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The Popularity of Foil Arms & Hog

Thoughts From a FAHn: A Guest Blog Post by Selkie


If you are reading this you don’t need to be told who Foil Arms & Hog are or that their popularity has been increasing rapidly in recent years, even far beyond their native Ireland. However, you may be wondering what it is about these three comedians that endears them so much to their followers (the self-styled “FAHns”). Acting skills and good looks alone don’t seem sufficient to explain their appeal, and many of their newer FAHns haven’t yet experienced the unforgettable magic of a live Foil Arms & Hog show. So, there must be something special about their approach that shines through even in their short weekly videos. This post is one FAHn’s exploration of some of the distinctive characteristics of Foil Arms & Hog’s approach that may contribute to their popularity – including respectful kindness and a down-to-earth attitude as well as the brilliantly relatable humour emphasized in their self-proclaimed motto/philosophy “Funny First, Think Later.”


Keen observation, brilliant spontaneity

One key aspect of Foil Arms & Hog’s performances, which they have repeatedly mentioned in interviews is their spontaneity. In addition to improvising during live shows, Foil Arms & Hog apparently create many of their filmed-for-YouTube sketches in a short time-frame with little preparation. The lengthy interview conducted by AcademicFAHn on May 13, 2021 included this comment from Foil on the minimal planning of filmed sketches:


Foil: I think you would be honestly incredibly surprised at how much of our stuff is not thought of in advance but is on the day, what is in the environment near us that we can get our hands on? What happens to be in the costume store? There’s very few things that are planned ahead, and if they are planned ahead, generally it’s a day ahead. So it’s mostly what’s at hand.


Since they create their comedy in an impromptu fashion without extensive pre-planning, their subject matter is usually drawn from the common settings and experiences that might readily leap to mind: the annoyances of everyday life, the quirks and follies of human nature, and popular trends and issues that are widely recognizable and ripe for mockery. Familiar-looking settings and common or stereotypical character behaviours bring the viewer into the scenario with preconceived expectations, increasing the viewer’s subsequent surprise at whatever comic turn(s) the plot subsequently takes. By using familiar scenarios and experiences as the jumping-off points for sketch jokes, Foil Arms & Hog allow viewers from a wide variety of backgrounds to recognise elements of – and be amused by – the situations being portrayed.


This approach can be seen to reflect the Foil Arms & Hog philosophy of “Funny First, Think Later.” By choosing a mundane and familiar setting and characters that are, to some degree, recognisable, the comedians draw their viewers’ attention to the unexpected twists or out-of-place elements that form the basis of the humour. In other words, the “funny” is more striking when the viewer hasn’t had a reason to “think” about the set-up and potentially anticipate the jokes.


Having observed that Foil Arms & Hog create comedy spontaneously, and that their sketches are often inspired by everyday life, what can we conclude about their approach? It seems clear that Foil Arms & Hog have an incredible talent for observing the world around them, identifying the comedic potential of everyday situations, and re-creating the essence of those situations in their sketches. Naturally they tweak the details and add unexpected twists and exaggerated behaviours to enhance absurdity and maximise humour; but more often than not, the basic situation at the core of a sketch will be a common one and familiar to many viewers. Family relationships, romantic relationships, interactions with bullies and bureaucrats; the challenges of student life, travel, and finding a home; and more recently, the challenges of life in a global pandemic – these are just a few of the subjects that have provided material for various Foil Arms & Hog sketches and live skits. Viewers all over the world are able to relate to their sketches, because beneath the exaggerated absurdities and comic twists, the plots are based on universal or near-universal experiences and scenarios. To take family relationships as just one example, the international array of YouTube viewers who comment about how much they identify with such characters as “Anne and Oisín Flanagan” or “the McCormacks” is a testament to the ubiquity of the family dynamics that Foil Arms & Hog have managed to capture in these sketches.


A bright spot in the (pandemic) darkness

In view of the timing of the recent upsurge in the popularity of Foil Arms & Hog, no discussion of this upsurge would be complete without mentioning the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their work. As previously established, Foil Arms & Hog derive much inspiration from everyday life: they start with familiar scenarios and crank up the absurdity and wit, so that viewers relate to the situation but then have their expectations subverted as the sketch moves in an unexpected and funny direction. But as the pandemic took hold in the early months of 2020, people around the world began to find their own lives moving in an unexpected direction that wasn’t funny at all. Unable to enjoy in-person gatherings and live performances, those with internet access increasingly turned to social media and online entertainment in their spare time and some found themselves with an excess of spare time due to business and school closures. This combination of factors led people the world over to search online for videos that would cheer and distract them, and thus to discover the comedy of Foil Arms & Hog.


Viewers who discovered Foil Arms & Hog in 2020 or 2021 found a trio of comedians whose weekly YouTube videos poked fun at the newly-familiar challenges and absurdities of everyday life in a global pandemic. Foil Arms & Hog did not provide escapist fantasies for viewers by avoiding the subject of COVID-19; instead, they continued to apply their brilliant observational approach, identifying the comedic potential in various pandemic situations and using it to create brilliant sketches. These videos resonated with viewers for whom the effects of the pandemic had become an inescapable reality, and revealed the unexpectedly humorous side of a dismal situation.


Of course, once a viewer discovers Foil Arms & Hog and begins to explore the other sketches in their repertoire, it becomes clear that the pandemic is only one of the things they can make their viewers laugh about. These comedians have turned their razor-sharp wit onto many subjects over the years, and have dabbled in various genres of comedy, including absurdity, dark humour, satire, and wordplay along with the aforementioned observational humour; there’s something to please almost everyone in their growing archive of videos. Once a viewer has discovered Foil Arms & Hog, even if they only stumble upon the YouTube channel by accident, they are likely to find something they enjoy and will probably spread the word to their friends and/or family as well.


A shining light coming from within

Foil Arms & Hog did not let pandemic challenges shake their commitment to comedy, their FAHns, and each other. As performers, they were significantly affected by public health restrictions: their beloved live shows were put on hold, and lockdowns frequently prevented them from meeting in person or accessing props and costumes at their office. They nevertheless found ways to continue producing entertaining weekly videos regardless of the circumstances, clearly demonstrating their dedication to their craft and their viewers.


Their dedication to each other is evident not simply in their regular collaboration during the pandemic but also in the tone of their social media posts, interviews, outtakes, and the “outro” portions of their weekly videos. For many years, Foil Arms & Hog have concluded their videos with brief self-promotion announcements spiced with silliness and charm. Their interactions in these informal, out-of-character moments reveal a deep, genuine and affectionate bond of friendship between the three; a dynamic which may have also increased their appeal to viewers at the height of the pandemic. While their regular schedule of video uploads made Foil Arms & Hog a reliable source of joy in a disconcertingly unpredictable world, their evident pleasure in their art and each other’s company further reinforced this dependability by emphasizing the depth of their commitment. In addition, playful glimpses of the actors’ real-life friendship and reassuring signs of devotion to their FAHns may have seemed especially heart-warming to viewers amidst the isolation, upheaval, and anxiety of pandemic life.


The warmth of this trio’s longstanding relationship occasionally seems to shine through and influence the characters they portray in sketches and performances, adding a wholesome subtext of genuine affection to representations of friendship and familial love. Taking one popular recurring set of characters as an example, it can be argued that although mother-son duo Anne and Oisín Flanagan and their neighbour Barry constantly argue and become frustrated with one another, there is nevertheless an undercurrent of caring that binds the three. These characters do not behave violently in sketches (the smack with a wooden spoon is only threatened) and while Anne seems impossibly overbearing from her teenage son’s point of view, she clearly wants the best for him and even tolerates his friend Barry up to a point. Her loving care isn’t often appreciated by Oisín, but that is part of what makes his character such a believable teenager! Barry has much more patience for Mrs. Flanagan than she does for him, often appearing oblivious to her frustration. He uses every hint of hospitality, even a door left unlocked, as an excuse to visit, and it’s not difficult to imagine Barry’s persistent intrusions being motivated by a hunger for companionship and attention as well as a hunger for his favourite junk foods.


Oisín and Barry’s thoughtfulness is generally directed towards each other. Examples include Barry inviting Oisín over to his house to get him out from under Anne’s thumb in “When Parents Ruin Your Summer” and Oisín begging for Barry to be allowed on the family holiday in “Staycation With Your Parents.” On rare occasions Oisín also seems to care about his mother, most notably when he remarks on her stress level and hopes that she can relax and enjoy herself in “When Parents Cook Christmas Dinner.” Some FAHns have suggested that these comments from Oisín may be signs of the character’s emotional maturation, marking the beginning of a shift from surly teenagerhood to adult empathy and consideration. Whether this meaning was intended by Foil Arms & Hog has not yet been confirmed.


Although these characters’ personalities and interactions could have included elements of cruelty or violent behaviour to emphasize familial dysfunction or teenage rebellion, the actors chose to avoid such elements and instead anchored the fictional family’s drama in a foundation of caring and love. Not only is this undercurrent of affection in the characters’ relationships more comfortable for viewers than an undercurrent of tension or abuse would be, it is also rendered more believable by the genuine affection underlying the relationship between the actors. This subject is also well discussed, in relation to a different fictional family, in the AcademicFAHn guest blog post by Squirrels for Short titled “Intimacy in “An Irish Intervention”.


A viewer observing Foil Arms & Hog’s out-of-character interactions is likely to notice the warmth of a close and playful friendship pervading these interactions, enhancing an almost contagious feeling of joy. This affectionate warmth may at times shine through in the characters they play, and almost certainly contributes to their popularity with FAHns. As a viewer, there’s something particularly enjoyable about knowing that the people who just made you laugh also make each other laugh, and that there was probably genuine joy and friendly playfulness behind the comic scene that caused your laughter.


Respecting the audience, bullying the bully

Another important factor that makes the work of Foil Arms & Hog so enjoyable, and may contribute to their popularity is their choice to respect their audience and not “punch down.” (“Punching down” refers to the practice of making jokes at the expense of the vulnerable or less-privileged, which some comedians may do, but Foil Arms & Hog do not.)


One of the ways in which Foil Arms & Hog show respect for their audience is by creating comedy that doesn’t rely on graphic violence, toilet humour, or foul language. Although characters may occasionally curse for emphasis or insult one another in the context of a sketch, abusive language is almost never the sole focus of a performance. A notable exception is the “Insults” sketch, but even here most of the humour is derived from the inventive and witty nature of the verbal jabs traded by the characters! This refreshing approach demonstrates respect for the audience as it shows that Foil Arms & Hog consider their viewers to be intelligent people who won’t be captivated by crudeness.


Foil Arms & Hog always refuse to “punch down” with their comedy, a choice which almost subliminally establishes them as trustworthy and compassionate in the minds of their audience. In their interview with AcademicFAHn, Foil Arms & Hog indicated that they reserve their cruellest mockery for those who are themselves cruel. (This could be considered “punching up.”) Hog stated that bullies, being universally disliked, are easy targets for mockery:

Hog: Yeah, bullies, that everybody agrees on, so it’s not so much - we’re not blaming one particular party, any particular party. We’re not even concerned with that, we’re just going - we’re just picking the easy target of the bully and then making fun of them . . .


Foil Arms & Hog don’t only make fun of bullying, they also make fun of other behaviours that are clearly antagonistic or unacceptable. The true focus of this satire is generally the unpleasant behaviour rather than the individual, which helps to make the humour less offensive. It also helps to make the humour more universal. Exploitation, dishonesty, and disrespect are behaviours or attitudes that unfortunately occur throughout the world, and can therefore be made the butt of jokes that people all over the world will understand.


How not to offend people

Foil commented during the AcademicFAHn interview that the trio’s choice to avoid taking a political stance in their sketches allows viewers of any political persuasion to enjoy the humour:


Foil: We’re just trying to highlight absurdity sometimes without our point of view being around... I suppose like the Northern Ireland sketch we did recently - we would all have our own views on Northern Ireland, but the sketch tries to keep it completely neutral, you know. We like to think that whatever way you think about it, that sketch is still enjoyable for you.


Maintaining a neutral stance in a sketch with a nominally political theme in order to prioritize the humour is a great example of Foil Arms & Hog’s “Funny First, Think Later” philosophy. If being funny comes first, then the humour should have a broad appeal; it would be inappropriate to knowingly alienate part of your potential audience by offending them. If thinking comes later - after the funny part - then the serious politics of a situation shouldn’t get in the way of the jokes. After all, this is sketch comedy, not the news!


In addition to avoiding political bias, Foil Arms & Hog also try to keep their jokes free of sexist, homophobic, or transphobic punchlines - apparently for similar reasons. The AcademicFAHn interview included an insightful comment from Arms about how gender representation in performance art makes a statement to the audience. He indicated that a modern audience could draw confusing or negative conclusions from a sketch in which one half of a “romantic couple” is a man dressed as a woman; so therefore – if no guest actress is available or gender is irrelevant to the storyline – Foil Arms & Hog often use two male characters to portray a “romantic couple.”


Arms: Well, yeah, I guess that there has to be a point, which is why very often when we’re doing dating scenes, we might just use two guys because we’re not trying to make a point. You’re almost making a point now if you dress somebody in female clothes and go, hey look … it’s a date because it’s a man and a woman - you know? Whereas, like, really, you just want people to listen to the jokes . . .


The last part of Arms’ above-quoted statement exemplifies the “Funny First” philosophy. Foil Arms & Hog aren’t trying to make serious statements about issues of gender or sexuality, nor do they wish to offend anyone with their treatment of these issues; they “just want people to listen to the jokes.” It should also be noted that Foil Arms & Hog’s use of same-sex character couples in sketches, combined with their avoidance of sexist, homophobic, and transphobic punchlines, appears to have the effect of making their comedy feel safe, affirming, and/or friendly to the LGBTQ+ community. Needless to say, this also serves to broaden their potential audience base and increase their appeal to all.


The strategies of respecting the viewer, “punching up,” and minimising bias help give Foil Arms & Hog’s comedy a wide appeal. A satirical sketch cruelly skewering an underprivileged group, or with an obvious political slant, would not be enjoyed by those whose identity or viewpoint was being mocked! These strategies also exemplify Foil Arms & Hog’s “Funny First” philosophy: appealing to the largest possible audience by not deliberately offending potential viewers.


In the aforementioned AcademicFAHn interview, Foil clearly indicated that this inoffensive approach is a deliberate choice on the comedians’ part. He characterized their style of humour as “nice” rather than “mean”:


Foil: I think with all our comedy though, maybe it is fair to say… yeah, we try to be nice. I do think we try to be nice; we’re not trying to do, um, that kind of mean, cutting comedy at all. We’ve no interest in doing that.


He also expressed a compassionate desire not to upset viewers:


Foil: Yeah, we don’t want to be mean to anybody, we would hate for anybody to be upset by something we did.


This charming sentiment seems to epitomise the gentle and wholesome side of Foil Arms & Hog’s approach to comedy. It’s not difficult to understand why FAHns appreciate performers who take such a considerate approach.


Humility & honesty

Another factor in the appealing approachability of Foil Arms & Hog is that they appear to have maintained an honest, humble ethos despite their increasing fame. Their popularity has not dimmed their gratitude and kindness towards viewers and followers, and the generosity of their Patreon page must be seen to be believed. Despite the sometimes vast geographical separation that exists between Foil Arms & Hog and the majority of their FAHns, the lads seem approachable and friendly whenever and wherever FAHn interaction takes place, be it on social media or at one of their popular live shows. The very fact that FAHns fall easily into the habit of calling Foil Arms & Hog “the lads” and similar colloquial nicknames reveals the comfortable familiarity which characterises the comedians’ interactions with their audiences and followers.

A charming absence of celebrity arrogance is shown in their readiness to make fun of themselves and each other. Out-takes from filmed sketches are always popular with FAHns, and the trio are not above breaking into giggles onstage in front of live audiences. Foil Arms & Hog’s willingness to show their own humanity through their mistakes and weaknesses indicates that they do not believe their wit and talent make them superior to others.


Signs of this humility can also be seen in the way Foil Arms & Hog interact with audience members during live shows. At various points throughout the show, the comedians bring selected audience members on stage and incorporate them into skits. The audience members’ participation is integral to the skits in which they appear or at the very least, greatly increases the humour of these skits. Although audience members may feel very embarrassed when they are singled out to become part of the show, they are not being victimised or degraded; their role is to enhance the possibilities of the skit by allowing Foil Arms & Hog to make additional jokes. In all likelihood, Foil Arms & Hog never do anything to these audience members that they would not cheerfully do to each other and this is key to the special connection between them and their audience at these shows. The chosen individuals are briefly elevated to the status of performers - fellow clowns sharing the spotlight with Foil Arms & Hog. They are not entirely equals; since the chosen audience members are ignorant of what will happen next, they are forced to follow the given prompts and Foil Arms & Hog are thus able to guide the plot in the direction of maximum entertainment value. Yet in other ways they are placed on an equal footing with “the lads,” because the things the audience members are made to do or have done to them fall within the general range of activities that Foil Arms & Hog might conceivably perform or inflict on each other. This aspect of the audience members’ participation combines with the general sense of gleeful excitement to enhance the live show experience for everyone present.


These audience-participation skits do highlight the comedians’ brilliant talent by juxtaposing them with people who are not experienced performers. At the same time, these skits increase the sense of connection between the comedians and their audience by allowing an audience member to become part of the show and thereby symbolically become part of the group; physically interacting with Foil, Arms & Hog in a manner similar to the comedians’ onstage interactions with each other. A discernible gap has been temporarily narrowed, as an audience member is elevated from the role of a humble viewer into momentary stardom while the performers are brought down to earth by this connection with the audience.


Down to earth is certainly how Foil, Arms & Hog appeared in the previously-mentioned interview with AcademicFAHn. At one point in this interview, they discussed reasons why they avoid taking a political stance in their sketches, and their responses demonstrate both humility and honesty. Foil said they don’t have the expertise to give in-depth advice on political matters, so their sketches should not be taken seriously:


Foil: We would certainly encourage… people not to take us seriously, as, uh, advice on anything political, because we really do not have the knowledge.


Arms pointed out the fact that their experiences are not universal, acknowledging the privilege they enjoy:


Arms: And - yeah - and also, we’ve very very privileged lives as well . . .


Finally, Hog commented that the politics must come second to the humour:


Hog: And also, when it comes to our silly stuff, we just want to entertain people, so if you, if you’re into any political sphere, you’re like, you’re polarizing people and distracting them from the funny and making it about something we don’t want it to be about…. As soon as you do that … people argue and it becomes less funny.


Politics must come second because humour, not politics, is Foil Arms & Hog’s speciality. This statement by Hog exemplifies the “Funny First, Think Later” philosophy, but it also suggests that this philosophy stems from a humble and honest attitude: Foil Arms & Hog are aware of their area of expertise, and of the limits of that expertise.


Conclusion: What’s the secret?

There is no one single reason for the unique appeal and rising popularity of Foil Arms & Hog, but this post is one FAHn’s attempt to shed light on some likely contributing factors. The spontaneity of Foil Arms & Hog’s comedy style, based on keen observation of the comic aspects of everyday life, lends itself to scenarios that are near-universally relatable. Following their self-proclaimed motto of “Funny First, Think Later,” Foil Arms & Hog do their best to bring “funny” to the forefront by finding the humour in seemingly everything and making jokes that the largest possible number of people will enjoy. Although they dabble in a variety of comedic styles from dark and satirical to light and silly, they always strive to remain respectful by “punching up” (never down). These three seem as devoted to each other as they are dedicated to comedy, and the affectionate friendship evident in their out-of-character filmed interactions is not only a positive phenomenon in its own right but may also add a pleasant warmth and depth to the portrayal of characters’ relationships in some of their performances. The wholesomeness doesn’t end there: in addition to offering a degree of respect and consideration, Foil Arms & Hog also approach their audiences with a friendliness, humility, and honesty not always exhibited by internationally-recognised performing artists. These characteristics naturally add to their unique appeal. Their good-natured attitude encourages a friendly atmosphere amongst their followers as well, and helps to make the Foil Arms & Hog fandom – including online FAHn spaces – feel comfortable and welcoming.


The many appealing qualities of Foil Arms & Hog’s comedy - relatable, clever, respectful, silly, sweet - likely combined with the increased number of people seeking online entertainment during the pandemic has caused the upswing in Foil Arms & Hog’s popularity since 2020. And once a viewer discovers and begins to explore Foil Arms & Hog’s ever-growing treasure trove of comedy, they will most likely stick around for the endless laughter, but also for the lads’ wholesome charm and the welcoming “FAHndom.”

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