You’re never quite sure what’s going to come out of Neil Hamburger’s mouth. A terribly-timed one liner. A rant on today’s “filthy generation.” Maybe a hacking, phlegmy cough. You just know that whatever it is, it’s going to be bad. And brilliantly so.
Hamburger is the hilarious alter-ego of former avant-punk musician/label owner Gregg Turkington. He’s basically a parody of a terrible, washed-up, ‘70s lounge act. Greasy combover? Check. Dated tuxedo? Check. Constantly spilling cocktail? But of course. Think of him as the Tony Clifton of the indie-rock age, just with less singing and more celebrity/incest jokes.
Currently on tour with sexy-voiced veteran Todd Barry [Louie, The Wrestler] and up-and-comer Brendon Walsh, Xpress caught up with Hamburger to ask him about his return to Asheville and to get the story behind his latest comedy album, “Live at Third Man,” recorded by none other than Jack White. [Ed. note: For maximum effect, read Hamburger’s answers in his signature, nasely groan.]
Mountain Xpress: So first off, I gotta ask: How’d you get get hooked up with Jack White?
Neil Hamburger: Well, Jack White placed an ad in the National Enquirer saying, “Looking for acts to put out on records. I can’t find any. Is there anybody who would be interested?” And I guess I was the only one who answered the ad. So he said, “Well, thank God somebody wants to work with me. This will be great.” And so he produced the record. And it was as simple as that.
Had he seen your set before? Did he know what to expect?
Yes, he did. He had seen the act many times. So he had an idea of what he wanted to do. And we made the record in Nashville, at his studios, in front of an invited audience. They’ve got a little showroom there. And it’s the hottest ticket in town, quite frankly. And so the record came out, and it was a major hit. I’d like to think so anyway. He’s a real gentleman, and he did a bang-up job on this record. So you’ve got to put that in your cap as a feather.
I was just listening to your last comedy album [2007’s Hot February Night] which was recorded while you were on tour opening up for Tenacious D. That crowd had no idea what to make of you. At times where was more booing than clapping. So what was the Third Man audience like?
Well, I mean, those guys on the other record, some of them had severe mental or emotional problems. To come out to a performance and act like that, you know. To behave in that manner is just appalling. It really is. This audience was smaller, and a lot better mannered. Somebody along the way had thought them a thing or two on how to behave, you know. And so it was a much easier crowd to work with.
Last night I listened to some of your country album [2008’s Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners]. Any plans on doing another music record?
Oh, you listened to some of the record. I mean, that’s not a very good endorsement. That’s like saying, I went to go see some of this new Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. Well, that means you walked out halfway through — which a lot of people did in the case of that movie. Because we did do a full record. So I would hope that you would find the time to listen to the rest of it, unless of course you stole the record on the internet. And then I hope you don’t ever listen to it, because that’s just —
[Laughing] I swear I just heard the singles on YouTube.
All right. Well, YouTube, those pricks. But, yes, I did do a new musical record. It’s two songs, and it’s duets with myself and Margaret Cho, who’s one of the hot comedians on the comedy circuit these days. And I’d like to think that we’re going to be known as sort of the filthy-mouth generation’s Olivia Newton John and John Travolta. Remember when they used to do duets? Everybody loved those songs. If you’ve ever seen Grease, everyone loves those songs. And we’re hoping that everybody loves these songs.
So I caught your show here at the Admiral a couple years back. It was my first time, and it was one of the funniest, most uncomfortable things I think I’ve ever seen.
Was that the show with that freako, that weirdo creep? I’ve played the Admiral a couple of times, but we had a real sicky turn up at one of the shows there. He was trying to attack the opening acts, and he came up and tried to get in the way of my show. Security had to pitch him out the back door onto his ear. But the venue itself is very nice. The food is excellent. And very nice people. And very good drinks. I thought it was fantastic there. I love that venue.
This time around they’ve upgraded you to the Grey Eagle. Not bad.
I love the Admiral, and I’d love to get back there, but I think when you’ve got three of these hot, young acts on one bill, there just isn’t room at the Admiral. And it’d be sad if people couldn’t get in the door. Because people need to laugh, you know?
who: Neil Hamburger, with Todd Barry and Brendon Walsh
where: Grey Eagle
when: Sunday, Aug. 19 (8pm. $12 advance / $15 day of show. http://www.thegreyeagle.com/)