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Foil, Arms & Hog

Interview with Conor McKenna from Foil, Arms & Hog

20 April 2016 Tom Faber

Conor McKenna is the Arms of Foil, Arms & Hog, the Irish comedy trio who have toured the world, sold out Edinburgh fringe six years in a row, and taken YouTube by storm.

London Calling: Tell me about your show ‘Skiddlywup’ that you’re going to perform at the Udderbelly.

Conor McKenna: It’s our show from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival so it should be super-tight by now. We go to the Fringe with about three quarters written and then improvise for a few weeks and take it on tour. We’ve now finished our Irish and UK tours so I’m really looking forward to it.

 

LC: You’ve toured the world, from America to Australia. Were there any strange gigs?

CM: We did a gig in a cinema in Los Angeles. We’d never done a gig in LA before and the first act came on and just took all his clothes off. He was maybe a man in his mid-60s. He just came on, put some weird dance music on, and took everything off. And that was the opening act. People were just taking their seats, adjusting their pints and taking their coats off. And this man had all his clothes off, so that was very strange.

And we had to stay in very strange places. When we did our show in Hawaii we stayed in this really creepy hostel. There was someone murdered on our street while we were there. It wasn’t a good place at all. We came into the hostel - we booked a four-bed room because there are three of us and we thought we don’t want to end up with some maniac. So we went in and the first thing I did was, I was looking for a light switch and I pressed a button. And all I heard was this muffled (puts on low, gravelly voice) “You shut off my air”.

LC: From who?

CM: From this unseen figure in the dark lying down. He was connected to some breathing apparatus. I was shitting a brick, there were loads of buttons and I didn’t know which one to press and I’m trying to find which one and I’m potentially killing this guy.

LC: Did you manage to find the switch?

CM: Yeah I did. He was like “the band-aid, the one with the band-aid,” he’d put a horrible little plaster over the electricity switch to keep it on all the time. We had to sleep in a room with a guy like Darth Vader for a night having nearly killed him.

 

 

LC: You do a YouTube sketch every single week. Is that tough?

CM: It is. We write, shoot, and edit it in around 2 days. But there are three of us, three writers, so we all have a big bank of scripts that we dig into so we’re never short of material. Just trying to think of a clever way to make our office look different each time. That’s the main problem - if someone gets a new poster for the wall, that’s a big deal.

 

LC: So if you have the three of you all thinking up ideas, do you do that individually or do you come up with them together?

CM: Mostly you go off by yourself and think of a few funny ideas that make you laugh and then the temptation is never to tell anyone about them because then they can always remain in your head as being funny. Eventually you have to tell them to people, and I think about one in five ideas is a goer, and the other four you’re generally disappointed by.  You’ve got to almost present like you would in an ordinary business. You start getting paranoid, you try not to do it during lunchtime, people are eating, they might not be listening, you make sure that everyone’s had enough food, they’re not hungry. You have your idea and you think it’s really good you want the best possible atmosphere to present it; you don’t want someone’s phone going off halfway through.

LC: You raise the thermostat slightly just before you all go in.

CM: (Laughs) That’s a new one, I’ve got to start doing that. There’s definitely an optimum temperature to deliver comedy.

 

LC: Do you find that when you’re performing the three of you tend to have similar roles each time or are you more versatile?

CM: We try and mix it up as much as possible. In one sketch one of us will be playing the straight man role. Originally we were Foil, Arms and Hog. Foil, that’s Sean Finegan, he was the straight man, I was Arms, the clumsy physical one and Hog was always off-script, hogging the limelight. That’s how it worked for the first two years but now just to keep it interesting for all of us we play a variety of different characters and we improvise a lot more now than we used to. It’s a bit of a cliché but when we’re having fun, the audience will know it. They’ll be able to tell if we’re just getting through it.

 

 

LC: As YouTube is something that’s really come up in the comedy world during your career, do you feel like the internet has had a big effect on comedy?

CM: Yeah, it’s massive. Before YouTube you had to get on television. You need a TV appearance and then rack up the TV appearances and then you need your face on a chat show and these things were really difficult to get. You needed an agent who was a bull and who was pulling the strings for you. Now you can almost bypass all that, you can put your stuff out there. You don’t need to censor it, nobody’s telling you what to write. You have full creative control.

 

LC: So the creative process is different and what about the nature of the comedy, has the internet changed that as well?

CM: Yeah, definitely. Comedy is a lot more quickfire now. The attention spans of people watching stuff on the internet are much lower than people watching television. You’re in front of your computer and it’s really hard to sit and watch something without going to check your email or Facebook or football results - sometimes even while you’re watching something. Short form comedy works a lot better and that’s what you see with people doing Vines, or doing extremely relatable short videos made on mobile phones.

LC: A lot of your videos on Youtube are just one or two minutes.

CM: It seems to be the optimum length for a sketch before the joke runs dry or we run out of camera angles, or new walls to show.

 

LC: Where are your favourite places to go or things to do when you are in London?

CM: We hope that your readers might find it interesting that we always stay in Bayswater. The three of us stay in a budget hotel, three beds beside each other, all tucked in. We do writing in the British Library. We write our jokes in there.

LC: In silence?

CM:  It’s really great to concentrate because everyone’s working! I love the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square too.

 

Foil, Arms & Hog are playing at Udderbelly festival on 16th and 22nd June at 9pm, as well as 8th July. Book tickets here.

Check out their hilarious Youtube channel, which they update with a new sketch every Thursday.

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