Features Editor, Gemma Kent, sits down with Sean Finegan, Conor McKenna and Sean Flanagan (better known as Foil, Arms and Hog) to talk franchising, winning streaks, and a mid-filming debacle with the Gardaí.
It’s the 30th of June, and myself and my right-hand woman, Katie, are queueing up outside the City Limits Comedy Club just off Patrick’s Hill, wondering how I will explain to the man at the door that I have a free pass to get in despite the only proof being an easily forgeable email. I pepper about it the whole way to the door, but luckily for me the Comedy Club are nice people, and once I’ve stammered out why I’m here a few times, Brian, the manager, lets me carry on inside (under the easy-to-meet condition that I give City Limits a good review). Inside, Katie and I buy drinks, then pick our seats as near to the front as we can. Needless to say, three of Ireland’s funniest young comedians draw a serious crowd.
It’s impossible to go into the ins and outs of a comedy set without utterly butchering every joke made (my family can attest to this). I think the best I can do to commemorate a brilliant few hours of comedy is to say that the trio made excellent use of a quaintly-sized stage, and weren’t afraid to call on a few unsuspecting members of the audience to join them up there. They radiated enthusiasm throughout every set, from one cymbal crash to the next, and their willingness to poke fun at themselves and the medium of the live show itself was a great way to keep the audience roaring with laughter. Brian’s words as he introduces the show sum up the whole experience better than I could:
“this is live comedy; this is pure joy.”
After the gig, the lads are to be found at the summit of an eager queue near the lobby, where they are selling DVDs of their earlier performances and obliging eager fans with funny-faced selfies. When it is our turn for the meet and greet, we are relieved to confirm that A) the trio remember their promise of an after-show interview and B) that the friendly demeanour they radiate on stage is a genuine reflection of their off-stage selves. After the boys have wrapped up thanking show-goers, it’s down to business, and I am proud that I’m only a little tongue-tied.
First on the list is a discussion on the process behind their weekly YouTube videos.
“We film it, edit it and schedule it all on the day before,” Arms explains. “It can sometimes take a while to do. Like in the summer, when we’re writing a new show, we tend to do ones that focus on a single shot.” They tell me that one can trace when new content for shows is being written, because there will be a chunk of these ‘single shotters’ clustered together. Foil adds, “It’s a massive thing because it’s just the three of us doing everything. If you want to flick [the camera] and see the other side, you have to dress a whole background behind the other character.”
“It’s hard enough to make our office look like an office, without having to do it from a different angle,” Arms chimes in. “That’s an extra hour of editing, right there.”
The trio go on to explain some of the necessary evils of releasing their work online. “You’re terrified of missing a day,” Foil says, to which Arms adds, “It’s not even so much that you’d miss one. It’s that if you miss one, you’ll make an excuse to miss another one. It’s never just one.”
I’m told their ‘winning streak’ has been running for a good two and a half years now, which puts that fifty day Snapchat streak Katie and I once racked up to shame. “God,” says Hog, after a brief pause, “imagine if you missed one week. You’d wake up one night with night terrors or something.” He feigns utter dismay at the idea (eye twitching, brow furrowed, mouth hanging) – although it’s possible the dismay is genuine. I ask if there’s a preference for online or live performances, and am met with a chorus of support for performing live.
“[With filming online,] you do the video and then you go home and have your dinner. That’s the height of it… And you hope that people like it the next day, of course.
“It’s like doing a stage show with two way glass,” Arms says, “the audience can see you but you can’t see them. You have no idea if they’re enjoying it. And if you happened to wake up at eight o’clock in the morning [when the videos are scheduled for release] to go to the toilet or something, your heart starts thumping ‘cause you know the video’s out and you’re screwed ‘cause have to check it.”
On the subject of their online work, I’m compelled to mention one of my favourites: “Learning to Drive with your Parents”, a video which captures perfectly the utter craziness surrounding those early months of learning to navigate the streets. The filming of the video itself was apparently just as chaotic, Hog tells me. “We got stopped by the cops filming that!” he says, as soon as I bring it up. “It’s the scene at the end where McKenna [Arms] is in the car behind us, pretending to be a random guy beeping the horn, and I get out and punch him through the windscreen. When we were doing that part, the coppers pulled up, sirens [blaring]. We turned white.” I ask, “Did they recognise you?”
“They may have,” he says. “Because they immediately said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re filming something’ and then drove off, that was it.” Apparently, a rolling camera is the perfect way to avoid being jailed.
Speaking of the lads’ infamously accurate Irish Mammy character, I realise that the show I have just seen definitely lacked very ‘Irish-specific’ jokes. While the absence didn’t detract from the overall experience, it did answer one of the questions I had been meaning to put to the three: ‘how do you cater for a non-Irish audience?’
“We used to have more Irish-specific stuff in the shows,” Foil explains. “We obviously still have lots of it on YouTube, but on stage we’ve weeded it out, mainly because we wrote our new show in advance of [the Edinburgh Fringe Festival]. The show develops there, so if they’re not laughing at the Irish stuff, it gets cut.”
Brimming on the edge of the interview’s end, I ask if they are apprehensive ahead of their new show, OinK. Expecting sentiment and a sombre ‘we’ll miss the old one’, I can’t help but laugh when they unanimously declare they can’t wait to see the end of it. “We’ve done it about three hundred times in the last year,” Foil says. “You get so bored of it,” Arms adds. “And we’ve still got a show left in London!” Hog laughs. “Good luck there, lads.” But Arms has a handy solution to cut down on the repetitiveness of the shows. “I’m thinking I might try to franchise it out to three guys who look like us,” he says. “That’s’ our big career dream, to franchise Foil, Arms and Hog.”
“Imagine a North Korean FAH!” Hog says. “And we’d need, like, a Sugar Babes FAH, that’ll be all different ethnicities and can just tour anywhere,” Foil adds. You heard it here first, folks.
A love of live performance is clear among the three. When Katie asks if they are still susceptible to a dose of pre-performance nerves, there is a unanimous verdict that they have performed too much to fear the stage. The only time they risk losing their stride, Arms tells us, is “when the laughter stops” or “if there’s something weird about the venue.” Luckily, there is no risk of that in the Comedy Club, where the only way you might miss a joke is because everyone is still laughing at the last one. Plus, the sound in that place bounces off every wall, like, four times (I am told Tommy Tiernan loves the place, because it’s LOUD). There really is little faulting the Coburg Street venue, and I don’t say that just because the manager jokingly threatened me to. It really is a great place to settle down and spend a few hours clutching your ribs and drying your eyes. It’s got all the style of a city club, but with the cosy charm of a sized-down Opera House. If everyone reading this attempts to say “City Limits Comedy Club, Coburg Street, Cork” five times fast for at least thirty seconds, then I think I will have inadvertently brainwashed a chunk of the Motley readership and done Brian – the inventor of this impossible challenge – quite proud. (Successful renditions should be recorded and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, for the prize of ‘my infinite respect’).
Before we wrap up, I ask the lads if they will be returning to Cork in the near future.
“We’re working on it,” Foil tells me, “maybe in September. That’s when the new stuff that you saw tonight will be re-written, fleshed out, and [even] funn[ier].” “And at least twenty minutes longer,” Arms adds.
“We will stretch that shit out way past when you think we should stop.” Having seen them perform, I don’t think ‘stopping’ should be on the agenda any time soon.