Ellen DeGeneres, Christina Ricci, and Tracy Morgan are just a few of the famous faces that Saturday Night Live staff writer (and 2012 BlackBook New Regimer) Mike O’Brien has lured into a nondescript closet on in Manhattan, besieged with nonsensical questions, and then tried to kiss.That’s the basic premise of 7 Minutes in Heaven, an irreverent and inventive web series named after the hormonal make-out game. Here, O'Brien talks about the show's origins, why he sometimes feels uncomfortable during shooting, and how he conjures up the courage to smooch his guests on camera.
Where is the closet?
It's at 59th and 9th, basically.
In what building?
It's like in the camera guy's friend's apartment. We scouted a closet that could fit two people, plus three cameras on three tripods, and in New York that is hard to find. We all had a friend that we thought might have a big enough closet, and this is the one we went with. A couple and their five year old live there. Their closet is very nice and their clothes are very nice, so people always think it's a set, but it's an actual, door-closed closet with just us in there getting over heated by those lights.
Is this thing a performance or are you trying to capture real moments.
I think a little bit performance, but as we're walking out, we’ll have a more real moment. And by the door I’ll say I know you're busy, so thank you for doing this. We're more just normal.
Do you ever coach them before they come in?
No. They all come in with concerns that aren't at all something we're going to have to worry about. Stuff like, I don't want to talk about that bad project, or relationships. But I might need to start coaching, simply because now people are coming in having watched it, and they think there's a right and wrong way. I simply need to be like, We're going to find our own vibe for this. Don't feel like you need to be like any of the other ones. This one will be unique and might be more serious or more silly or more flirty, but there's no right or wrong way. People need to take a breath and just be themselves and we'll find the best moments that way.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable during the tapings?
Yeah, I feel a little uncomfortable on almost all of them. Less as I do more, but I'm still always uncomfortable.
Why is that?
I think it's because I will research them for a couple days, and I'm sure you've experienced this thing where you have them in your mind a certain way, and also just researching someone makes them have this certain status, and some of these people already have status, like Ellen DeGeneres, who is among my favorite comedians. Then along with the fact that they're really up close to you, and I've never done any interviews of any sort before these. Early on, it was like, I hope they don't walk out. What's going to happen when I try to kiss them? I definitely feel like I've offended people a couple of times.
Sometimes people will just misunderstand the question, and a lot of times it's mostly a jokey question. Maybe it’s a question that belongs on Between Two Ferns, where it's a little more like I'm teasing them about a bad movie or a public scandal they had, and those don't usually work great. My delivery is a little too dry or something, people just seem to get hurt.
What gives you the confidence to go in and kiss them? Is it because your guests know what they’re getting into once they agree to come on the show?
I think so, yeah. Certainly now. In the earlier ones, they didn't know that I was going to try to kiss them. But now, if people say yes, I assume they've watched and they know that that might happen. The only thing that I'm hoping for out of them is a real moment. Maybe I need to start doing it in the middle of an interview, because there's nothing better to me than Elijah Wood's reaction. We're were laughing and having a great time talking to each other, and then all of the sudden, I lean in to kiss him and he has this great face he makes that's just really endearing.
Is being a writer for SNL your dream job?
Absolutely. I auditioned in 2004 or 2005 as a performer, but that's also how they sometimes hire people to write. So it's been on my immediate radar intensely since then, but yeah, I grew up with the show and it's been definitely a dream job. To have perks like this where during the down time, I can work on other projects with other writers is just mind blowing to me. It's like the happiest I've ever been.
Where did the idea for this show come from?
Yeah, Rob and I sat down at the beginning of the summer and were like, Let's make a series of shorts together, and it was one of 3 ideas. Another one was a series of online how-to videos that always go awry, so the one we shot is "How to Fix your iPod" yourself, and they will show you how to take it apart and stuff, and then it devolves from that. And the 3rd was a giraffe character that's half-human, half-giraffe, a stand up comedian in New York who sometimes is having to be very giraffe-ish, sometimes very human. We shot one of those. And Broadway video who funded it, was just immediately like, the closet interview thing is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest thing. So they backed that one right away.
Do you enjoy being in front of the camera?
Yeah, I think I enjoy that sort of moment when you get in the closet, and it feels like something that would be on stage in Chicago.
A lot of your guests drink alcohol on the show. Is that to loosen them up?
A little bit. Originally, Jason Sudeikis had pitched to us an opening where the camera's passing through a dinner party, or a late night apartment party. And then the camera comes to the closet door and it opens and closes, and then you start your episode. So without doing all that, we're trying to give it the feeling that it's as though we're at a party. It was more just to give it the feeling of that vibe. But it certainly is nice, and they're there so short that no one can really drink too much, but it's just to have something in their hand.
Do they come with a publicist?
Ellen came alone and requested a lemonade. I got a kick out of that. Some people come in and are like, I need wine. But most come with one or two people touching up their hair, telling me not to talk about the ex.
Selita Ebanks was one, because that's Kanye or something. She said she had just gotten done with some interview where they asked her to compare the penis sizes of two different exes, and I was like, "Who are you being interviewed by? Wow!"