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What’s It Like to Perform Stand-Up Without Hearing Your Audience?

Ian Abramson’s 7 Minutes in Purgatory has comedians performing via live stream with absolutely zero crowd feedback.

Photo: Kevin Penczak

Some comics are known for their timing, others for quippy one-liners. With Ian Abramson, it’s noise-canceling earmuffs.

The onetime Chicagoan invented 7 Minutes in Purgatory, a showcase in which each standup performs a set in seclusion, donning the noise cancelers, while the audience watches the live stream. The result is one long, painful stretch for comics unable to feed off viewers’ reactions. “It feels like performing underwater,” says Abramson, 27, who launched the series in 2014.

Ahead of the next show he’s hosting at the Hideout on June 4 (eight comics will get the silent treatment, part of the Onion’s comedy festival), Abramson shares five lessons from purgatory.

Embrace the Awkwardness

“Acknowledging how weird the situation is usually gets a laugh. Like ‘Thank you for what I assume was a standing ovation’ or ‘How many women have thrown their panties onstage?’ At one show, T.J. Miller uncapped every water bottle in a case and poured them on himself.”

Dare to Get Gross

“People tend to use 7 Minutes to try gross, off-color jokes they wouldn’t normally do. You get a better reaction because of the distance between you and the audience. At one show, Kurt Braunohler even took his testicles out. He was performing outside a venue, and a cop drove by. The set ended with him running into the wilderness.”

Work the Camera

“A lot of people have started doing characters. At one show, Thomas Middleditch just reviewed Doritos for 10 minutes straight, like a YouTube food critic.”

Go Musical

“Being trapped in silence gets people singing. Once, Drew Frees reenacted the Danger Zone sequence from Top Gun in full falsetto. The whole audience sang along. Of course, he couldn’t hear.”

Relax

“Comics always forget the audience paid real money to see this; they know what to expect. It’s a seven-minute nightmare to perform, but it’s a 70-minute nightmare for the crowd to watch all night.”

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