Stuck In A Lift
The sketch comedy trio talk backstage essentials, bad jobs and why they have a score to settle with Woody Harrelson
A few things got us through lockdown. Skyping with friends and family. Spending time in nature. Laughing at Gal Gadot’s ‘Imagine’ video. But it was also the rise of internet sketch comedy – with acts such as Aunty Donna, The Pin and Hemah K all revolutionising what hadn’t been on TV in years (and what we were missing in live comedy clubs), and bringing it right into our homes.
Sean ‘Foil’ Finegan, Conor ‘Arms’ McKenna and Sean ‘Hog’ Flanagan have been making comedy together since 2008 – bonding over a shared love of Father Ted in the drama society of University College Dublin, before becoming regulars at the Edinburgh Fringe – but it’s only in the last few years that they found their biggest audience on YouTube.
‘When Irish People Can’t Speak Irish’, ‘Teaching Computers To Parents’, ‘Getting Past US Immigration’ and the sublime ‘An Englishman Plays Risk’ have all now racked up millions of views – with new sketches added every single week. Now bringing their live show back to the Fringe, ahead of a huge run of UK dates in September and October, Foil, Arms & Hog are returning to the stage as conquering heroes.
“It’s mad, when you compare it to our first year at The Fringe,” says Foil, sharing a Zoom call with Arms and Hog, all helpfully not sitting in that order. “We were just deluded back then,” laughs Arms. “I remember packing a suit thinking we were definitely on for an award. We haven’t brought suits to the Fringe since…”
But then who needs suits when you have your own line of branded merchandise? Before Foil, Arms & Hog pick up too many awards to even fit in an elevator, we got stuck in a lift with the trio to ask the important questions.
Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
Foil: We thought about this one a lot. Woody Harrelson. What a legend. Or is he? Years ago, and this was one of the greatest and most crushing things to ever happen to us, he stole one of our sketches and put it on his Instagram. Now, I say “stole” because he didn’t give us credit. He did say “these Irish guys”, but there was no link back to us. The sketch did really well but we didn’t actually benefit from it.
Arms: We’ve got a few questions for Mr Harrelson…
Foil: To be honest I think we’d just crumble if we were stuck in a lift with him. We’d just tell him how great he is.
Can you steal one of his performances and not credit him?
Hog: We could put the entire 12 seasons of Cheers on our Instagram. Back to back.
Arms: He’s got better lawyers than us.
Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?
Hog: These two guys. They’re intolerable.
Foil: Yeah, we’ve spent a lot of time together. Although I think if you could do what we did eight years ago – a full UK tour in two-bedroom hotel rooms when there’s three of us… I think that’s worse than a lift.
Hog: One time our room was so small that McKenna’s legs came over my pillow because both beds were head to tail.
Arms: Yeah my legs were either side of your head. I was like, “I’m so sorry, but what else do you want me to do?”
Hog: Sleep on your side!
Arms: You know I snore!
What’s the weirdest interaction you’ve ever had with a famous person?
Arms: I don’t know how many famous people I’ve met.
Hog: Am I famous?
Arms: To me? No.
Foil: The weirdest one that’s coming to mind is Jimmy White, the snooker player. My dad brought me to see him play an exhibition match at a club down the road when I was growing up. He was entertaining the crowd and it was amazing to see one of my heroes right in front of me. And then later on I went to the toilet, and Jimmy White came into the toilet and stood beside me at the urinal. I just got so overwhelmed that I couldn’t go. I just had to shamefully zip up and walk away. What did he think I was doing?! Oh, God.
What was the last gig you went to?
Hog: Together? Was it The Coronas?
Arms: No. We all went to Ed Sheeran, didn’t we?
Hog: I wasn’t there.
Arms: Have you not been to any festivals? You’ve got a better social life than me.
Hog: Yeah, but I don’t bother with the music. I’m the guy turned away from the stage chatting to people as they’re trying to enjoy the music.
Foil: We’ve got Electric Picnic coming up actually, and Billie Eilish is doing the Friday night. They were like, “When do you want to play?” Not Friday night! There’s such a fear when you play a music festival as a comedian. You’re constantly terrified because you don’t know when a big act is gonna come on the main stage and you have to watch your audience walk out halfway through.
Arms: Maybe The Coronas was the last one we were all at together.
Hog: We never sit down and have a meal together anymore…
What’s on your rider?
Foil: We’re so boring. So low maintenance.
Hog: So much so that whenever we have friends come and see us backstage they’re always really disappointed. It’s literally just crisps.
Foil: Our rider at the moment is a bag of bread and a six-pack of cans. But that has nothing to do with what we want backstage, they’re just props in the show so we need them.
Arms: I do like it when they give us a nice plate of biscuits.
Hog: I’m quite addicted to beef jerky now, too.
Arms: You’re such a diva!
Which work of yours didn’t get the attention that it deserved?
Hog: They’ve all done so well…
Arms: No, there was an online sketch called ‘An Interview With Winter’ which no one liked. But I still look back at it and it always makes me laugh. There’s another one I love, too, that’s about sponsoring someone, and no one really watched it. It’s a person asking for people to sponsor him for doing a walk, and everyone’s like, “You like walking, why would I give you money for that?!” “Are you doing your bare feet?!” “Why would I give you money to enjoy yourself?”
Foil: I think we always get our own back, though, if a sketch doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, because we do a review of our best sketches of the year and we just put it in. Oh, you didn’t like it then? Maybe you like it now? Well, we like it so here it is again. It’s not about you, it’s about us.
What did the 12-year-old you think you’d be doing now?
Foil: I think 12-year-old me just wanted to be famous, but I didn’t really put it down to anything in particular. I just wanted the fame.
Arms: I think I thought I’d be a priest.
Foil: A famous priest?
Hog: You don’t want to be a famous priest…
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given?
Arms: When I was in college and I was doing theatre, we had an acting competition. Afterwards, one of the judges came up to me and I asked him what he thought of my performance. He was like, “Very good. But can I give you a bit of advice? Keep doing what you’re doing until someone says stop.” And then he just walked off. So, keep doing what you’re doing? Great. Until someone says stop? Someone’s gonna say stop? And then that’s it? You just give up? The first person who offers a tiny bit of criticism, you pack the whole thing in? That’s the worst advice I’ve ever got.
Foil: I remember the worst advice we got as a group. We were doing a show right before we went to Edinburgh and this guy came up to us afterwards. We were chatting to him and asking what he thought of the show. We were like, “Any feedback? We’re really keen to improve it so anything you might have thought…” And he said one word. He just said, “Half”. We asked him to elaborate and he just said, “Cut everything in half and double the jokes”. I’m glad we didn’t listen to him.
What’s the was the worst job you’ve ever had?
Arms: I worked in a cat food factory. I was 16, and the job started at 05:30 and ended at 14:30. Why we couldn’t have worked those same hours a bit later, I still don’t know to this day. It involved lifting these giant pallets of 48 cans of cat food and putting them on a moving belt, and the machine never stopped. But that wasn’t as bad as one of the other guys who had to push the meat tray with all the boiled meat on it. But it was just the misery of it all. We didn’t even have the radio on. There was no chat. It was nearly pitch black. It was freezing cold.
You had to put the cat food on in a certain order, and the only way that I could make it fun for myself was to mix it up. They had these multipacks where each cat would obviously receive a variety of different foods, such as chicken, vegetables, fish or whatever. And I would sometimes group six fishes together and then imagine a cat getting the same meal every day for a week. Still though, that job helped me pay for a PlayStation, so I can’t complain.
Foil: Our worst job as a group was when a popular beer brand hired us for our amazing acting skills, very early on in our career. We had to dress up in frozen make-up and an ice costume and go into a pub and order a pint of their thing. The idea was that we would freeze as we drank their ice beer, and then sit their motionless in the middle of the pub. The problem was, they sent us into some really rough places. We were standing there, not allowed to move, and we had people sticking their wet fingers in our ears all night. It was just a full hour of humiliation.
Hog: You say worst job in the world, I say best job ever. I really enjoyed it. And those people who came up to give us wet willies and prods and whatever, in the end they felt humiliated because we stuck to the bit and we stayed in character. They were just confused by it. And they felt bad.
Arms: That paid for our first Edinburgh Fringe too.
If you had to have a theme song playing every time you walked into a room, what would it be?
Hog: Moby – ‘Bodyrock’. We’d walk into the room in a V-formation, super dangerous.
Arms: That’s super hype. You’ve gotta bring the noise after that.
Hog: The song does it for me!
Arms: Yeah but what happens when the song fades out? Or when you’re feeling really depressed? I’d go with the [sad clown trumpet sound] instead. Or the theme from Jurassic Park.
Who do you most often get told that you look like?
Arms: Oh there’s a few. I’ve been told Dick Van Dyke. And a young Stephen Fry.
Foil: I get Randy from Sammy J and Randy. I used to get stopped by people in Edinburgh going “What a great party last night! In the kitchen! In the kitchen?!” And I’m just shaking my head going, “You’re thinking about the guy with the puppet, aren’t you?”
Hog: I get Charlie Chaplin. Without the moustache.
Arms: You should try and bring that moustache back…
What do you hate that everyone else loves?
Foil: Positive feedback. After a show, people come up to you and they just want to tell you all the good bits. But I don’t want to know the good bits. I want to know the bad bits. It’s totally useless getting told the stuff that worked, because that’s when everyone laughed. I want to know the bits that were awful. But no one wants to tell you because they’re too nice.
Which film have you rewatched the most times?
Arms: Probably Lord Of The Rings. The first one. When I was 16, I think I watched it 12 times. I don’t think I’ve ever obsessed over something that much. That’s bad since I think it was a lot. Yeah.
Hog: Mine was Terminator 2, when I was eight. It really affected me.
Foil: The Big Lebowski. There was a period when I just kept watching it.
Arms: Actually also A Night At The Opera. The best Marx Brothers movie by far.
Do you have any superstitions?
Foil: Yeah. Before we go on stage we have to slap each other’s arses. No more questions.
Arms: We didn’t do it for one gig and it was the worst gig we’d ever done. So now we always to do it.
Hog: I think we were just trying to psych each other up, get the adrenaline going. I don’t like it. It hurts. Can we do it more softly please?
Hog: Almost playful.
Foil: I said no more questions!