"My career and I are in an open relationship and we're very understanding of what the other needs, you know? My career has definitely become involved with other people, a collaboration of sorts. And maybe one day I will as well."
– Ian Abramson
Guy MacPherson: You were expecting my call, I hope.
Ian Abramson: I am. You were expecting to call, I hope.
GM: No. It's coincidence. But I'm glad I got you. Where are you right now?
IA: I'm in Los Angeles. Where are you?
GM: I am in the city of Vancouver, Canada.
IA: Love it. I'm in my car sitting. We're in the middle of a heat wave so I've got the air conditioning on. I'm stationary so that you have my full attention. Where are you?
GM: I'm sitting on my bed.
GM: Not naked.
IA: Okay. Me, either, actually.
GM: Just in case you were wondering, as I'm lounging on my bed.
IA: Maybe I should have led with that, too, that I wasn't naked sitting in my car in a heat wave.
GM: You live in Los Angeles, correct?
IA: I do, yes. And you live in Vancouver.
GM: Have you been here before?
IA: No, have you?
GM: Once, a long time ago.
IA: Yeah, cool, I like it. That's good.
GM: But you're not actually coming to Vancouver. You're coming to Pemberton.
IA: I am, yeah. And I've never been there, either, and that makes me very excited to go there.
GM: I've never been there, either.
IA: Really?! You gotta come this year. It's going to be great. Ian Abramson, you gotta see him.
IA: (laughs) I love that!
GM: I know you did Bonaroo and there are thousands and thousands of people there, correct?
GM: Isn't that a little freaky?
IA: It's like you're walking into a civilization. (laughs) That's what it feels like. There are so many people, there's merchants, and there seems to be its own culture. And it's a blast.
GM: Do you feel like you can never get out?
IA: It just feels like you're in a different place. That's the attitude I took about it. It was possible to not be in the middle of a crowd but then also be looking at a crowd. I wouldn't have been able to be in the middle of a crowd for that long. I would have melted.
GM: I just recently learned about you.
IA: Yeah, and vice versa.
GM: Where do you come from, physically and mentally? I know physically you're from California.
IA: Sure, yeah. For either of those questions I would say I'm not entirely sure whether or not I exist so I'm never quite sure how to answer that. I'm told that I grew up in California. Then I started doing comedy in Chicago and then I moved to L.A. That's kind of my triangle.
GM: That's not the story I got, Ian.
IA: That's not the story you got? What story did you get?
GM: I heard that you started standup in college, and that would have been in California.
IA: Um... I was interested in comedy but I wasn't really doing standup in college just yet. I was kind of getting into it and that's where I got the idea to move to Chicago so that I could start doing comedy.
GM: And you did improv, right?
IA: Yeah, yeah. Chicago was a great improv town. I did some improv, but then I just took to standup a little better so I focussed on that.
GM: And it's because you don't get along with other people?
IA: Absolutely. Yes. I don't work well with others. I don't like you or the boat that you rode in on... Is that a phrase? Not true.
GM: I know you studied theatre in college.
IA: I did, yes.
GM: Then you go to improv, which is a form of theatre. Do you consider standup a form of theatre, too?
IA: I would say that people who like theatre might be able to consider standup a form of theatre but most standups would not look at it as a form of theatre. It's kind of semantics of definitions but I'm influenced by theatre and so is my standup. That's what I would say.
GM: I was going to say your standup seems a little more, not theatrical – that's the wrong word – but something more... It's different.
IA: Oh, thank you.
GM: So I'm wondering who are your forebears? If you're starting out in standup doing the absurdist things you do, I would think that's a little more terrifying because there can be a sameness to a lot of standup and if you're coming up there doing something completely different, people might sit there going, 'Who the hell is this guy?'
IA: (laughs) You know, that's just the kind of comedy that I was interested in. My big influences are Steve Martin, Zach Galifianakis and Groucho Marx. I really love all three of those guys. So me starting out, it just kind of made sense that that's the type of comedy I wanted to do. I then was exposed to more like modern, traditional types of standup and was able to get a lot out of seeing that and learning from those people, too.
GM: And you wear a greasepaint moustache like Groucho.
IA: Oh, it's completely real but thank you for noticing.
GM: Have you ever worn a greasepaint moustache?
IA: Uh, I'm not at liberty to say. I will say that I have a great relationship with Sharpies.
GM: And those are permanent!
IA: Moustaches? No, you're able to shave them.
IA: Sharpies? No, you can shave them, too.
GM: Oh, can you? Your comedy takes an audience by surprise. Is it more detrimental to an act like yours to have your material online than it would be to a more traditional standup?
IA: I think there's a couple different ways to look at it. If you're somebody who's trying to work on an hour a year, when you're at that point then you probably want to be very careful about not having your stuff online. But from where I'm at, if somebody wants to be like, 'Wait, I've never heard of this guy. I want to see some of his stuff,' then it's probably a good idea for me to have a bit of that for them to see if they wanted to. I don't put up everything but I like to have enough for people to figure out like, 'Hey, is this for me?'
GM: From the clips I saw, it made me want to see you, for sure.
IA: Hey, great. The clips I watched of you made me very excited to see you, as well.
GM: That's not going to happen because I'm not going to Pemberton.
IA: No? I'm deeply disappointed by that but you'll be there in my heart.
GM: Do you play clubs?
IA: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, I love playing clubs. I'm going to be in Indiana this weekend doing clubs.
GM: You know there are three clubs in Vancouver you could maybe book yourself into?
IA: Ah, yeah, absolutely! Three of clubs is my favourite card in the entire deck.
GM: Is that true?
IA: It absolutely is.
GM: Are you a fan of magic as well?
IA: Absolutely. Yes, I love magic. And I always have. My reaction to magic, though, is different than most people's. When I see a great magic trick, I start laughing out of appreciation. A lot of people want to know how a magic trick is done and I have no desire to know how a magic trick is done. I love just being amazed. I just watched something that's not possible happen and that makes me laugh.
GM: I just made the mistake of watching on Netflix a series from the late '90s, I think, of a magician revealing how all the great tricks are done. They're so easy it was a little disappointing.
GM: So don't watch that.
IA: I wouldn't.
GM: You do Seven Minutes in Pergatory. Is that ongoing?
IA: It is, yeah. I tour that regularly. I won't be doing that at Pemberton but I do that on a regular basis, yeah.
GM: How do you tour it? Isn't the whole thing that you're in a room without an audience?
IA: (laughs) So the way Seven Minutes in Pergatory works is that comedians perform to a camera in one room and the audience watches in a separate room. The comedians have no idea how they're doing. So I will go, I'll bring a camera and we'll connect it to a projector in a different room. Then the comedian is in one room and the audience is watching from a separate room and that's the show. I do that all over.
GM: It's also on TV, right?
IA: It is not on TV. It is a Comedy Central digital show at the moment.
GM: That's what I mean. Comedy Central, I associate with TV. But it's not. It's an online thing?
IA: Yes. Yeah. I might get my wrists slapped if I said yeah, we're on TV. (laughs) We are a digital show and I'm very excited about it.
GM: So that part is ongoing? You're still recording them and putting them out?
IA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We're going to be putting out season one soon and we're getting ready to record season two.
GM: So it hasn't come out yet?
IA: Not the digital episodes, not just yet.
GM: Why is it so hard to perform in a room without an audience?
IA: Usually an audience is responding to a performer so they are either laughing or not laughing. That is their response. But the comedian is also responding to the audience. They're taking in that information and responding to that. And I just thought that dynamic was interesting so I wanted to experiment and see what that would look like if we removed one piece of that.
GM: And how difficult is it for you?
IA: It still throws me off. It feels very strange to speak into a microphone realizing that other people can hear you but you can't hear them. I don't know, I'm just very interested in that kind of dynamic. At Pemberton I'll be doing standup and I think that I like to play with that in my standup, too. Right now I'm going on stage and for part of my standup I'll wear a dog shock collar, an electric shock collar, and then I'll give the remote to someone in the audience and if they don't like my joke then they shock me. It's an experiment to be like, look, we are in this moment right now, this is happening right now, and your response is very much part of that experience.
GM: Have you done the shock collar thing before?
IA: Yeah, I do it all the time.
GM: I would imagine people are just going to shock you whether they like the joke or not because it's funny.
IA: Occasionally someone will be drunk and will try that, but then they end up looking like a jerk because they're literally electrocuting a man live on stage.
GM: How painful is it?
IA: There is a little dial so you can choose how painful it is. That said, it is not pleasant no matter what.
GM: What kind of kid were you? Obviously an out-going kid who wanted to get into theatre. Is that correct?
IA: Yeah, I was into theatre and reading. I like to be around people and create. I say I like to host a party, for instance, and kind of be the person that's hosting a party and bringing people together and hopefully giving them a good time. I think that's kind of how I've always been.
GM: I know some comics from an acting background get into standup so they can perform and keep their chops up while they're not acting. Was that the case for you?
IA: No. I enjoy acting and I do it whenever I can but standup is definitely the primary goal. Why I like standup is you get to perform but then you're also getting to write and you're writing what you're performing and hopefully you're getting better at writing and performing. That was very appealing to me.
GM: So it's not a case of you trying to get acting work through your standup. It is an end unto itself.
IA: Yeah. When I get to act, I'm very grateful for that and I enjoy that and I hope to get better at that, but I do standup because I love doing standup. I'm not thinking like, okay, what can my standup get me down the road? I'm thinking, how can I make my standup as good as it can be? And if I'm lucky maybe stuff will come for me down the road.
GM: What's your podcast?
IA: I don't have a podcast.
GM: What?! You're the first comedian I've interviewed who doesn't have a podcast.
GM: That's what makes you different.
IA: That's right, that's right. I do Seven Minutes in Purgatory, I put on these kind of events. Before I moved from Chicago, I married my career and I had a wedding for my career. I got the Chicago Tribune to cover it. It was a real wedding. So I do things along those lines.
GM: A real wedding? What was the physical manifestation of your career?
IA: A briefcase. Yeah, you can add my career on Facebook. You can add me on Facebook and my career. I am married to my career.
GM: Does that preclude you from ever being married to a person?
IA: My career and I are in an open relationship and we're very understanding of what the other needs, you know? My career has definitely become involved with other people, a collaboration of sorts. And maybe one day I will as well.
GM: You're in an open relationship but unless you move to some parts of Utah, you cannot marry two separate entities.
IA: Well, then maybe I'll have to move to Utah. (laughs)
GM: You say you love to read. What do you read?
IA: I read letters, I read numbers, I read charts, I read the backs of bottles, I read the fronts of bottles. Just kinda whatever I can take in. I really like Kurt Vonnegut. I love a good biography or books on history. I'm reading a book on sideshows right now, a history of sideshows. That's fascinating for me.
GM: Like what they used to call freaks?
IA: Yeah. What they would label as freak shows. That's all included in there, certainly.
GM: Do you relate to them at all?
IA: I'm fascinated by them. I love the idea of these people that would probably have trouble finding work because of physical ailments and such that then kinda come together and make it work in that time. I don't know, that's interesting to me.
GM: Do you think of your show as kind of a sideshow?
IA: (laughs) Maybe like a homeless circus.
GM: When did you start doing standup?
IA: About four years ago.
GM: Wow! You're a newbie!
IA: Yeah. That could very well be the case.
GM: You've done well for yourself in four years. How long did it take for people to start noticing you? Was it right away?
IA: I don't know. That's a difficult question to answer. I feel very grateful and incredibly lucky for the opportunities I've had. It always feels like everything could disappear at any moment, so in my shoes it doesn't feel like people have noticed. I'm just trying to focus on what my next wedding is going to be, what my next Seven Minutes in Purgatory is going to be, my next standup set, that kind of thing.
GM: Standups can be a jealous lot. Were people who were in it longer than you who maybe have not received any acclaim or attention going, 'What's with this guy? What the hell? Why is he getting this?' Or are they more supportive?
IA: They're not saying it to my face, if they are. (laughs) But I don't know. I have a deep love of comedy. I have a deep respect for people who have been doing it longer than me. I feel I'm still learning from them constantly. The people who've been doing it as long as me, I'm learning from constantly as well.
GM: Do you know who else is on the Pemberton lineup?
IA: I don't remember off the top of my head. I've been doing a number of festivals. I don't remember which lineup is which, to be completely honest. But I do remember looking at Pemberton and just thinking that the whole vibe of the festival, with the camping and the setting, was amazing. I remember looking at the lineup like, wow, they know exactly what they want and what they're bringing out, so I'm so excited to get to go there and do it.
GM: I know Cheech & Chong will be there. I can't remember the others, either.
IA: I can't wait. I hope I get to see their sets.
GM: You know they started in Vancouver?
IA: Did they really?! Wow, that's so cool! I love that. Oh, man.
GM: Chong is Canadian and Cheech was living here, just working at a magazine, I think, and they hooked up and started doing topless improv and then they moved quickly down to L.A.
IA: Wow. It's amazing what they've managed to do in their lives.
GM: How long a set do you get?
IA: I believe my show is on Sunday and I think I'm doing half an hour. But that's subject to change, I believe. And then also I'll be on the shuttles at some point during the weekend helping out with those. And that's all I can say about that right now, but if you're on the shuttles, then you might see me.
GM: Over the P.A.?
IA: Uh, we'll see. Yeah, if you're on the shuttles, we may get to see each other and I hope that's the case.
GM: You're a contributor to The Onion. In what capacity?
IA: I contribute jokes to The Onion regularly.
GM: To the parody news articles?
IA: Yeah. They send the subjects they want jokes on and then I'll send them out for them.
GM: And then they incorporate those into the stories? Is that how that works?
IA: Yeah, basically. I love it. I feel like I've learned a lot getting to work with them.
GM: Those go viral but you don't get credit for them. Or at least we don't know it's you.
IA: That's true, that's true. But I think getting to say that I contribute there is truly an honour. I've definitely learned a lot about writing since working with them.
GM: Do you write long form, too?
IA: Sure, yeah, yeah, certainly. I just wrote a parody of Citizen Kane and I'm going to be shooting that coming up soon. So I write in whatever capacity I can.
GM: Wow. I kind of see you as a young Orson Welles.
IA: (laughs) That's very kind.
GM: I mean physically.
IA: Yes, yeah, I maintain that that is very kind.
GM: Had you heard that before? What was the impetus for the parody of Citizen Kane?
IA: You know, Orson Welles made Citizen Kane when he was 26 years old. I'm 27 so I can't make the greatest movie of all time but I can make the greatest parody of all time. I'm going to make a parody of Citizen Kane.
GM: And it's going to be feature length?
IA: Yeah. And it'll be a crazy experience to go to the movie. That's what I will be doing with that.
GM: When will this be happening?
IA: In the next year. I'm going to be shooting it pretty soon and then I'll begin touring that.
GM: What does that mean?
IA: (laughs) I will be going around with the movie and having the movie premiere in different cities and that will be a crazy experience. That's what I can say about it.
GM: It was funded, I take it.
IA: I'm making it, yeah. It's happening. I don't mean to be dodgy about it but that's what I can say.
GM: Black and white?
IA: Yes, absolutely. Listen, if you're going to do a parody of it, it's gotta be black and white.
GM: Depth of field and all that?
IA: That's right. Absolutely.
GM: You know what? I was not a fan of Citizen Kane so I think I'll like this even more.
IA: (laughs) Great. Love it.
GM: You were a fan of it, I take it.
IA: Sure, yeah, yeah. I do think that it's silly that we hold it in regard... No matter what movie you would say is the greatest movie of all time, as soon as you add that label, then it makes it difficult for it to live up to that.
GM: Things are going on for you.
IA: Thank you. You too, man.
GM: I hope you come to Vancouver some time.
IA: I absolutely hope that I do as well and I'm sure I will at some point.
GM: Have you played elsewhere in Canada?
IA: I was in Montreal this past summer for JFL and I had a blast.
GM: Which shows?
IA: I was a New Face so I was doing the New Faces and then I did Andy Kindler's alt show.
GM: Is there as much industry there now as there used to be?
IA: I wasn't there in the past so I don't know. (laughs) But I've heard it's just evolved in the way that the industry has evolved. There's still a lot of industry there so I don't know that it's less, but I think it might be that the industry just kind of changed in that rather than [unintelligible] up a new face and saying, 'Okay, you are now famous and here is an incredible amount of money so make something incredible,' it gives people some more time to develop and hopefully gives them a few steps as opposed to putting them in a cannon and shooting them off. Does that make sense?
GM: A little. Did it help you specifically other than just the experience of doing it? Was there anything that came out of it?
IA: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. After Montreal I signed with agents and I got to meet a lot of great people. I got a number of opportunities. And just getting to say that I was a New Face, even here just now getting to say that to you, meant something. It was like, 'Oh cool, that's great. I know what that is.' And that's always nice.
GM: So Canada really has made your career.
IA: That's right. Yeah, hey, I love it. O Canada. If I knew the words, I would sing it to you right now.
GM: You owe us a lot.
IA: That's right. And I'll pay you back at some point.
GM: Okay, Ian, I'll let you get back to the heat.
IA: Thank you very much. Thank you so much for talk with me. You have a good day.