Foil, Arms & Hog

Dublin-based trio perform a short but sweet set at the Belly Laughs Comedy Festival in Belfast

Comedy troupes come in all shapes and sizes. Such variation often extends into the fabric of the material, for better or worse. In the case of Dublin funny men Foil, Arms & Hog, however, there are few things besides their act to distinguish them.

A trio of fairly normal guys, they have few freakish tics to call upon if the main jokes fall flat. No, the truth is this: Sean Finegan (Foil), Conor McKenna (Arms), and Sean Flanagan (Hog) are hysterical in their own right, purveyors of a seriously funny live act and a burgeoning résumé in radio and television.

Their appearance at the 2014 Belly Laughs Comedy Festival in Belfast comes as something of a quick break, given the hectic nature of a recent schedule in which they sold out the Edinburgh Fringe (for the fifth consecutive year) and completed a world tour taking in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Adelaide. A night at the Black Box shouldn’t cause them too much hassle.

The evening kicks off with all three striding onto the stage following a slyly grandiose self-introduction. Clapping themselves into view, they encourage the audience to do the same, stepping off, and back on, to a rapturous applause similar to the reactions they declare to have received in the pubs and clubs of rural Mexico.

Closer to home, Foil, Arms & Hog claim to be familiar with more celebrated surroundings. ‘We’re used to playing arenas. 2,000 to 5,000 people,’ says Flanagan, wearing a straight face. The enthusiastic reception does strike a chord, winks Finegan. ‘That takes me back to the O2. That was incredible.’

Having met while studying at University College Dublin, the group exudes a confidence and familiarity born of many hours spent moulding their style. The schtick presents itself as a potent brew of clever skits and sharply observed humour, its kinetic motion packing an awful lot into a brief running time.

There is no zaniness masquerading as wit, rather a flippant tone is evident from the off. This is irreverent Irish humour at its biting best. Indeed, the nation’s famous fondness for a tipple is touched on immediately.

McKenna takes the form of a young boy being dragged over the coals by his fussy mother – Finegan, striking a frighteningly accurate pose – and caring uncle for not drinking alcohol. He has inherited the tenuous relationship with the drink from his late father, goes the punchline. ‘Your father was a lightweight. He drank Coors Light.’

In keeping with the general style of this genre, some ideas are chunkier than others but Foil, Arms & Hog are quick to display gags as varied as they are amusing. In one small interlude, Finegan pretends to be a trigger-happy French border official who shoots up a customs hall, a slow-motion farce set to the surprisingly evocative, undeniably left-field soundtrack of McKenna’s Arabian-style keening.

The jump from sketch to sketch is signalled by the bashing of a cymbal and next up is a fantastically cheesy radio advert for the ‘Narcissistic Song Collection’, replete with smarmy infomercial voiceovers and Flanagan on a guitar. ‘I kissed myself and I liked it,’ sings McKenna. ‘I was always on your mind,’ croons Flanagan.

A sequence centred on a stand-up comedian’s eulogy at his mother’s funeral is lit up by Finegan, adopting the persona of a random stranger who has bought a ticket to the event. ‘Do the trousers bit,’ he calls out, repeatedly, from a seat in the front row, sniggering and yo-hoing any time Flanagan opens his mouth to remember a lost parent.

An especially brilliant extended skit sees Flanagan take up his guitar once again to strum a tender melody, while Finegan and a cowed-looking McKenna each don a thin red headband. Only when Finegan starts nattering away in a faux eastern dialect does it become clear that they are riffing on The Deer Hunter, Flanagan’s musical accompaniment being its iconic soundtrack.

The audience gets the joke, almost as one, only to be delighted further when an unwitting punter is invited to participate in south Dublin’s equivalent of Russian roulette: vigorously shaken, reshuffled tins of lager.

‘Dideemao,’ gibber Flanagan and Finegan, aping the sadistic guards from Michael Cimino’s Vietnam war opus. Holding the cans up to their temples, both contestants must pull the tabs in the hope that they won’t be drenched. McKenna ends up losing out on the last attempt, much to the crowd’s glee.

There is perhaps room for much more but, due to an otherwise full bill, this anarchic triumvirate have no choice but to wind it up before they can really get going. This is a pity since the concluding theme, ‘The Council of the Net People’ – a bizarre yet wicked skewering of the low-end sci-fi represented by the likes of Doctor Who – indicates an enviable ability to parody even the most unexpected of subjects.

A short, sharp shock to the funny bone, with any luck, Foil, Arms & Hog will be back soon. When that happens, be there.

Belly Laughs Comedy Festival runs in venues across Belfast until October 5.