For any comedy fan accustomed to stand-up featuring a steady rise towards an inevitable punch line, watching Neil Hamburger perform ought to be nothing less than a revelation. America’s Funnyman, as he so proudly declares himself, certainly transcends and occasionally even shatters the boundaries of formulaic comedy, but to call his performances mere anti-humour is to do him a great disservice. Hamburger is genuinely hilarious in his own right, with jokes that draw from absurdity, shock appeal and often just plain silliness. Hamburger has recorded many comedy albums, appeared in films such as Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, performed on television shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and even released a country record for Drag City a couple of years back. Hamburger is also a tireless workhorse and tours ceaselessly. Do yourself a favour and see him on Saturday, July 10 at the Biltmore, a show which will also mark the triumphant return of Vancouver’s own comedy dynamo Hugh Phukovsky. For a mere $10 (advance tickets at Happy Bats, Red Cat, and Zulu), I can think of no better evening’s entertainment. I recently had the opportunity to catching up with Neil, who graciously took the time to respond to my email while on the road.
Discorder: You tour almost constantly. What’s the appeal of life on the road?
Neil Hamburger: There is no appeal. There is no choice!
D: Your jokes about fast food joints and other restaurants are certainly memorable. What are your favourite places to eat while on tour?
NH: I like to buy discounted canned goods from salvage warehouses, and heat them up in my motel room on a hot plate that was given to me by a concerned fan.
D: What types of venues do you prefer to appear at? Do any memorable dives from over the years come to mind?
NH: Madison Square Garden, in New York? That was the best place I ever played. Unfortunately, that type of booking is very rare.
D: In the song “Three Piece Chicken Dinner” from Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners, you mention several notorious examples of ways in which you’ve been paid for your comedy over the years. Is this part of your career safely behind you, or do you still find yourself occasionally receiving casino chips and pizza crusts for your efforts?
NH: Every word in that song is true. I do not need to make things up. Payment can sometimes be pitiful, and contracts are routinely ignored. We had a guy try and pay us with one hundred bags of ice once. He claimed that each one was worth $3.99, so I was actually getting MORE than I was promised.
D: What was your experience like preparing The New Big Ball [ed. A gameshow he created with Tim & Eric, the creators of Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job, that Neil was going to host.] for the Adult Swim Network? Do you have any future programs planned for television?
NH: It was a great experience in every way, except that the pilot episode was eventually rejected by the network. That was not so great. I have a lot of plans, but as with anyone, most of them never come true.
D: Why did you decide to release a country album (Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners) for Drag City? How did you get your band together?
NH: I think of it as more of a “personality album.” All the great, and not-so-great, personalities made these albums. They serve as “souvenirs” for the fans. The music itself does not have to be great, but in this case, I think it was. I had the best musicians in the business, although I did not deserve them. The record was a hit.
D: You recently created your own Twitter account. What does this exciting social networking service offer to an already established act like Neil Hamburger?
NH: It’s a good way to cry out for help, when broken down somewhere, and maybe now, someone will finally listen.
D: Do you have any favourite candidates in the upcoming midterm elections in the United States? Would you ever consider running for political office yourself? Are you aware that Canada will soon be appointing a new Governor General?
NH: I’m afraid I can’t get involved with politics, as it has the potential to alienate at least half of my fanbase.
D: I understand that you’ve had a few interesting experiences in front of Vancouver audiences. Is there anything special about performing here?
NH: Severe drinking problems seem commonplace there. I don’t know if it’s the city in general, or just my supporters. I do love the city itself.
D: Lastly, can local fans expect anything special from your gig here on Saturday, July 10 at the Biltmore?
NH: They can expect me to give everything I have, until there is simply nothing left in the tank. But that is hardly special.