Ian Abramson’s recent Conan standup set was a bit of a deviation: For the majority of the segment, the comedian allowed an audience member to shock him with his dog’s training collar if they didn’t like a joke. Brain cancer and suicide jokes flew by, a groan-worthy Tennessee Williams joke brought the pain.
Abramson, who started working out this bit last year, says he’s gained some insight from the experience: Drunk people love to electrocute him, but the bit definitely wakes people up on a Saturday night. And it changes the audience-performer dynamic.
“You guys are deciding whether or not this goes well,” he says as we sit in the bar of the Stephen F. Austin hotel before his Moontower Comedy set. “The show is half you. If you don’t like it, that’s part of the show.”
It’s an inventive bit, but also a risky one to pursue at a time when you can make a snap judgement about a joke with the click of a mouse.
“It either surprises them or it doesn’t,” Abramson says. “The shock is part of it. If anything, it calls out when a joke doesn’t do that great. And that’s kind of fun in itself… I think online you can just kind of say what you want, but when you’re at a comedy show you’re more aware you’re in the room. And I’m asking you to be even more aware. Joke to joke, you’re deciding what works.”
Abramson, who’s been doing standup for the past five years, started experimenting as host of Comedy Central’s 7 Minutes in Purgatory, in which a comedian has to do their set away from the audience and its joke-affirming laughter. He says the show made him think more about the audience-performer dynamic.
“7 Minutes in Purgatory, the experiment, was basically what if I didn’t know how the audience is responding, and the shock collar is basically what if only one person decided whether or not a joke worked? And bombing means being electrocuted,” he says.
It doesn’t hurt that shocking a man onstage is damn hilarious, whether or not the joke he just told is funny.
We asked Abramson a few questions about the internet, too. Here are some responses:
What’s your favorite meme?
What’s weird about memes is, we’re all trying to enjoy them ironically, but we end up just enjoying them. If we’re all enjoying it ironically, then we’re enjoying it sincerely. A good meme makes me laugh. I love a good GIF. I’ll definitely say Damn Daniel. I love that vine. But that feels insane to say: “I love that vine.”
It feels so old now, because there are so many new memes every day.
I can’t wait for Ken Burns Presents: The History of Pepe the Frog. That’s going to be such a saga.
What about your favorite dead website?
I used to love going to Newgrounds. They did a lot of Flash games, a lot of online, browser-based games. They’re still up but I don’t visit them.
Do you have a million-dollar app idea?
Weirdly enough, I’m helping a couple people develop an app. There’s this company in L.A. that’s just trying to mix comedy and technology, and has some really cool interesting ideas. …I don’t think I can explain well enough to say it, so I won’t. But the app itself was basically a joke, taking a normal idea for an app and just kind of twisting it.