Neil Hamburger – Original Review | Review by Steve Bennett

Neil Hamburger – Original Review

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Neil Hamburger is possibly an act that’s more hated than loved. As the frequent support act of Jack Black’s band Tenacious D, his abrasive brand of ‘anti-comedy’ has annoyed arenas full of braying rock fans the world over.

But such deliberately antagonistic stuff is such stuff as cults are made of, and Hamburger also has a dedicated army of in-the-know fans delighted by his subversion of comedy’s templates.

His persona is of a washed-up lounge act, with an empty life and repertoire of jokes that disappoint even him. After audaciously long intro music, he shuffles on stage like George Burns after a night in a dumpster: with thrift-shop tuxedo, grease-plastered hair, heavy-framed glasses and a phlegmy throat problem. But his cough is the only hack thing about this act.

The self-styled ‘America’s funnyman’ tries the ‘hey, how’s everybody doin tonight’ banter with absolutely no conviction, unable to conceal the true sentiment that the audience are scum who are beneath him. He certainly hasn’t gone to the effort of learning his set list for this crowd, so repeatedly pulls out crumpled notes from his pocket, which only makes him shudder not-so-inwardly at how shoddy the material is. But hey, he’s a pro so he musters all his enthusiasm and barks at the audience: ‘WHY…?’ before setting some impossible-to-fathom rhetorical conundrum, based on a surreal non-sequitur. Then, after the punchline, a self-pitying whine of dispair.

That he’s always billed as an ‘anti-comic’ would suggest that those feedlines have no punch, which is unfair. What is true, however, is that you never know whether the gag will be brilliant or appalling… although you can be sure the level is somewhere between hideous bad taste or just base abuse.

Also, there’s no guarantee where the laughs will fall. Not for him, the tried-and-tested repetition of set-up, punchline, laugh – sometimes the set-up is hilarious, but the reveal an anticlimax; elsewhere an unpromisingly convoluted feed produces a gem of a payoff that any comic would be proud to write. The uncertainty is intoxicating, creating an air of expectation throughout his devout, fashionably geeky, audience.

The terrain Hamburger exploits for comedy is grim: Down’s Syndrome babies, children with terminal cancer and rapists are typical subjects. Plenty of comics plump for such stock subjects, but he doesn’t pretend he’s doing it to be bold or edgy – it’s desperation pure and simple. It’s impossible to do full justice to some of the weird images he conjures up, other than to quote a set-up at random: ‘Why….? Why… does Julia Roberts rub shit on her vagina?’

Alongside this intense nastiness, he has an irrational and deep hatred for mediocre jangly-guitar bands of the mid-Nineties: Linkin Park, Blink 182 and Smashmouth all come in for a pasting. Some of the more obscure references pass the audience by, though he’s diligent enough to check some of his less well-known subjects: ‘9/11. Did you guys have that here?’

There is a feeling he’s still feeling his way with a British crowd, both in terms of content and style. He’s rarely performs this side of the Atlantic, and this trip comprises just one night in Manchester, three at the Soho Theatre and one each in Coventry and Minehead, of all places – hardly enough to find his feet. And at certain points in this 50-miute show his self-deprecation and tongue-in-cheek padding prove barren; his dead-end ‘banter’ with the front row or his repeated pleas for the audience to give a round of applause, just to kill some time, don’t quite pass muster.

But it’s just very minor tweaking that’s needed, which should prove no problem given what careful attention Hamburger’s creator Gregg Turkington has already paid to every detail of his genuinely alternative act, right down to the way he juggles the glasses of water that ease that throaty cough.

The delightfully crass Hamburger is a bona-fide original, and hilarious with it, and has to be on the ‘must-see’ for anyone who likes their comedy odd, twisted and filthy.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Soho Theatre, London, December 2009

Review date: 9 Dec 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

What do you think?

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.