Most comedians live for laughter. They fine-tune their timing and expertly tweak their material according to an audience’s reaction. So what happens when you take away everything that sustains them? What if there was no audience?
Comedian Ian Abramson wondered the same thing, and thus Seven Minutes in Purgatory was born. The comedian’s hugely popular show was recently picked up by Comedy Central, and the stage show comes to Moontower next week featuring comics from the fest. I spoke to Ian recently about the show, writing for The Onion, and why improv and stand-up don’t always get along.
Tell me a little bit about the origins of Seven Minutes in Purgatory.
Certainly: Seven Minutes in Purgatory is a show where the comedians perform to a camera in one room, and the audience watches in a separate room. When I was in Chicago I was thinking, “There’s this relationship between the audience and the performer,” and I thought it would be interesting if you got to see what a comedian did when they didn’t have anything to respond to.
Were you the guinea pig for this, or how did you first get it together?
I produced it with a man named Matt Burn in Chicago. We sat down and talked through it, and we built a whole show’s worth of comedians doing seven minute sets to try this out. The way that that played out is I hosted and then I brought up comedians. So I was the first person to do it, but by the end of the night, eight people had.
Did you come to any scientific conclusions about who would succeed at such a thing?
Right off the bat what was interesting to me — something we didn’t anticipate — was just that people get a kick out of it. The people that are showing up for the show know what the show is, hopefully, and if not, hopefully it becomes clear what they’re doing. That means that anyone that’s sitting down to watch the show gets a comedian saying, “Man, this feels so weird!” and that gets a big laugh. Because the audience is living that moment-to-moment with them, if anything it makes the audience more aware of the fact that they are part of the show. They’re keenly aware of the fact that they’re sitting there watching the show, and their response to it is part of that experience. That was an interesting thing that we wouldn’t have thought would happen, but that was one of my favorite parts of the show.