Understatement alert: Neil Hamburger is not an ordinary stand-up comedian.
His jokes often take a question-and-answer riddle format, and the answers usually have neither rhyme nor reason. Still, the resulting act is quite hilarious, if not for everyone—so it’ll be interesting to see the reaction of the crowd at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, where the greasy-haired comedian will be performing on Friday, May 9.
Neil Hamburger is the alter ego of Gregg Turkington, the co-publisher of the underground zine Breakfast Without Meat. Turkington performed with various San Francisco punk bands throughout the ’80s.
During a recent phone interview, Neil Hamburger discussed what inspired his comedy act.
“The idea came from walking down the street and seeing people with tears streaming down their faces,” he said. “People with broken shoulders, with their legs in a cast, and that type of thing. It occurred to me that these people need some laughs; these people need to forget their problems for a few minutes, and laugh their heads off. We tried to put something together to relieve these people’s burdens, and I have to say, we failed for the most part. But we do provide a few laughs over the course of the evening.”
Neil Hamburger’s routine includes many comedic punches—often raunchy and in poor taste—toward celebrities.
“These are garbage people,” he said. “These are people who are being paid 150,000 times more than the fireman who will save your life, and these people get up there and do a poor job of entertaining. Now, I’m all about paying somebody who does a good job well, but when you see this stuff like we saw at the Oscars, where this woman takes a photo with the phone she’s being paid to advertise, and suddenly she’s being heralded as some sort of comedic genius? She orders pizzas, and that’s supposed to be entertainment? These people are being paid ridiculous amounts of money while the rest of us are eating wallpaper paste.”
Has a celebrity ever confronted Neil Hamburger about one of his jokes?
“I was in Montreal one night, and Dane Cook came up to me in a bar,” he said. “He told me that he wasn’t particularly thrilled about being the subject of some of the jokes.”
Some corporations have come after him, too.
“We had a situation with AXE Deodorant,” he said. “They had a disgusting ad campaign that was very, very sexual in nature. It was all about using their products for men to clean their testicles and things. They were doing it in what they thought was a humorous way, but it was really grotesque. So I wrote an article about this at the request of Vice magazine. So AXE didn’t like this one bit, and within 30 minutes, the article was removed from the Internet, never to be seen again.
“We’ve had problems with Arby’s, and the comedian Rob Riggle had blocked me on Twitter, because I called him an ‘AXE Comedian’ because he does work for AXE.”
Hamburger’s act is packed with riddles. In fact, there was an online campaign to get him to play the Riddler in a Batman film.
“People pay good money to see a show to go out and laugh their heads off,” he said. “Of course, we’re doing a show there in your region soon at Pappy and Harriet’s, assuming it isn’t torn down to make room for a Dollar General. But in all seriousness, when people pay good money to see a show, they want to laugh as many times as possible. Riddles give that dream a chance to become a reality, because if you tell riddles, you can probably work six, seven or eight of them into each minute of the show, opposed to one of these comedians who come out and tell this long dreary story about how they went to the supermarket and they didn’t have peaches, so they went to the frozen-food aisle to get frozen peaches, and five minutes later, you finally get the punch line. By then, your mind has wandered back into all your problems.”
Hamburger’s unorthodox jokes and horrible comedic delivery have led him to a career that most comedians would envy. However, Hamburger remains angry.
“There’s more to do if you take a guy like Carrot Top, who’s making millions and millions of dollars for jamming suitcases filled with props up his ass,” he said. “… I certainly have played (some great venues), whether it was Madison Square Garden or a big stadium in Sydney. I cannot complain about the venues I have played. While I’m very satisfied with my career in terms of all the wonderful cities I’ve gotten to visit, unfortunately, you’re still looking at a living wage that is somewhere (like) that of a short-order cook at your local Denny’s diner.”
So what’s Neil Hamburger’s pre-show routine?
“I like to put on some music that would get me in the mood,” he said. “Generally, it’s Frank Sinatra, Frank Sinatra, Jr., or Bow Wow Wow, because you have to be in a mood that you want to put on a good show. The other thing is hopefully at the nightclubs, they have good quality liquors and not some of these that are actually cut with store-brand alcohol, water or Clorox bleach.”
Hamburger often discusses his old car with a broken tape player. I asked him if his car will make it up the hill to Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown.
“The car will probably make it, but the tape player probably won’t,” he said.
Neil Hamburger will perform with Johnny Pemberton and Clownvis Presley at 8 p.m., Friday, May 9, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $12. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.