Neil Hamburger Live in Los Angeles (September 15-16, 2000)

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The news of comic Neil Hamburger’s recent national tour caused a wave of excitement to sweep the states. It’s been a long time since he left the Motel 6 circuit to play larger clubs in big cities, and his fans have missed him. Strangely, in Los Angeles Neil was not appearing at the Comedy Store, Laugh Factory or Igby’s, but at the rock club Spaceland and at Over Hear, some kind of avant garde gallery space in Echo Park.

Neil’s fans didn’t let the offbeat locations keep them from seeing their fave funnyman, and the room was filled to capacity for the first performance at Spaceland. In fact, there wasn’t a parking place to be found within eight blocks, and your editrix had to avail herself of the valet if she was to make it inside before the show began. Apparently some people were there to see a rock group called Trans Am, but the front couple of rows were all Neil-o-maniacs—including movie star and comedian Jack Black, taking mental notes to improve his own act.

The excitement in the air was palpable, as people craned their necks looking for the man who had brought them so many laughs (and tears) with his recorded works. Because Neil has never sat for a proper photo session, no one was quite sure what he looked like. Had he grown haggard since his recent divorce? Would we find him at the bar?

Finally, the stage door opened and Neil himself was standing, drink in hand, surveying his crowd. He was smaller than I expected, with greasy hair in what might have been a comb-over, big thick glasses like my English uncle Dennis wears, and a mismatched dark suit with dusty loafers. Any doubts as to his identity were dispelled as soon as he opened his mouth, and that whining delivery wafted like sour magnolias over the mic.

Coughing sporadically (Neil explained “I have cancer”), he began a series of new and familiar jokes and stories that soon had the audience reacting quite violently. A blonde woman off to the right interjected regularly with comments and catcalls (more about her later), and two young men right in front of Neil yelled something that sounded like “my choice!” repeatedly. Some people were laughing, others wincing, as Neil ran through a relaxed set that touched on such subjects as Teletubby penis grafts, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ love of heroin, Mormons and anal sex, and of course Princess Diana.

At one point Neil refused to finish a joke as a punishment for one heckler—”I’m not going to tell you the punchline, loudmouth!”—and he didn’t. When the audience pelted him with dimes, he pocketed them happily. The “my choice!” guys were getting more and more rowdy, and one of them finally moved to climb onto to short stage and accost Neil. With an athlete’s grace, Neil emptied his drink in the kid’s face and called for a refill, and his antagonist immediately backed down.

The night ended on a high note with the celebrated Zipper Shtick, leaving at least one audience member red-faced yet proud at being singled out for Neil’s unique brand of comic humiliation. Then Trans Am came out, and they didn’t have any jokes, so I didn’t see any reason to hang around. Besides, I needed my rest if I was going to be fresh for the second night of Neil Magic!

The Spaceland show was fun, but Neil was in looser form the following night at Over Hear, and of the two this show was my favorite. Apparently his appearance was preceded by a mariachi band (who I missed) and some young rappers who jumped around in the manner of gibbons. The place was an art gallery, all righty—you could tell by the white walls, concrete floor, and all the pretty kids from Art Center milling around in their polyester finery. Professor Mayo Thompson was also spotted (with some difficulty, since he was all in white and blended into the room), as was comedy fan Don Bolles. The show ran late, and by the time Neil stepped onto the stage from the small door leading back to the beer garden, there were at least a hundred people who had that “make me laugh, goddamit” look on their faces.

Maybe Neil underestimated his own popularity, because quite a bit of his set was repeated from the night before. Unfortunately, the blonde blabbermouth from Spaceland had come to the second show—with his act memorized! As soon as the repeat jokes started coming, she began yelling out the punchlines during Neil’s pauses. He tried to ignore her for as long as he could, then finally snarled “Why don’t you come up and introduce yourself, you little bitch?” Rumor was that she was a friend of Neil’s wife. It is conceivable that the Culver City resident might have sent a friend to interfere with her ex-husband’s local performances. Neil was onto her, though, and started changing his punchlines to make her look dumb. While this did make the jokes less amusing, it successfully shut up his heckler.

When the audience yelled “How’s your wife?” Neil admitted he had agreed not to talk about her in exchange for all his Raw Hamburger royalties and a guarantee that she wouldn’t sue him for slander—but since Jesus hasn’t sued him yet, he could say anything he liked about that guy. I wouldn’t want to repeat any of the foul things Neil said about some folks’ Lord and Savior, so let’s just say that true believers might want to think twice before attending one of his performances.

An effort to make a joke at Elian Gonzalez’ expense fell flat when Neil, who’s spent most of the last year in Australia, mispronounced the kid’s name. He quickly reclaimed the room by intoning his celebrated “That’s my life!” catchphrase a few times, and riffing on Princess Diana. Who doesn’t love a good Diana joke?

Neil wrapped things up with a long, relatively hilarious story about Anthony Kiedis’ repeated visits to a local bar in search of heroin. The punchline when it finally came had the audience clutching their sides, which were aching with convulsive laughter. Neil Hamburger slipped out the door before anyone realized he was gone, and we all returned to our workaday lives, each one a little changed from having spent some special time in the company of America’s Funnyman, Neeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiillllll Haaaaaammmmmmmburger! (Kim Cooper)
{CLICK HERE for Neil Hamburger – The Best!}