In this week's paper, Jason Toon talked with comedian Neil Hamburger. Toon describes the man thusly:
His live act features long silences punctuated by throat-clearing coughs and depressive sighing, and every once in a while, a joke. All combed-over pathos and threadbare tuxedo, with no sense of timing or tact, Hamburger brings his uncomfortably funny act to the Creepy Crawl on Thursday, August 2. (Although with Nerve Parade in place of Eric Hall.)
B-Sides: Late night last night? Neil Hamburger: I had a show last night in Barstow, Calfornia. It was at a ´50s-style diner that had been abandoned, boarded-up. These kids figured out a way to break a hole in the side of the building, and they opened it up like a speakeasy, at least for a few days. It was a real horror: the electricity wasn't very good, people stepping on rusty nails, feral cats and that kind of thing. I won't be coming back here. We did a show at Madison Square Garden last year. How few months was it to sink to playing this place? [sigh] Not a good career trajectory.
Do you ever get requests for “She Sits Among The Cabbages And Peas” (from Raw Hamburger)? Oh, sure, but we can't do that one unless we have a piano player along on the show.
As a comic yourself, what are your thoughts about Jon Lovitz allegedly punching out Andy Dick? I haven't heard about that. I do know Andy Dick. He's a nice guy. It's a sad situation. What I would be happy to do in retaliation is to throw Jon Lovitz into a bottomless pit and fill it with cement.
Wow, really? That seems harsh. He started it. You don't go around hitting people. Maybe things will have to escalate to that step. There was a guy at my show the other day who was a contractor, he said if I needed anything done, to give him a call. I might see if he has access to a bottomless pit.
Your first album was called America's Funnyman, and that was the title you sort of took for yourself at the beginning of your career. But your latest DVD was called The World's Funnyman. Were you trying to make a statement with the DVD title, or did it have more to do with expanding your market? We still use America's Funnyman sometimes, but we're just trying to look for a gimmick to somehow break through and get away from the poverty. That DVD -- you may have seen it, you may have gotten it in the mail and thrown it in the garbage straight away, like so many others have -- was shot in Sydney, Australia, most of it. It does help to film these things in people's towns. They buy the DVD to see if they can see themselves, that type of thing.
So you haven't had any backlash from the America-first crowd? I have had a lot of backlash, but usually on other topics.
Have you ever thought about getting a straight job, or is it “comedy or death”? For me, it is “comedy or death,” not because I wouldn't do a straight job but because I couldn't do a straight job. This is all I know how to do. If I could get a job driving a broken old car 700 miles a day, I could do that. If somebody hired people to map out all the rest areas where they let you lay a cot out back and sleep there, I could do that. But as far as I know there's not much demand for that kind of knowledge.
Do you think that kind of hardship and misery is a good source for your comedy, or do you think you'd do better work if you were more financially comfortable? A few people have told me “Neil, stop with the whining and self-pity during the show. You're bringing us down.” I would probably be better if I was more like someone like Steve Martin, who is so funny now that he has a million dollars. Have you seen Cheaper By The Dozen 2, by the way?
I haven't. Not yet. You should. So funny. Clearly, gold is the recipe for a great talent to blossom. So I'm hopeful that someday soon I'll have bags of gold in the bank. Right now I have bags of ice in a styrofoam cooler in my trunk, to try to keep some of these pizza crusts cool. It gets very hot in the desert.
So you're not touring just for the love of it? I love it very much. It's all I have. But day-to-day, I despise this lifestyle. I wouldn't wish it on a dog. [sigh] Those comedians who still look young -- your Lily Tomlins and those kind of people -- they do maybe ten shows a year. Try doing ten shows a week and see how you feel. [sigh] But it can't go on forever.