After several minutes of uneasiness inside the closet, Saturday Night Live writer Mike O’Brien decided to just go for it, but Amy Poehler wasn’t messing around. She ducked and avoided the bumbling host’s kiss like a fish darting from a net. It was the perfect ending to “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” a new web series dreamt up by O’Brien.
The comedian is most likely known for his recurring “Kickspit Underground Rock Festival” sketches on SNL. These struck a chord with audiences by detailing a random assortment of acts for the fake festivals, including hot dog explosions, the cast of Growing Pains, and Mrs. Potato Dick. He claims to have gotten the idea from a real late-night infomercial for the Gathering of the Juggaloes.
Rather than squandering his summer SNL vacation, O’Brien filmed a batch of unsolicited vignettes, which simultaneously catapulted him to blog stardom, and served as a unique and engaging platform for stars hawking their newest movies or TV shows. Other than Poehler, O’Brien has recruited celebrities like Hoda Kotb (host of the fourth hour of Today), Elijah Wood, and Kristen Wiig for the brief and surprisingly droll web series. Equal parts interview and sketch comedy, these interchanges range from awkwardly entertaining to tear inducing. Wood steps into his hobbit-sized shoes again while reprising Frodo (briefly, but wonderfully), while Wiig recalls the story of the time she sustained a head injury while in character on The Joe Schmo Show.
On the whole, the celebrities don’t seem to have minded surrendering to utter ludicrousness. Tracy Morgan doesn’t bat an eyelash when O’Brien rings up his mother and has the 30 Rock star try to convince the unsuspecting woman that she needs to buy a new car. Likewise, Morgan tackles even O’Brien’s most ridiculous questions (like “in what ways are you similar or dissimilar to a horse?”) with unwavering confidence (“I don’t eat hay, and my penis is bigger.”).
The bits don’t always succeed, but it is never the fault of O’Brien’s valiant efforts. In one video, Christina Ricci gawkily giggles for four minutes as she promotes her new show Pan Am, even when the moment doesn’t call for laughter. Her’s is the exception to an otherwise entertaining batch.
One of the most consistently entertaining bits that O’Brien features is “Closet Theater,” which throws his guests into an always-ridiculous situation. In one, the comedian and Andy Cohen play two boys waiting to surprise their grandmother in her sweater closet, but begin to fear that the woman has died after spending two days waiting for her. In another bit, O’Brien plays a stranger who has wandered into Wiig’s closet off the street, but she really doesn’t want to be noticed. The sheer absurdity of these situations elevates the sketches to another level of funny.
More than anything, the “Seven Minutes” series demonstrates comedians’ wide sweeping embrace of new mediums for self-expression. Aziz Ansari has built a brand for himself on both Twitter and Tumblr, where he exposes his devotion to food with hashtags like “#HowComeNoOneWantsTacos” and “#MissThoseBeefBrisketBuns.” Marc Maron, a stand-up comedian, has amassed a massive fan base with his stellar podcast “WTF with Marc Maron.” Several times a week, Maron releases hours-long interviews with stars like Jason Sudeikis, Aubrey Plaza, and Amy Poehler. Whereas late-night hosts like David Letterman brush up on their facts briefly before an interview, Maron has been following his guests’ careers for years, and his podcast demonstrates a keen insight about the roots of their comedic talents. What was once a very grassroots podcast has quickly become one of iTunes most popular ones, a listening experience well worth setting time aside for.
O’Brien seems poised to join the ranks of famous Second City alumni that also include John Belushi, Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert, and Amy Sedaris. He continues to write for Saturday Night Live. If his growing popularity is any indication of things to come, one day he could be sitting behind the “Weekend Update” desk—if he had things his way, he might just turn it into a closet.