What can I say about Neil Hamburger that hasn’t been said about Mother Teresa? If you do not know who Neil Hamburger is, then I feel sorry for you, even though, you know, I wouldn’t really be surprised if you don’t. But it’s not his loss, it’s yours. You see, Neil Hamburger is perhaps the best comedian in the business these days, and though he’s had to fight adversity and had to sow a lonely row for well over a decade, it hasn’t stopped him from giving his all and becoming the best Neil Hamburger that the world has ever known. I love this man’s work, I really, really do. I’m seriously flattered that Mr. Hamburger would sink deeper in debt by calling me Long Distance to talk to me, but that’s just the sort of man Mr. Hamburger is. I am extremely proud of the following conversation. I now know what Barbra Walters feels like after she’s interviewed someone. Except Mr. Hamburger is not one of those Hollywood deviants or perverts like Mrs. Walters likes to interview. He is a good man.
God bless you, Neil Hamburger. God Bless You!
Hello, is Joseph there?
Yes. Neil Hamburger, I presume?
That is correct!
And how are you this fine afternoon?
Well, you know, I’ve done better, but we’re hoping the rest of the day gets better, you know what I’m saying?
Hey, the way I see it, if you wake up in the morning, you’re doing all right.
You’re certainly right about that! A lot of folks haven’t been waking up lately, and the obituaries are filled with that information, and that’s the kind of publicity you really don’t want in this business.
I am happy and more than a little bit honored to be speaking to you this afternoon.
(Flattered) Thank you, sir!
Thank you for speaking with me.
I have a lot of time for this sort of thing, believe me.
Interestingly enough, I just discovered today, as a matter of fact, that you are undertaking a new adventure that will lead you to be on my side of the interview session, on a television show on this thing they call the Internet.
Yeah, we are dipping our feet in that to try to get something going. You can’t just sit still in this day and age, or, you know, they throw you in the pile of “used-to be’s” and washed-up acts. You know what I mean? You gotta move forward. You gotta come up with something new. So we’ve got a new Internet television show, “Poolside Chats with Neil Hamburger.” We’re hoping it sets the Internet world on fire.
I think you did quite well, in the face of such glaring unprofessionalism, on the episode I saw.
Well, I hate to say it, but I probably added a little to the unprofessionalism by drinking myself on camera. But, well, you know, we’re doing another episode tonight, as a matter of fact, and hopefully we can get things going with this episode.
Who’s your guest?
A young group from Seattle called Pleaseeasaur.
Are they a combo of nice young men, or are they secretly a bunch of deviants?
There’s only a couple of them, and I think they’ve got their lives together. So it should be quite entertaining, as I’ve wanted to get them on the show ever since the show started…last week, that is…so we’re able to get that going. Then I’m off to do some shows overseas, so this will be the last broadcast for a while.
Hopefully things will go well. There was a long weekend for people to rest, recover, relax, and get ready for the show, and hopefully they’ll be on their toes.
I hope so. You know, you just don’t want to have any more failures when you’ve got a long list of past failures, you know?
It’s not easy being the World’s Funnyman, is it?
No, it isn’t. With these sorts of titles, you think, “wow, he’s the World’s Funnyman, what a life that must be!” The sad fact is, it’s just a title that we claimed; it’s like unclaimed mail. Nobody bestowed this on me, I just claimed it because it was unused. Unwanted. So, in fact, there’s no payment. You don’t get a check every month for being the World’s Funnyman. Instead, you get bills. SO that’s a tough thing. But, you know, we’ll probably discard that title eventually. It was mainly a gimmick to sell these DVD’s and to keep the record label from going into bankruptcy.
Yeah, but the same time, even though there’s that thing about claiming it as your own, in my humble opinion, there seems to be a little truth to that claim, and that’s what I was surprised to see. You were really winning over audiences in Canada and Australia, even though you had some problems with malcontents and drunken teenagers. Considering the acclaim from your show, your television show and appearances on Jimmy Kimmel, I think the title might actually be well-earned.
Well, I tell you what, we certainly like to hear that. We’ve taken this act on the road internationally in the hopes of possibly building up a small fan base. To a certain extent, it’s worked. This is not quite on the level of a Carrot Top, where the man has a mansion on a hill. This is not on the level of a Dane Cook, or on the level of one of those guys who comes out on stage and urinates in a cup and the audience goes wild. I still have to rely on jokes and on putting on a great show, and hopefully, at some point, I would get out of this minuscule existence that I’m living, and I’ll actually have a home, and have a car that works properly, so I wouldn’t have so many show cancellations due to breakdowns. Maybe I’ll get married again, have some companionship or some sort of friendships, like normal people have. Seek some medical attention for some problems I have—that is the sort of lifestyle I’d love to reach, and hopefully these shows overseas are one step down that road.
How did you come to the decision that you wanted to spend your life making people laugh?
Well, I had no choice, you know, because I have no other skill. Some would say this isn’t a skill, that I don’t have this skill, either. I would say maybe so, but you ought to see my brain surgery. You ought to see how well I do as a train conductor. You should see how terrible I do behind the counter of a rental car agency. Then you’ll see how this is my only calling in life.
I personally think you do quite well.
Well, thank you, sir, because that is the kind of comment that really—when you’re standing at the edge of a cliff, saying, “Do I jump? Do I jump?” and when you think back, comments like that stick out in your brain and you turn around, go back, and do the show to six people.
When I received your DVD, I’ll be honest and say I was surprised to see you were still working, because I’d assumed you’d slipped into the din of obscurity, and I apologize. But I noticed something. Your early records were more observational humor, but your material now is pretty much straightforward jokes. What prompted this change in style?
Well, you know, in this business, you have to be fresh. On the early records, I would tour year round, and nobody at all cared. You had people coming to shows, only a few, and it was a very different time for me, and it was a very different sort of act. Eventually, what happened was some of these Rock and Roll musicians started putting me on their concert bills, and suddenly, you’re performing for large crowds. All of a sudden there are people coming, and we’ve built what they call a “cult following,” by “cult” I don’t mean there’s a mass suicide or any funny business like that. I mean there are people who come to my shows, they buy the merchandise, and are very excitable. So when we hit that level of success—and we’re not really a success, by any standard definition of the term, but to go from playing pizza parlors for six people with that style to finding out that I could perform in Rock and Roll Clubs to a hundred people, then you’ve got to change the act for what people want. What those kinds of people want is filth humor and the humor that has to do with the current musicians of the day, and that type of thing. So, naturally, it evolved, like any comedian who’s had a career as long as mine would, you’d find a certain level of evolution. If you don’t evolve, you’re like Carrot Top, and it means you’re successful, and you have no reason to change. In my case, we’re doing everything we can to avoid financial ruin.
So is that why you went blue?
That is why we went blue. At first, I was really uncomfortable with it; I didn’t have those tools in my suitcase, as you may have heard on my first of many X-Rated albums, Raw Hamburger. I was still learning the vocabulary of the filth comedian. But now, I’ve spent a lot of time in the sewer, and I’m ready for anything.
I always wondered about that. I’m reminded of Richard Pryor’s transformation from wholesome, Cosby-style comedy to the filth toilet humor that he’s most known for, and how, ironically, that change made him famous.
Yes, because among the bowel movements and spilled bodily fluids and those sorts of things, you do have room to put out the Truth, as Mr. Pryor was able to do. Look past the filth, and you’ll find a deeper meaning, and for Mr. Pryor, I believe his track record backs it up. He was able to do just that, though I did not care for See No Evil, Hear No Evil.
That was a poor business decision on his part.
It wasn’t so good. I have to admit, though, if I got a call today saying, “Look, Mr. Pryor has passed on, See No Evil, Hear No Evil 2 is being made, and we’d like you to be in it,” I’d probably say yes at this point, because we’re trying to get any sort of income to match the title “World’s Funnyman,” and, of course, the fans and the journalists, who thankfully pay attention at this point.
You talk about bringing the truth to a matter of subjects. You’re very brave, taking on the Hollywood elite and the powerful actors and actresses found there. Have you had any feedback from any of these people, legally or threatening towards you? I’d imagine some of these people would get rather angry with some of the things you have to say about them.
Well, they do, but I think most of these people are sitting in their mansions, in their hot tubs, and they’re fuming as their servants bring them their champagne and caviar, and they’re cursing, saying, “That damn Neil Hamburger, how can he say that?” as they have their seven-course dinner and get in their limousine to go to their private plane, and usually by the time the plane takes off for Monte Carlo, usually they’ve forgotten all about me and are thinking about the better things they have in their lives.
Plus, that’s where their deviated lifestyles and illicit drug use come to your benefit.
Exactly! These people are so screwed up that they can’t touch their nose with their own hand. SO, they’re going to get a lawsuit going? Of course, you don’t want to bring suit against somebody for something that might turn out to be true. If you bring a libel suit and then it’s proven in court that you are, indeed, a degenerate, then it only makes it worse for you.
Another thing I enjoyed on your DVD is your music video, as well as the clip of you performing another song. Others may disagree with me, but I happen to think those songs are really keen. Have you ever thought about releasing albums of just comedy songs?
You know, I have thought about that quite a bit, and we’ve had some groups, some musical groups, asking about it, but I just haven’t gotten it together yet. In the future, I’d like to get something going, but even with the lack of popularity of those songs, maybe the next one would be the one that really took off. Weird Al Yankovic has been ill lately, so maybe we could pick up and carry on in his fallen shoes.
I see you as being the next Allan Sherman, perhaps.
Why not? Those men had some sort of success, and I’d like to be the next one of those.
And you deserve it.
Why, thank you! This is exhausting work. I can’t tell you all of the physical and mental ailments and emotional pain I have been through to make people laugh. It’s too bad one has to make a sacrifice for the good of the many, but that’s the way it is.
I think the world’s catching on. Don’t you?
Well, we can only hope. I tell you, when I’ve got enough money to get my things away from the storage locker, who seized them for non-payment, then I’ll know I’m on the right track.
Whatever happened to Art Huckman, or is that a sore subject?
Well, it’s a sore subject, but I can tell you he’s not managing acts any more. He’s got this business, ironically, working with storage lockers. He also purchases off the estates from deceased celebrities, but not the good, quality stuff. For instance, when Henry Fonda dies, everyone is going to want to get a hold of his Oscars and other mementos from his career.
I thought he was already dead?
Well, I mean, when he died. I’m saying that when celebrities die, people want to get the mementos from a great career in show business. These things get auctioned off and are priceless; some of them end up in the Smithsonian or that sort of thing. What Art realized, and correctly so, is that the Average Henry Fonda fan could not afford to buy one of his fine-tailored suits or one of his many awards, or other nice mementos from a great career in show business. On the other hand, what they could afford, which up until the point where Art stepped in, was being thrown away, and was the crappier things from around the house, such as the food that was in the fridge when he died. So you’ve got Art selling off a thing of Yoplait yogurt that was in Henry Fonda’s fridge at the time of his death. These aren’t big amounts of money you are fetching, but you can get the contents from a fridge of a dead celebrity for very, very cheap. Art’s getting this stuff for practically nothing, selling it off egg by egg, as was the case of Jack Warden. Remember him? Beloved actor, and when he died, he left a dozen and half eggs, and Art was selling them off for ten dollars an egg. We’re also talking about things like the content of a sock drawer. Who wouldn’t like to own the sock of a beloved deceased celebrity? Normally, these things don’t come on the market, but that’s what Art does—he buys and sells this sort of stuff, and I believe he is making a good living at it.
It sounds like a mixture of something that’s utterly disturbing, creepy, yet impressively genius to come up with.
Very much so, very much so. That’s Art.
You make the world laugh, but what makes Neil Hamburger laugh?
Well, I would laugh at my competitors if they fell into large holes of their own. Finding out that Carrot Top lost his booking at the Luxor Hotel. Here’s a guy who got signed to the Luxor Hotel for a year. He’s practically a slave there. If I found out he got fired, that would make me laugh, because they’re making so much money. The money that goes to Carrot Top’s food budget just for one night is probably what I make for a whole year.
So what’s next for you? I know you’ve got the tour, the DVD, and the TV Series. What else have you got planned for the excitable Neil Hamburger Fan?
Isn’t that enough? Geez. We’ve got the DVD, which is supposedly out now, and of course the TV series, which may or may not last forever, and then we’ve got an appearance in this new Tenacious D movie. While it may only be a five or ten second spot, hey, you know, I’ll take it! I’ll take it!
You don’t want to turn anything down. Could be your big break!
Yeah, movies last forever, on planes and things. It’s exposure, plus it’s a very funny movie. I’m very excited to be a part of it, and I’d wish they’d hurry up and release it!
What’s it called?
Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny. It stars Meat Loaf, Jack Black, and all kinds of celebrities, so it’s an honor just to be asked to participate. I only hope it leads to further movies, because, you know, that’s where the money is. You don’t make money playing pizza parlors in Paso Robles.
I’ve been to Paso Robles. It’s a rough town.
It’s not a nice place. I hesitate to say that, because I’ve been doing Monday night pizza parlor shows there for many, many years.
So it’s an oasis from the evils from the outside world.
Well, it’s all I have. But wow, I’m telling you, like you’ve noticed, things are picking up. We’ve got these bands that are bringing me on the road to the music clubs. The big payment is coming min, but at least I’m getting a few more laughs, and it feels great!
I’m sure that looking out and seeing someone laughing at your jokes, even if it might not pay the bills, brings a warm sense of satisfaction to you.
It does, because it’s what I’m here for.
I have one last question, and this is a joke I came up with, and I can’t quite come up with a satisfactory punch line for it, but I think you’re the man who can.
I’ll give it my best, but I can’t promise much. I’m not really quick on my toes.
“Why did Neil Hamburger cross the road?”
(Groans) Oh boy. (Sigh) To get in line at the welfare office.
(Laugh)Thaaaaaat’s your life?
(Resigned) I wouldn’t say it’s the funniest joke line I have, but it is the most accurate one I’ve ever had. Hopefully next year, when we do our one-year anniversary of this interview, when you ask me that question I can say “Well, he didn’t cross the road, his chauffeur drove him across the road, just like Carrot Top!”
You know what? I hope so.
I hope so, too, because it’s dangerous crossing the road, with cars going right at you. To be in a position of a Carrot Top, I’d be safe. It’s dangerous out there.
Even the bridges put across for pedestrians are controlled by gangs, and it’s more dangerous trying to cross them than if you’d simply try to cross the road!
There are lots of pitfalls to life these days, I have to say.
You just have to keep on keepin’ on, and not think about it.
You have to do the best you can do.
You look for the one little bright spot in the day and you let that shine throughout the rest, and you’ll do all right.
(Impressed) That is good advice, sir, and I hope you put that in the interview with bold-faced type!
I’ll definitely do that for you, Sir. A good afternoon to you, Mr. Hamburger, it has been an honor and a pleasure.
I hope to see you on the road some time soon. I do appreciate the kind words!
This interview was originally published in 2006, via Mundane Sounds.