Hamburger, who performs at the Crepe Place Mon. April 9, is looking sharp for someone who's been doing comedy over 90 years.
Greg Turkington funnyman character Neil Hamburger is like a satirical composite of all the thousands of bad comedians that ever were. He’s a bitter, miserable comic who constantly clears his throat and delivers bad, crass jokes with awkward timing. (“Why did God create Domino's Pizza? To punish humanity for their complacency at letting the Holocaust happen.”)
He has suffered greatly for his art. Hamburger’s back story is that he’s been in comedy over 90 years, struggling for most of that time on the pizza parlor circuit and eating wallpaper every night for dinner. He comes to the Crepe Place in Santa Cruz on April 9.
“This job is the pits. It’s the worst,” Hamburger the character (Turkington makes only rare appearances) recently told Santa Cruz Weekly. “I’d rather pick onions, but they won’t hire me because I have no experience in the fields. But I do have experience telling jokes, so that’s what I do.”
For a made-up person, Hamburger is rather accomplished. He tours more than most actual comics and has put out 12 comedy records. That, of course, is due to Turkington’s unrelenting commitment to this ridiculous character, which frequently serves to skewer America’s celebrity obsession and culture of commercialism.
For example, Hamburger recently got a lot of attention for tweeting several insults about Britney Spears. (“Britney, what are you more thankful for: prescription drugs or pitch correction technology?”) Britney’s fans became irate. Hamburger retweeted their comments, deliberately escalating the situation and turning the whole thing into a surreal comedy for his fans to enjoy.
“I threw out a couple of gags at Britney Spears’ expense and got bombarded by dozens and dozens of these angry, and I would have to say, clearly disturbed fans. These people are threatening your life but misspelling 75 percent of the words in the process. You can’t argue with that for laughs,” Hamburger says.
Britney Spears wasn’t just a target chosen for cheap laughs. She represents to Hamburger the American public’s willingness to make millionaires out of mediocre artists.
“If you were a refrigerator repairman and you saw a guy that was advertising refrigerator repair and charging a million dollars an hour and leaving the refrigerator worse than it was before, that would definitely get your goat. It’s a direct equivalent of what Britney’s done,” Hamburger contends.
Another one of Hamburger’s recent attacks-on-pop-culture-turned-absurd involved Axe Body Spray. In a column he wrote for Vice Magazine, Hamburger railed against Axe as the “preferred deodorant for date-rapists.” Axe Body Spray is a Vice advertiser, and the magazine pulled the column.
Hamburger’s critique extends to the entertainers that endorse products he finds repulsive. “Axe is trying to get in good with all the musicians and comedians by tossing them a few bucks their way. Fuck them,” he says. “I understand these are tough times and everyone’s got to earn a living, but you don’t want to affiliate with these guys. Do an ad for something harmless like birdseed. I’m all for birdseed.”
A lot of the understated art of his anti-comedy routine is found on his records. His 2005 album, Great Moments at Di Presa’s Pizza House isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. Rather, it plays like a radio teleplay of Hamburger’s “story” of coming up in the pizza parlor scene as a young comic.
Nowadays, he’s moved on to the seedy nightclub scene, clubs normally reserved for rock bands. He can’t deny that he does get a good gig now and then, like an opening spot for Tenacious D he scored a few years back. Not that that’s changed his outlook.
“You got to be nuts to think that just because you had a bowl of cherries backstage in the dressing room one night that you’ve succeeded, because the next night it’s a mop bucket filled with melting ice that they’ve got for you as an appetizer,” Hamburger says.
His concerts, whether for fans in the know or unsuspecting newbies, are the place to catch Hamburger’s act in its purest form.
“You get the thrill of the moment and the unpredictability. It’s much better than going to these Garfield movies and sitting on some sticky chair next to some asshole screaming kid,” Hamburger says, in character as always.
Neil Hamburger (with JP Inc)
Monday, April 9 at 9pm