Q&A with Neil Hamburger
By Tyson Lynn
Comedian Neil Hamburger is not content simply telling jokes. He lives the lifestyle. He gets it. A tireless performer (over 300 performances last year), Hamburger has never transcended the insulating niche of comedian’s comedian, which is a true shame. It might also be an insult.
Hamburger plays it close to the vest. Critics call his work anti-comedy, crude navel-gazing from a talentless hack, but they speak from the Never store on the corner of Was and Will. Thankfully, Hamburger still took my call a few days after his recent—and triumphant–show at the Triple Door.
NadaMucho.com: Good afternoon, Mr. Hamburger. Thanks for taking my call!
Neil Hamburger: We had an inkling some of the larger journalists from Seattle would be calling. I’m glad we are able to speak, since I’m usually on-stage, or out in remote areas where there are no phones. I borrowed this phone, so it’s a real treat.
NM: Where are you at the moment?
NH: Pasa Robles, 200 miles away from Hollywood. We’ll play anywhere willing to let me do my thing. I sometimes do impromptu types of shows, for smaller amounts of money. For instance, someone will say “I’m sorry this casino burned down, but I’ve got a backyard down the street that would be perfect.” You don’t want to be on the side of the road, hemorrhaging cash.
NH: Were you at that show?
NH: The Seattle show was a triumph. In a room like that, you got to do well. You don’t want to end up six feet under dirt. But the audience seemed to have laughter on their agenda. Sometimes you get these lemon suckers who won’t laugh at anything.
NM: And what are you up to now, post-show?
NH: Traveling by Greyhound. My car got towed in King Arthur City, Nebraska. We weren’t playing there—I’d love to play in King Arthur City—but had stopped to get a bite to eat, buy some tomatoes, and they towed my car. Greyhound is my least favorite way to travel, because of the other passengers, with their emotional and personal problems. There was one guy who was masturbating in his seat, and they kicked him off the bus on the side of the road and called the state patrol.
You’ve got to have a vehicle for this profession. Sometimes, there are these guys who deliver refrigerators or some such across the state and you can catch a ride with them. We don’t get a lot of delivery drivers at the shows. We get a lot of the unemployed and these musician creeps. I’ll take anybody. I’m there to help with the gift of laughter, but sometimes you run into people with drinking problems, emotional problems. I feel bad for them, but I feel worse for myself, cause I’m just trying to make them laugh.
NM: I hear ya. Where are you heading?
NH: I’m playing a show in National City with some real jerks, if last time I was down here is any indication.
I’m sure it won’t be that bad.
NH: Ha! I’m being sued all over the place. Defamation of character from these asshole comedians. A lawsuit from a certain potato chip brand that tastes horrible. It’s not even the chip, it’s the salt they use. My ex-wife, a cousin, an Indian casino in Nevada. I didn’t pay rent on my storage locker for six months, so they’re suing me. They seized all my things and sold them, but they’re still suing me.
NM: Jesus. You sound pretty strapped.
NH: I don’t have time to offer anything for free, since I’m traveling so much, but I’ll offer anything for money. All the agency fees, transportation, lawsuits, food, it’s hard to make money. But if someone wants some advice, I’ll give it to them, and ask for a dollar.
NM: How about love? You mentioned an ex-wife. You got a girl?
NH: Not in a relationship. Not something that’s working out. All this travel is taking its toll on me. I have numerous throat infections.
NH: But we’re not always playing here. We’ll play swamplands, suburban areas, the outskirts of town. The outskirts of town have been really good lately.
NM: So what is next for you?
NH: We’re playing shows in Texas and Ireland. I’m thinking I’ll get some hot sauce while I’m in San Antonio and put it on some potatoes when I’m in Dublin. It’s not often you can eat that well. I was in Del Taco, a chain, and they have hot sauce up by the counter. If you’re careful, you can palm about 10 of those packets while you’re asking where the bathroom is. And it makes all the difference when, before a show, you get your food–a handful of wet bread, some canned peas—to add some hot sauce.
NM: You’ve played overseas several times before. Are there any references you use people don’t understand?
NH: Fuck them. I’m doing everything I can. I’m not going to hire an interpreter. When I was in Malaysia, I learned a few phrases, and that seemed to go over well.
Neil Hamburger is a comedian’s comedian. His shows are too numerous to list here. For more information, visit America’s Funnyman.