Neil Hamburger Chews the Fat on Cults, Comedy and Creditors
Some will tell you that comedian Neil Hamburger wasn't born in a traditional sense, that he instead materialized in the coat check of mid-scale pizza parlor off the I-30 frontage road in Atlantic City.
"But that's my life!"
Hamburger speaks in a collective "we," and whether he's including his phantom "management," adoring fans or alter-persona Gregg Turkington is open for debate -- but wasting perfectly good neural synapses on decrypting the mystery is something Hamburger would scoff at. After all, he isn't here for some meta game of hide the conceptual pickle; he's here to bring laughter to the good people of the world.
Hamburger performs on Friday night at the Texas Theatre, and the show is a special one. The line-up features misfit comics Tim Heidecker (Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Good Job!), and DJ Douggpound (Editor for Portlandia, and comedian who "tells jokes, and remixes them").
It's a Texas-exclusive showcase, and when they finish unbuckling our Bible belts, all will scatter back into the world and return to chasing their own, professional spirit animals.
We caught up with Hamburger from a Greyhound bus station in Southern California and asked him some hard-hitting questions. He swatted them down. Here's the play-by-play.
Hello, Mr. Hamburger. I'm curious: Your last name, Hamburger -- is that a German surname?
No it's actually a stage name, you've got to try and be commercial in this business. I was born with a name that wasn't as ambitious. My birth name was Neil Double Bacon Cheeseburger, and you know, what with the people worried about cholesterol and that sort of thing, we did have to cut it down a bit.
I'm intimidated by what I've read online. Every article mentions that you have a cult following. I, and most of the good, God-fearing people of Dallas are terrified of cults. Should we be worried about that at your show on Friday?
(Long exhale.) I don't know how these types of things wind up out there in the media. There is no cult that I've EVER been involved with, so you have no reason to fear. Now I do know that most of the cults have been run out of Texas in the past few years, and good for you!
Right now, I'm right in the outskirts of Los Angeles where the Scientologist cult has taken over all of the hot dog stands and restaurants and things like that, and it's a BAD SITUATION. But I can guarantee -- and you can put this in writing -- that there is no cult profiting off of this show and none of us are in cults.
In fact, most of us are doing everything we can to avoid these cults, who can be very very persuasive, offering free food and that type of thing. Sometimes it can be hard to resist when they give you that plate of rice. But we have resisted, so this is just a good, old-fashioned, filthy, dirty comedy show.
I've realized that I can't find too much about where you're from. Where did you grow up?
Well, I like to think that I grew up in the hearts and minds of the people I've entertained! When we started doing this -- well I was quite young and I really didn't have the acts together as I do now, and with working mainly on the pizza parlor circuit and that sort of thing.
But over the past few years we've really developed this into something that we could be proud of. Course, now we're playing much more prestigious venues like the Texas Theatre, which for my money is one of the nicest in the country.
You're performing with Tim Heidecker at this show.
How did the two of you meet?
We met in line, I think. I'm not sure what supermarket it was, but it was definitely in a line. We've worked on a lot of things -- and this is a man who really shares my viewpoint that folks need a laugh. That there's no greater calling than providing that laugh, so I feel like by teaming up on one bill, you're guaranteed many, many laughs. And of course in this day and age that isn't really guaranteed, so I really feel that this is a strong evening of potential laughter.
As you've mentioned, your career has really blown up in the last decade. You've done television and film work with spots on Tim and Eric's program, a cameo in Pick of Destiny and you were in Hamlet A.D.D. -- did you have to out-audition other celebrity talents for those rolls?
These auditions are something I like to avoid, you know? If they give me the call, I'd be happy to come in and throw in my two cents on the subject, but if you start waiting around to audition you'll start blowing your brains out. That's very demoralizing. Sitting in that room with all the losers and that sort of thing.
I follow you on Twitter, and I think that your work is interesting. While other people use it to discuss themselves or promote events, you have running dialogues with larger business. I'm wondering why you choose to engage mostly with them.
Well, nobody wants to read about what kind of cornchips I'm eating that day, and nobody's really interested in my opinions of what's in the news that day. But folks do appreciate someone standing up to some of these bullies on Twitter. Some of these rotten companies with these horrific products that have really degraded the quality of life in these past years and so I'm happy to provide that service.
You've got people on there who talk about every time they smell bad, and that's not something I'm interested to read. So I hope that we've elevated the situation a bit and I realize that there are some people who are upset about what we try to do on my account, which is to have a little fun. And that's what it's all about.
Do you ever stop working? I feel like you're one of those "always on the road" types of comedians.
I'm glad somebody noticed. I owe A LOT of money. I'm in severe debt! In this business, I've got to pay these creditors. They come knocking. And these are not nice people. And they will hurt you. And so we keep touring and also I believe that people are looking for laughs. Sometimes, we can provide that.
Friday's show begins at 8 p.m. with doors at 7 p.m., tickets range $16 to $20. It's a Parade of Flesh joint.