Comic sees nothing funny about his act

Hamburger is bringing his bad stand-up to the Ottobar

Scene: clubs, bars, nightlife

July 15, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

This stuff came out of the can spoiled. The schtick's ... been ruined since I came up with it," reported mopy comic Neil Hamburger, as he called from Los Angeles to talk about his act.

Currently playing the nation's rock clubs and, he says, the occasional casino or "second-tier" pizza parlor, Hamburger indeed covers bizarre and boring topics - from candy fillings to kangaroos - delivering each sorry punchline with a heavy dose of pathetic ennui.

And though many of his sappy shows have received negative audience responses, the tide may be turning for the forever tuxedoed funnyman.

Hamburger (who may or may not actually be Amarillo Records founder and underground indie-rock hero Gregg Turkington) is the leading figure in a new form of anti-comedy entertainment that's beginning to attract fans from the hip-and-jaded set. To them, badness is just the point, so the supremely unfunny Hamburger makes a perfect champion.

But like Andy Kaufman's obnoxious Tony Clifton character, the man may be ahead of his time - understood by few and perhaps appreciated by even fewer.

Years from now, the mainstream masses may laud him as a creative genius. For now, however, he'll just keep trudging along - or in his words, "going wherever a laugh is needed."

With the approach of tomorrow's show at the Ottobar, we phoned Hamburger to talk about his storied past and dubious future.

He answered our queries in classic Hamburger fashion: with sullen tones, strange responses and yes, maybe even a little humor.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:

Some reports claim that you are Amarillo Records founder Gregg Turkington. Can you confirm or deny this?

No. I'm not [Turkington]. Although I wish that I were sometimes, because that guy is not on the road 395 days a year.

But Neil, aren't there only 365 days in a year?

You should see my booking calendar. [My publicists] find these days. They can make them happen. They find these shows on the borders of time zones ... to try to squeeze more work out of me. They've got a map of the continental divide. They've got everything, and THEY ARE RUTHLESS!

How did you develop your catchphrase, "That's my life"?

It was out of desperation because you see all of these comedians with these catchphrases, and they are multi-millionaires. It was like if you were hit by lightning and died; except, I didn't die, I was inspired - and it wasn't lightning.

Why has your act had recent success in the hipster scene, in particular at nightclubs and rock venues?

I think these young people have a lot of burdens on their shoulders ... because of all the problems today. They want to go out and throw down a few mint juleps, [but] the music [at many bars and clubs] will give you ear cancer. These people are much happier to come out and see a professional comedian who puts on an actual stage outfit and gives his all.

But what happens if you deliver a sub-par performance?

Sometimes they [audiences] are so hopped up on mint juleps - sniffing the paste and all that they do - that they don't really notice the difference.

So, for a guy who's endured years of bad shows and long nights, what has been the low point of your career?

It's one solid sinkhole. If you fall into a bottomless pit, and someone asks you what's the low point, what do you say?

Then what will you do next?

I'm making the best I can out of it. But I'm possibly not qualified for this job. Better things are ahead and [I'm] just going to keep on rolling. [The new tour] has been fantastic in a wonderful way - but not really, not literally.

Catch Neil Hamburger tomorrow at the Ottobar. Nick Flanagan, the High School Hellcats and Hockey Island are also billed. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. The Ottobar is at 2549 N. Howard St. Call 410-662-0069 or visit www.theottobar.com.

For more club events, see Page 33.

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