Neil Hamburger’s self-described never-ending comedy tour is coming back to town. The hack-prince of comedy — who’s released nine comedy albums through the Drag City record label over the last 15 years (“I don’t listen to these records”) and opened for the likes of Faith No More, NOFX, and Bad Religion — will perform his unique brand of persona-driven anti-comedy at The Admiral on Tues, Feb. 22.
“We have a tour that’s been going for about 15 years; there’s never been a break,” Hamburger tells Xpress. “Sometimes we break these tours up into segments. Not with any days off — simply by taking a red pen and making a line between one section of the tour and another, just so we feel a little bit better.”
If you are a fan of anti-comedy — basically, anything other than a “standard” joke that creates enough cerebral dissonance to leave you laughing, even at the total failure of the joke itself — or just a fan of spectacles in general, Hamburger’s act is something to see.
“I want them to know that if they miss this show, they’re going to have egg on their face, because this will be one of the most talked-about shows of the week,” says Hamburger.
Neil Hamburger is the comic persona of Gregg Turkington, who in the 1980s published the San Francisco-based humor-and-music zine Breakfast Without Meat before founding and running Amarillo Records for much of the '90s. In addition to numerous other projects along the way, Turkington was one-half of avant-garde duo Zip Code Rapists and for a time served as tour manager for Mr. Bungle.
Folding extreme hack into genius, Hamburger’s act has taken him on a constantly revolving circuit of pizza joints, dive bars, colleges, large theaters, Olympic stadiums and network television appearances.
“I’ve done it all. I did a show almost five years ago with Tenacious D at Madison Square Garden. The very same month I did a show at a really dirty little pizza parlor in Fresno, Calif., for eight people,” says Hamburger, who touts himself variously as “America’s Youngest Comedian,” “America’s Funnyman” and “The World’s Funnyman,”.
Hamburger regularly opens for musical acts, a notoriously difficult task for any comedian. Last year, his act was well-received when opening several dates for Faith No More, but he was booed off stage during his performance at Reading Festival in the UK.
“I was asked by the stage manager to get off the stage for safety reasons because the audience was reacting more like they should have reacted at the trial of Benito Mussolini, and not at a comedy show,” Hamburger says. “Especially when I was making the afternoon so much more memorable by giving their ears a break from the shit music.”
More often, his act is alternately met with laughter and groans by the same audience, and Hamburger performs with one foot planted on each side of the line that divides the two reactions.
“The only type of audience I don’t like is an empty hall. If there’s not even one person there, it can be hard to do a show," Hamburger says.
While projecting a reverence for show business itself (you won’t catch him out of tuxedo), Hamburger skewers some of its best-known names, regardless of topicality. Michael Jackson, Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smash Mouth are frequent targets — it's like a Jay Leno monologue, but more honest, vicious, willfully redundant and funny for reasons you may not be able to pin down.
Hamburger takes standard conventions of stand-up comedy to extremes: He can never have too many drinks in his hand on stage, he frequently checks a cheat-sheet stashed in his tux pocket and bits are randomly punctuated with his signature line, “But thaaaaaaat’s my life!”
He may follow up a depressing one-liner about his ex-wife’s infidelity with a tasteless groaner based on a pun, often "tagging" it simply with his own reaction, a smile-and-laugh that's been tortured into a face-twisting grimace and guttural whine.
The comedian, who says his only aspiration is to "get out of debt," recently released a Magic-8-Ball-esque iPhone app, "Shaky Advice with Neil Hamburger." The best advice he's ever given? "Buy the goddamned app."
Hamburger fondly recalls his December 2009 show at The Admiral.
“I had a great time at The Admiral last time … it’s really a fun room, and the food they had there for us was out of this world, something we were talking about days later, if not weeks," Hamburger says. "I specifically asked the booking agency if they could get us back there … We look forward to getting back and entertaining the folks.”
— Tom Scheve is a writer and performer who lives in the Asheville area.
who: Neil Hamburger
what: Anti-comedy-stravaganza, with opener JP Inc., the professional moniker of multi-media song-parodist JP Hasson, previously known as Pleaseeasaur
where: The Admiral, 400 Haywood Road
when: Tuesday, Feb. 22 (11 p.m. $10. theadmiralnc.com)