Ian Abramson doesn't exist.
Of course, the voice on the other end of the phone would seem to prove otherwise, but like a lot of things that come out of the mouth of the burgeoning alt comic — I should state, for posterity's sake, that he doesn't believe in bees: "Have you ever seen one?" — you're never quite sure where the line between reality and farce is drawn.
"I think like any comedian I started out doing open mics and just kind of seeing what worked for me," says the California native. "One day I was thinking, and I realized that I probably don't exist, so I thought, 'You know what? I should embrace that onstage.' That's how I got where I landed."
Abramson's trajectory has taken him from his hometown of Moreno Valley, Calif. to the Midwestern comedy mecca of Chicago, where he studied improv at the legendary Second City theatre, and back to the West Coast, in L.A., where he now lives. Recognized as one of experimental comedy's fastest rising talents, Abramson's highly original act tends to veer towards the absurd, blending witty wordplay with longer conceptual bits that stretch a joke to its absolute limits. Some might call it cringe comedy, but for Abramson, it's all about creating an experience the audience feels a part of.
"I think the discomfort is something I come by accidentally," he says. "When I'm building a joke, and if the point of the joke is to see if I can keep building and going on, I'm just trying to see if I can find a new way to make an audience laugh. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't, but that's what I'm interested in."
A dedicated fan of magic growing up, Abramson was drawn to "watching something that isn't possible" happen right before his eyes. But, unlike his favourite magicians, Abramson has no problem pulling back the curtain on a performance. Take the web series he created, Seven Minutes in Purgatory, which asks comedians to deliver a set for a completely empty room while the audience watches on a monitor in another room. It's a high concept that throws the entire premise of stand-up on its head, removing the feedback loop that comedians typically rely on, stripping the performance down to its bare bones.
"I think it can sometimes make comedians anxious, but what it really does is show what they can bring to the table," says Abramson. "They're going to talk about how it feels weird, they're going to do bits about what the room looks like, they might come in with a big theatrical bit planned, but when you're in the audience of that show, you're getting to feel that and you realize you're very much a part of that experience, and I like that a lot."
Abramson will be bringing his brand of off-kilter humour to the Pemberton Music Festival on July 17. He encourages festivalgoers to come say hi, but, whatever you do, don't get him started on bees.
"I tell whoever I can about (the widespread bee conspiracy), and frankly in any conversation about it, I'm doing most of the talking, so I don't know whether or not they agree with me," he says. "But I am bearing that flag. I'm not afraid."