Mike O'Brien's online talk show 7 Minutes In Heaven is so polite that it's edgy.
In every segment, O'Brien, a writer for Saturday Night Live, interviews a celebrity in a closet. (No, an actual closet, with clothes and stuff.)
He asks random questions, he plays games, and most of the time, he hints that something provocative is going to happen. He might say he wants to play a game called "Bad Touch," or he might tell a guest he wants to read the comments he found about them on YouTube. And then, at the end of every episode, he leans in for a kiss. No matter the guest, male or female, he always goes for the lip action.
That setup might be funny in any context, but it's outstanding on 7 Minutes In Heaven because O'Brien keeps promising provocation without actually delivering. The humor comes from his guest's nervous anticipation and their tittering relief when things don't go as planned.
For instance, when O'Brien tells supermodel Selita Ebanks that he wants to play Bad Touch — she "bad touches" him, he "bad touches" her — you can see her freak out a little. She pokes him in the ear, and he responds by slooowly reaching over... and sticking his finger up her nose.
Similarly, when O'Brien tells Ellen Degeneres that he's going to read YouTube comments about her debate with John McCain on gay marriage, she tenses for a verbal blow. But this is one of the comments he reads: "The bottom line is these are two great people in modern culture. A hero of Vietnam, and a strong, smart woman with eyes like a quiet ocean. — Mike O'Brien." That's a classic reversal of expectations, and it makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.
The ultimate contradiction, of course, is between the naughty teasing and Mike O'Brien himself. He comes across like the mischievous president of the middle school chess club, wearing a tie for every interview, laughing at his own jokes, and asking Ty Burrell to recreate the big courtroom scene from A Few Good Men. He's so silly and nice that it's hard to think he'll be mean to his guests, but it's also hard to predict what he'll do next.
And that's why the show is edgy. It's easy to find mean-spirited humor, and it's even easier to find talk show hosts being sarcastic and jaded. But a nice guy asking people to do dopey, harmless things in an intimate environment? That's unusual. It throws people off balance, and it provokes genuine (if awkward) reactions. It gives me the tingle of dangerous comedy.
Speaking of tingle: The final kiss has become my favorite comedy routine. By the time it comes around, the guests have realized that O'Brien isn't out to get them, so when he gives them an intense stare and moves in for the jackpot, they tend to be mortified yet delighted. They're taken aback, but they're not defensive, so their reactions are almost always endearing.( I finally became an Elijah Wood fan when he turned beet red as O'Brien macked on his cheek.)
Since the show's been running for a while — and since O'Brien tends to interview his SNL friends — the guests sometimes know the kiss is coming, but that doesn't ruin the moment. Seth Myers, for instance, tries to stage manage his kiss, but O'Brien just one-ups him with a new move.
Have you seen 7 Minutes in Heaven? Who are your favorite guests? And who's on your wishlist for the future? I'd love to see Joel McHale turn up, and I'm sure that a Katy Perry episode would involve amazing wigs.
Mark Blankenship tweets as @CritCondition.