Comedian Ian Abramson has a slightly odd – okay, maybe very odd – approach to his stand-up. “Other people do 'this is who I am and this how I grew up.' I do the opposite of that. Absolutely none of [my comedy] is about my real life or who I am. I tell people I don't actually exist; I'm a figment of your imagination.”
So his goal onstage is to make us believe he's not real? we ask. “Not just to make you believe that I'm not here; to help you understand and know that I'm not here.”
What does that look like onstage? “I do short-form material. I do something physical and then do a one-liner about something absurd, and then I light my hand on fire.”
The LA Weekly recently gave Abramson a Best Up and Coming Comedian award. We asked him about the words the newspaper used to describe him.
Experimental. "Yeah, I would say that experimental describes my stand-up. I try to find a new way to find someone laugh. I come at it from the point of, 'Okay, let's see what happens.' When I'm writing a new joke, the idea is 'What if I tried to make a joke about this or maybe in this way' and seeing if it works or not.
Physical. "I love comedians that are very physical. I love Stephen Wright; there's something about the way that he does the joke physically that does affect the joke, and that has always fascinated me.
Absurd. "Yep, absurdity is my religion."
There was one term that surprised us. Refreshingly modest. Is that accurate? we ask.
“That would be a weird thing to agree to,” he says. “'Yeah, I'm just so modest. That's right, I'm Mr. Modest.' I would say that I don't focus too much on anything but the fact that a joke is working and what can I do to make it work. If you buy into the idea that sometimes you're great, you have to buy into the fact that sometimes you're terrible.”
One of Abramson's most popular creations is Seven Minutes of Purgatory. Instead of standing in front of a crowd and telling jokes, the comedians stand in an empty room wearing soundproof headphones. In the next room is the audience. The comedian does his routine to a camera that's broadcasting to the audience. The audience can hear the comedian; the comedian can't hear the audience.
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“In stand-up, the audience comes in expecting to respond to the comedian. What I thought was interesting was the fact that the comedian is also responding to the audience. Depending on if they're laughing or not, on what's going on, the comedian's taking that in and adjusting what they're doing accordingly.”
Here the comic has no feedback. “It's different from just performing your jokes in the mirror because you know you're being heard, you know something's happening, you just don't know what that is.”
Abramson has done a Seven Minutes of Purgatory set 20 times now. “So you've spent 140 minutes of purgatory?” we ask. “That's right,” he laughs.
Ian Abramson performs two sets at Houston Whatever Fest at times and dates to be announced. The festival runs noon to midnight Saturday, November 21 and Sunday, November 22. Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. For information, visit houstonwhateverfest.com. $35 to $55.