Who in their right mind would go on stage and deliver a set of stand up comedy with no preparation and no knowledge of what they were going to talk about? That’s exactly the premise of The Set List – a superb new comedy gymnasium challenging comics around the world (and seen at the 2012 Melbourne Comedy Festival, returning in 2013).

All the comics know is that when they walk out on stage a screen will tell them their first topic and from there they’re live in front of an audience waiting to laugh. Those that take part equate it to the rush of a drug hit or base jumping, and given the pressure cooker situation it’s easy to see why. The topics change throughout their set at the whim of the producers and they’re brutal with the comics involved. They can’t change topic until the set list point changes, which can make for some awkward and excruciatingly funny comedy.

Across the 14 episode series we’ll see the likes of Robin Williams, Drew Carey, Matt Kirshen, Tim Minchin, Eddie Pepitone & Ross Noble tread the highwire to deliver their own never-before-seen set list. The series includes footage from the green room showing the buzz among the comics as they sit patiently (or pace) in preparation for their set, and then the euphoria for completing it. Anxiety mixed with adrenaline is a marvellous thing.

If you get the chance to see a Set List gig do it – it’s an amazing experience of on-the-spot mind bending stand up. For the rest of us, this series is an excellent opportunity to revel in some very funny comics coming very close to death on stage.

The Set List – starts Thu 9pm, ABC2.