Neil Hamburger: Explain the unexplainable pain

Comedian Neil Hamburger has been performing in pizza parlors, bars, and condemned nightclubs for more than a decade. Sometimes he doesn’t even perform at actual venues. More often, he doesn’t get paid. He’d tell jokes at a taco stand for a bag of broken tortilla chips if they’d let him. Simply put: Neil uses his comedy to stay alive. It’s this drive that’s taken him across the country, around the world, and all the way back to Austin to perform this Saturday, April 28, at Emo’s.

That Other Paper What do you think of the current political situation in America? What do you think of the President?

Neil Hamburger Well, you know, I think we’ve had some better Presidents than this one, sorry to report. He may not be number one on the list, you know what I’m saying? But, you know, he is the President, so you do have to pay attention to what he says, in order to develop some jokes, at his expense. Which would then turn into comedic gold. And that’s been going on well before this President, or the one before that, or even another dozen before those. Because these guys are the butt of all of our jokes, so you have to thank them for that.

TOP As a comedian, do you think you might’ve had an advantage if you had been performing during the term of a more hilarious President of some sort?

NH Yeah, you know the Millard Fillmore comedians – the jokes wrote themselves, shall we say. So it is tough. But you know, we do the best we can. You can still recycle some of the other jokes, you know. You get the George Bush jokes, from the first George Bush, and you twist them around a little bit and apply them to this guy, or you take an old Calvin Coolidge joke and you want to spice it up a little bit with a little more sex, and make it into a George W. Bush joke – you know, it can be done. You just have to have the years of experience that I do in this business to get away with something like that, you know? I would not suggest to an amateur that you try to turn a Warren Harding joke into a Bill Clinton joke, because you might make an asshole of yourself, you know what I’m saying?

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photo / ElFrenetico Neil Hamburger 

TOP How about other world leaders, past and present?

NH It’s all fair game, you know? We can tell a joke about that guy – the Pringles guy on the can, you know, with the mustache. We can tell a joke about anybody. Because you know, they have not restricted the freedom of speech for comedians at this point, which is one of the great things we have going for us. Now what we don’t have going for us as comedians is any sort of pay scale that is reasonable – or even humane. Any sort of rules that would make sure the working conditions are reasonable. You could maybe have a screen in front of you onstage, so when people throw apples, the screen intercepts these apples, and they don’t hit you. Maybe when you are given water by someone backstage, you’ll know it doesn’t have trichinosis in it – that it’s pure, clean water. Some of these venues, you know, they’ll scrape it right out from the inside of a toilet bowl and give it to you, you know. They don’t care. They have nothing to gain by being respectful to their performers. We’re one step down from the guy who mops the floor at the end of the night, you know what I’m saying?

TOP What’s your opinion on gay marriage?

NH Gay marriage?

TOP Yes.

NH I think that would be just a wonderful marriage to attend if they have some sort of free food there. Because it’s very hard for me to get paid enough to eat some of these hors d’oeuvres that they have at a gay marriage. And I really do like these little crackers from England. The water… water crackers, are they called? I tried the things you might find at a gay marriage, some of the brie cheeses that are very expensive, and you fill your pockets at these so-called gay marriages, and then you sell them to people at the show, before you go on, at your merch stand, you know, half-price on these cheeses. And I would definitely like to get some fruit, because it’s good for you. You get that at the gay marriages – sliced pears, peaches, cantaloupes, watermelon – all these exotic fruits that you just can’t afford normally. Mandarin orange. All that stuff. It’s fantastic.

TOP What was that last one?

NH Mandarin orange.

TOP The one after that.

NH There was no fruit after that.

TOP Oh, sorry.

NH But you know, there could be. You might have a kumquat. Or a pomegranate. Free of charge.

TOP What’s your opinion on abortion?

NH Well I don’t think that abortion clinics really do have much in the way of free food, so I can’t say that I’d be too excited to attend an abortion. I’d much rather go to a gay wedding.

TOP How about the war in Iraq?

NH Now, I would like to avoid attending that altogether. Although, you know, I’m always happy to perform for our troops if they want to hear what I have to say. But generally they don’t.

TOP Have you had any sort of military experience?

NH Well I’ve performed before a few military folks, but I have not served in the line of duty, if that’s what you’re saying. Although I’ll tell you what, performing before those British the other day, it felt like some sort of war was going on.

TOP In what respect?

NH Well, you know, they’re screaming some of the anti-American sentiments toward me, and throwing some of the British coins at me, you know. And I’ll tell you what, our President, he really needs to get something going in terms of putting more weight on our coins. Because those British two-cent coins - those hurt. You get hit with one of those things, it’ll take your eye out. As opposed to… What do we have? We don’t even have two-cent coin, and a one-cent coin isn’t going to hurt anybody, you know? You need to get these things together if you’re going to win these wars.

TOP Do you think, if you had to, you’d be capable of serving in the war? Or, do you think, if pressed to it, that you’d be able to kill another person?

NH I think that I might not be the best choice, but on the other hand, the pay might be a little bit better, you know?

TOP What if there were some sort of confrontation, where it was someone threatening your life, and the only choice you had was to kill them in some way? Do you think that’s something that you’d be capable of doing? Or do you think that you would be incapable of killing another person?

NH No, I think I could do it. I think I could gladly do it with some of these people. Carrot Top. That type of thing.

TOP Who else would you kill if you had the opportunity?

NH Well, probably Groucho Marx. Bob Hope. Yo La Tengo. Carrot Top. This dentist. I can’t think of his name. Dentist in Culver City, California.

TOP Is that the one your ex-wife is now with?

NH That’s correct.

TOP What would be your preferred method of murder?

NH Probably some sort of poisoned guacamole.

TOP What is it then that’s keeping you from doing it? I mean, are you filled with hateful feelings, or is it just that we’re discussing this hypothetical scenario?

NH Well no, I can’t go on record with this sort of thing, because they’ve got laws – laws that protect the public from murder.

TOP Are laws the only thing that’s keeping you from murder, or do you consider yourself a moral person?

NH Hmm, I think I’m pretty moral, but sometimes you just do have to take a stand, you know? Some of these people – these terrorists. You know, Al-Qaeda, Carrot Top, that type of thing.

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photo / ElFrenetico Neil Hamburger 

TOP Getting back to the hot-button issues: What is your opinion on the legalization of marijuana?

NH Oh, I don’t want to see that happen. I don’t really need more of these druggies coming to my show and, you know, stinking up the place with that. Can’t get the smell out of my suit.

TOP What about tax cuts? What’s your opinion on that subject?

NH Well, I’ll tell ya, I can really use one, because I owe a lot of money. An awful lot of money.

TOP How about health care?

NH I could use some of that. I have a lot of serious illness – unexplained, inexplicable pains and that type of thing.

TOP Have you consulted a doctor about any of these matters?

NH No, but maybe through this interview we can get some doctor to get me a diagnosis or something. If anyone out there knows how to explain the unexplainable pain, please get in touch with me.

TOP Maybe you can work out some kind of deal in which the doctor contacts you, and later you mention his name, perhaps while on television? Or while performing?

NH I would be happy to do that. Definitely. And you can set that up for me. You know, you have all these ideas in this interview, but you never follow through on any of them. The last time I talked to you, you came up with a lot of great ideas for me, and none of those ever came to fruition either. You know, you just get my hopes up, and then you just dash them. You know, I’m the one that’s sleeping on these cots, and living in this dark, dark life. You shouldn’t get peoples hopes up for medical care, and a world without Carrot Top, and that type of thing, if you can’t come through on it. You know what I’m saying?

TOP I just figure that, if we keep doing these interviews, eventually someone will read them and they’ll come forward and provide assistance for you. And maybe even a little for myself as well.

NH Well, I would be happy to split the money with you, that’s not a problem. But it just doesn’t seem to be happening. We never got any of the pieces of the foam to make a bed out of, you know? None of this stuff ever pans out.

TOP Well, I tried myself to build a mattress out of Tempur-Pedic Mattress samples, as I mentioned in our first interview. And, the mattress samples are just very, very small, and I wasn’t able to do it.

NH But you know here, you’ve got the power of the press, and you ask everyone – you give the Tempur-Pedic address – ask everyone to get the samples, and to forward them to you, and you know… Nine thousand readers, do you think?

TOP I think that’s about right.

NH Well, if half of those readers send that mattress foam, you’re set. And if half of your readers send twenty-five cents to an address that you put at the end of this article, and then you send twelve-and-a-half of it to me and keep the other twelve-and-a-half for yourself, we should be okay. Because otherwise, we’re going to be those people who slip through the cracks, and who you never hear about again, you know what I’m talking about?

TOP Well, I guess we can end the interview on this note: I will give you the opportunity to make a request, or more than one request even, and perhaps some of the readers will oblige.

NH I would say this: You’re reading this interview right now. It’s helping to pass the time – most of you people are working, you know, regular jobs – you’re reading this at work, on company time. Getting paid for it. I’m asking you to take say, one-half of the amount of money you’ve earned during the reading of this interview, so that we’re all partners in this thing, and sending it out to That Other Paper. And then we will divide it up two ways, and TOP will get half and I’ll get half. And if you’re a person reading this interview, you’re still getting paid decent money while you read it. So everyone wins, you see? Nobody loses in this situation. And it could save us – me, at least – from going down the financial drain. Because I’m playing bigger and bigger venues, but getting less and less money, you know what I’m saying. And to get the money from these readers would really, really make a difference in my life.

TOP It seems like a fair proposition to me.

NH Because they’re not giving up anything. They’re getting paid to read our words. They’re getting paid to read us talk. So why can’t we all get paid? Now, if it takes you fifteen minutes to read this article, and you’re making twenty dollars an hour, that’s four dollars that you earned just to read what we had to say. You know, you keep two for yourself – the reader keeps two – and then gives one to That Other Paper and one to me. How could anything be more fair than that?

TOP I agree.

NH And if you’re reading this, and you’re not at work, put it down and wait until you get to work, and read it there. And then you’ll get paid. You will be paid to read this article. If you read it at home on your own time, we all lose. You gotta do it at work, while you’re on the payroll.

TOP It seems as though, if they don’t agree to what you’re saying, they’re basically stealing.

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illustration / Todd Ross Nienkerk The Neil Hamburger Theory of Income Distribution 

NH Very much so. They’re stealing from their own company, and they’re stealing from us. The other way around, everyone wins. Draw some sort of chart, alongside the article, to explain this. It should be an easy chart to generate on a computer. Maybe have it be heart-shaped.

TOP Well, I will have this interview typed up for everyone to see as soon as possible, and hopefully we will both be seeing some income very soon.

NH I hope so. I really hope so, for all of our sake. And if not, then these people have no heart. They have no soul. They’re horrible – the bad karma. The karmic wheel will destroy them. They will be crushed, and they will deserve it. Because you don’t freeload like that off of people who’ve given their all to entertain you. It’s just not right. And you do not want to live your life knowing that you’ve done this – that you’ve hurt people as badly as you’ll hurt us – if you don’t split the income on this reading of this interview. You’re getting paid to do this, you don’t deserve all of the money. Think how much money is being generated from people reading this thing at work. You’re talking thousands and thousands and thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. It’s disgusting.