Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Better than a massage" - Neil Hamburger, coming soon to the Galway Comedy Festival

Neil Hamburger is some character. The beleaguered but dedicated comedian plays the Taibhdhearc for three nights as part of this year's Galway Comedy Festival. His nightclub-style repartee sees him aim barbs at his ex-wife, celebrities - and ,sometimes, the audience.
It's 7 a.m. in Los Angeles. Although that might seem an ungodly hour for a stand-up to be awake, Neil is usually on the road at this stage.
"If we've got a long drive, and a of times we do, normally I would get up and check the tires to make sure they haven’t gone flat during the night, make sure no-one has stolen the mirror off my car while I was asleep, make sure kids haven’t vandalized the car in any way," he says.
The 'we' could suggest that Mr.Hamburger has a chauffeur- but this isn't the case."Unfortunately, I do all the driving," he laments. "We don’t have any staff, we don’t have anyone else to do anything for me. It’s a one man operation."
Here is a comedian whose biog boasts of the LA lounge lizard doing 399 shows in one year. What are his tips for achieving success as a comedian?
"You’d have to ask a successful comedian – you've got an unsuccessful comedian on the line with you now."
So why break his back doing something that has no reward?
"If I don’t keep doing these shows, if I don’t keep earning money to pay the people I owe money to they’ll break my legs," he says. "I've got to pay these guys back, that’s the problem. When you've got lawyers, and ex-wives and these creeps that sued me – this idiot claims he slipped on an ice cube at a night club and broke his jaw."
"I owe money to pretty much anyone you can think of. I probably own you some money actually. Do I owe you any money?"
After telling Mr.Hamburger I may have to invoice him for the transatlantic call ("please do" he says), I return to the word 'ex-wives.' As in, plural?
"It feels plural because of the amount of money the one ex-wife I have has demanded from me. It feels like I’ve got forty. But I have only one ex-wife and it was many years ago, but you never get over this sort of thing, do you?"
Perhaps you don't. But even though there's acrimony over alimony, surely there was a time when he was besotted with the former Mrs. Hamburger?
"The first time I saw her I said ‘this lady, this beautiful young woman will one day be my ex-wife’" he recalls fondly. "I could just tell; she wouldn't believe in me. She didn't believe in the dreams that we shared, except that we never really shared them. I was trying to become some sort of success in the comedy world, and she was convinced it would never work."
So, he's in debt, he's divorced and he can't catch a break - how can Neil Hamburger tolerate such a joyless existence?
"At this point I have to say I’ve run out of patience, but I still have no choice," he says. "It’s like I’m on one of those treadmills and somebody has broken the switch that turns the thing off, because at this point I would like to rest.""
To call Neil's style uncompromising would be putting it mildly. One of his jokes ends with the Red Hot Chili Peppers pleasuring themselves into a pile of poo 'under the bridge.' This is not your regular ba-doom-tish material.
"We’ve had some folks that didn’t like it, I will not lie to you," he says. "This act is not for everyone.  Then we had some folks who not have been nicer or more enthusiastic, I’ve had some great fans there and it’s always a pleasure to get back there and entertain them with these distracting jokes."
Ah, distraction - something that's much needed these days. Can Neil's comedy provide the necessary uplift from these economy-obsessed times?
"I think there’s no better way for somebody to forget their troubles and cares - in the world - than to sit there and listen to someone tell a bunch of dirty jokes. It’s better than a massage, it’s better than therapy. You just sit there, throw a few drinks down your throat and before you know it, you’re having the time of your life, laughing your fool head off."
Apparently there's a ghost who haunts the Taibhdhearc, a woman who sabotages any performance that any artist or company wants to film. Does Neil have any experience in dealing with the supernatural?
"I think there’s a ghost that’s been haunting my whole career, wrecking things," he says. "Sometimes you’ll do a show and the microphone stops working, sometimes you’ll be on the road and you have to swerve to avoid a raccoon  and you end up running over some carpet tacks. These are all supernatural occurrences designed to ruin my day, if not ruin my life."
He may say his show is not for everyone, but Neil Hamburger is doing himself a disservice - it is. You've never seen a gig like this before. And though it may shock in places, Neil insists that this is exactly what people want.
"People are offended when you don’t tell dirty jokes," he says. "I would tell a joke about a birthday cake, or a joke about a slice of apple pie, or a joke about a kitten who met up with a puppy dog – ages type of jokes. And then people would come up to me afterwards and say ‘Neil, I'm offended. Where were your jokes about raw sewage, where were your jokes about bladder infections, where were your jokes about venereal disease all over Paris Hilton’s lips. That’s what we paid to hear; I'm offended that you would dare to tell us a joke about a happy puppy who got sick drinking too much warm milk.’"

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