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Mike O’Brien is what might be called Web nouveau: he’s earnest rather than snarky and seems genuinely baffled by meme culture. Yet O’Brien, who didn’t even have a Twitter account until September, has become famous — at least on the Internet — as the host of “7 Minutes in Heaven,” an extremely funny Web show based on the adolescent make-out game.
O’Brien, who writes for “Saturday Night Live,” first conceived the project this summer with his colleague Rob Klein. The original plan had him mainly interviewing (and then kissing) his own friends in a friend of a friend’s closet. But after financing from the production company of Lorne Michaels, executive producer of “S.N.L.,” gave the show a modest budget, “7 Minutes” started booking celebrity guests. “I was very surprised and thrilled,” O’Brien recalls, “that a couple months later, I was in a closet with Ellen DeGeneres.”
O’Brien, 35, has already kissed, among others, Andy Samberg, Ty Burrell, Hoda Kotb and Seth Meyers (well, sort of) on the lips. He has kissed Tracy Morgan and Elijah Wood on the cheek, Christina Ricci on the head and Amy Poehler on the nostril. He has also full-on sucked face with Patricia Clarkson. O’Brien’s biggest rejection occurred when Shaggy 2 Dope, of Insane Clown Posse, told him firmly, “I can’t do it, man.” O’Brien backed off.
“7 Minutes” has all the right elements to make the Internet swoon: famous people, chaste potential for love connections and a run time of less than five minutes. It is beloved as much for being an unconventional take on the celebrity interview (much like Zach Galifianakis’s interview series “Between Two Ferns”) as for O’Brien’s goofy likability (“I’m more of an amicable awkward,” he says), which soothes a situation that might otherwise be considered creepy.
O’Brien, who credits much of his comedic talent as a host to nearly a decade at Chicago’s iO and Second City theaters (in addition to a stint working at a Blockbuster), is aware of the limits of Internet fame. The most popular episode of “7 Minutes,” which features Kristen Wiig, has some 470,000 hits. By comparison, a grainy 40-second compilation of three dogs passing gas has more than two million.“That,” he says, “is part of what made me realize how little I understand the medium.”
New York Times 1/19/12