Thursday, August 07, 2008
There's been a lot of so-called "anti-comedians" out there since Andy Kaufman defined the archetype - people who use comedy as a tool to disrupt, confuse, and anger rather than entertain. Andy Kaufman did it best, to be certain, inspiring a slew of Kaufman devotees determined to view any form of "comedy" as one big existential joke. While the whole "anti-comedy" attitude has meshed pretty well with the sensibilities of modern stand-up comedians (read: Zach Galifianakis), there is a danger of using that "comedy is stupid" belief as an excuse to, y'know, not be funny at all. How hard is it to get onstage and say "Why did the chicken cross the road? WHO THE FUCK CARES!" just to get the audience to turn on you? Not very. Anti-comedy, as it were, is in danger of becoming cliche.
When it comes to America's Funnyman Neil Hamburger, however, the "anti-comedian" tag isn't quite apt - mostly because, like Kaufman before him, he's actually genuinely funny. Sure, his whole "schtick" (as it were) is that he's a really lousy comedian, a concept that naysayers still claim to be a poor man's Tony Clifton. But Neil Hamburger takes the concept of Tony Clifton and powers it through the Earth's atmosphere, burning it to a crisp until its remains emerge into space fouler and cruder than ever before. Where Tony Clifton was a hammy, obnoxious, over-the-top lounge act, Neil Hamburger is a mean, spiteful, and unbelievably foul-mouthed stand up comic. And where Clifton was nasty and energetic, Hamburger thrives on sad, slow-moving failure, characterized by his defeatist look on life and his narcissistic, painfully ridiculous jokes.
Hamburger, portrayed by music critic Gregg Turkington, is a hilarious creation on many levels. For one, his physical appearance is phenomenally scummy: oversized glasses, exceptionally greasy hair, and a tacky tuxedo perfect his "failed comedian" image, not to mention a glass of scotch he constantly sips onstage. He's also got a great scowl, or pout if you will, giving Hamburger a look of constant sadness and dejection - he's one of the few comedians that can make you laugh just by looking at him. There's also his bizarre vocal delivery, which ranges from a corny, over-the-top old-timey comedian's voice to a disgruntled, loud, angry voice of a man who hates everybody. But of course, none of this would matter if the material wasn't rock-solid - and I assure you, readers, that you will never hear a "blue" comedian better than Mr. Hamburger.
Neil Hamburger, quite frankly, is the best sculptor of out-and-out disgusting hilarity to come along in a long time. While some of Hamburger's jokes are just silly takes on "Why did the chicken cross the road?," my personal favorites of his are his celebrity riffs. Hamburger is particularly adept at taking common lousy celebrity cliches that worse comedians revel in - y'know, Michael Jackson's a pedo, Paris Hilton's a whore, etc. etc. - and delivering them in the most gut-wrenchingly ridiculous fashion that they somehow turn from standard "anti-jokes" into true works of comedic beauty. Any comedian can set up a joke with "Why did Michael Jackson dangle his infant son from the window of his hotel room?"; only Neil Hamburger can follow it up with "He was punishing him for refusing to eat his plate of sperm." Hell, sometimes the punchline isn't even the funniest part of his jokes - set-ups like "Why did Mick Jagger urinate on his own daughter?" or "Why did God send Terri Schiavo to Hell?" barely even need a punchline, and when he attacks less obvious targets like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or Gerald Ford, it only makes things better. But what pushes these jokes over the edge is Neil's delivery - rather than reveling in the sheer grossness of these jokes, as a lesser comedian might do, Neil delivers each punchline with a profound sadness, as if dog food coming out of Madonna's breasts were some kind of crushing truth.
Of course, audience reactions to Mr. Hamburger are mixed. Now, admittedly I haven't been a Neil Hamburger fan long enough to be considered an expert - I saw him in his brief cameo appearance on Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! last year and I've been hooked ever since - but from all the fantastic Youtube videos I have drudged up of him over the past year, he seems to have two different modes. In one, he's delivering his jokes in a corny croon to a bunch of people that don't get it and barely laugh; in the other, he's venomously screeching out his jokes in his full glory while an audience of loyal fans laugh and yell with joy. While the former is funny in a kind of fish-out-of-water way, the latter finds Mr. Hamburger at his crude best.
Recently, Mr. Hamburger has released a musical country album, Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners. From what I've heard of it, it is fantastic - Neil's grumpy voice fits inexplicably well with old-fashioned country. But I could sit around and yakk about Mr. Hamburger's prowess all day and we wouldn't get anywhere. If you don't know Neil Hamburger, the only method of conversion is for you to hear the man's silky smooth voice for yourself.
Here's a semi-recent appearance by Neil on Jimmy Kimmel Live, a perfect example of a crowd that doesn't quite "get" it:
Here's one of Neil's most recent appearances on the late night Fox News show "Red Eye," in which Neil tells a rape joke that forces everybody in the studio to guiltily stifle laughter:
And here's Neil at his best: telling a string of Red Hot Chilli Pepper jokes that escalate in ridiculousness until they reach their apex at the end. The audience is with him all the way.
...ah, what the hell, here's one more, Neil's novelty music video "7-11's Are All The Same."