car that are clearly from his ex's house. As usual, Foil plays the straight, confused, slightly troubled driver with grace and style, as well as calmness. He never gets upset at Michael, but only gets more and more perplexed by his strange behavior and actions. And of course, this is incredibly funny.
The final installment (June 21, 2018) does not have one of the wonderful initial strange exchanges between Micheal and the driver, and it is once again unclear why FAH chose not to begin this way.* This final episode in the series is also considerably shorter at just 1:56 minutes, while the others have been over two minutes long (episode 1: 2:36; episode 2: 2:32 ). As viewers, we jump right into the lesson itself and we don't even see Michael or the driver until after they have introduced themselves to one another.
Michael: Hi I’m Michael, and I’m going to be your examiner for the driving test.
Foil: Nice to meet you.
This shorter sketch also has more initial instructions from Michael to the driver himself about the actual driving test, but of course like all the other videos Michael sobs and complains about his life. Though it initially seems as if he is chatting to the driver about the driver's life, it becomes very clear quickly that Michael is talking about his own life and the proposal that he was about to make to his girlfriend until he "didn't see the signs for the mini marathon." In between sobbing about the car crash that he experiences, he critiques the driver and criticizes him for not being more careful on the road. But we miss the eating, though there is definitely lots of alcohol drinking in this shorter version.
And it is in this sketch that we get the only moment of profanity from the driver, who seems at his wits end by the time that Michael is yelling "hold me" and falling asleep in the passenger seat. Then we hear Foil say, "what the fuck?" and the sketch ends with only a Doomdah and no formal outro, like the others. The other interesting thing, which must have to do with editing the video is that Olaf makes a final appearance in the back seat of the car when he obviously wasn't there at the beginning of the sketch. A tiny final error in what is otherwise a series of masterpieces of comedy art.
Throughout these sketches we are taken on an emotional roller coaster of heartbreak and humor as Michael sobs, eats, and drinks his way through every life trauma it seems he has ever experienced. And what about Foil? This is why he has his nickname: he is the best at playing the straight man to Michael's catastrophic lunacy, for how could any humor be developed if these two funny men didn't know how to play off one another in the tiny space of a car.
So what should we, as viewers, finally take away from these four incredibly funny, brilliantly done sketches about the driving instructor's life saga and the man who endures hours in the car with him, managing always to be calm, cool, and collected in his Big G fashion? Certainly, the greatest life lesson that we learn for ourselves is that whatever we do in the car it is important to follow the rules of the road. Even if we want to sleep, drink alcohol, eat, take amphetamines, sob, hold someone's hand, or listen to the horse races, FAH shows us that the seatbelt is key to our driving survival.
*It is honestly hard to know how Foil managed to keep a straight face throughout these sketches; I imagine that there were many, many takes and lots of editing when it came down to putting everything together. If the outros are to be believed in sketches 1, 2, & 3 then it was clearly almost impossible for Foil to not laugh at Hog's behavior, or Hog himself, for that matter, to keep going without laughing.
*The music is Italian composer Luigi Boccherini's String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5 - Minuet. Boccherini lived from (1743 - 1805).
*When I sent this analytical essay to Foil to read, he wrote back to me to give me some insight into how sketch #4 was made. He has given me permission to share this with everyone. I decided to put this into a footnote, instead of completely rewriting my essay, and told Foil that this is what I was going to do. The reason why sketch #4 is so short, that we see Olaf in the backseat at the end of the sketch, and that there is no proper outro is that it is actually previous footage from sketch #2, which was filmed in the UK during one of their tours. He says, "on a rare day off mid tour we strapped the go-pro to the car and filmed what became Driving instructor 2." Evidently they were crunched for time again (25 months later) to get a Thursday sketch up, so Arms "came up with a master stroke . . . and from the shots we didn't use [from Driving Instructor #2] he cobbled together driving instructor 4". I think it is a brilliant testament to Arms's editing and story telling skills that he was able to create something that looked like a planned sketch. To me, this insight from Foil is revelatory because it just shows how brilliant FAH are at what they do. I'm utterly grateful to Foil for allowing me to share this interesting information with all the fahns out there, and other readers alike.