Neil Hamburger: interview

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Neil Hamburger Neil Hamburger - © Robyn Von Swank
Posted: Tue Aug 30 2011

Audiences can hate his guts, but that isn't going to stop the American comic from dishing out the meaningful advice, discovers Time Out

Dressed in a stained tuxedo, sporting a greasy combover and phlegming into his own drink, stalwart of the American comedy scene Neil Hamburger isn't your typical 'Live at the Apollo' guest.

Since the early '90s, the haggard comic has been delighting, bewildering, exhausting, insulting and furiously enraging audiences with his bitter, fumbled delivery, hack topics and terrible timing. But that's not to say he doesn't have fans. His large cult following can't get enough of his so-bad-it's-good stand-up which the press have often described as 'anti-comedy', a title Hamburger finds confusing. 'I don't know where that comes from,' he says. 'Here I am, on stage every night for an hour, giving everything I can to make people laugh. How does that make me an anti-comic?' So what is anti-comedy? 'To me, it's going to see Ozzy Osbourne, and he comes out and cuts a cat's head off, it shits on to a plate while his band wails on. Ozzy Osbourne has never tried to be a comedian. He's an anti-comic.' No denying that.

On his last visit to our shores, the self-titled '$1 Funnyman' received critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe, gaining five-star reviews from the Scotsman and comedy website Chortle. But in the same string of British dates he was heckled, booed and eventually bottled off stage at the Reading music festival. What went wrong? 'Well, it's not for everybody,' he admits. 'I was so glad that these newspaper people were on my side. I'd rather they liked my act than those 11-year-old drug addicts, who were at Reading festival to see Limp Bizkit and gave me a hard time because I didn't sing sewer music like those pigs do.' As for critical acclaim, Hamburger acknowledges it's not much comfort in situations like those. 'I could go on stage holding a five-star review as a shield, but a lot of those kids haven't even learned how to read,' says the surly comic.

But despite some crowds obviously not enjoying his comedy (and strongly disagreeing with his opinions), the hard-working stand-up has decided he's a suitable candidate for distributing advice: he's released a magic-eight-ball-style iPhone app entitled 'Shaky Advice with Neil Hamburger'. As for what makes him fit for the job of agony uncle, 'There is no real qualification for providing advice,' he confesses. 'If you ask any random hobo on the street, you'll probably get pretty good advice.' But it appears to have been a success. He claims,'The advice has been 100 per cent accurate in every case. A lot of people are in happy marriages now that they wouldn't have agreed to; people have avoided going to see Justin Timberlake movies; one guy avoided going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. A lot of people have been helped by this.'

It would be silly, then, not to take advantage of this opportunity to put the public's personal predicaments to such a wise man. Having previously asked the powers that be (Twitter and Facebook) for their problems, I ask Mr Hamburger for his advice on Time Out readers' dilemmas…

The first one's from Hannah. Quite simply, she says: 'I feel I need a change in my life. What do you suggest?'
'Well, Hannah, that's a beautiful name, but it's not enough. I would say get a last name. I would recommend Alderson, or Onderson maybe? O-N-D-E-R-S-O-N. And see if you get more respect, see if people treat you differently.'

Next up is Paul, who asks: 'I like custard, but I can't be bothered to go to the shop to get some. What do you recommend I use instead?'
'What's this guy's name? Paul? So this is a joke. Paul McCartney, of course, had the song “I Am the Walrus” about the “yellow matter custard dripping from the dead dog's eye”. What we've got here is somebody trying to test my knowledge of British music. So, I would say, go ahead and get it from the dead dog's eye. You can't fool me.'

Natalie says: 'My cat keeps shitting everywhere. How can I teach it to stop?'
'A cat is doing this? Natalie, you have such a beautiful name but such a foul question. I do not believe you. That's not something a cat would do. They're very sensitive animals. That sounds more like it's some sort of rotten boyfriend. Probably in some stupid band. Probably a dirty sort of person. Probably with old bits of beef curry in his beard. By pretending that he's a cat you're avoiding dealing with the problem. A cat's not doing it, lady. It's your crumby boyfriend - probably a druggie, probably an ecstasy dealer, unemployed, a slob, wearing sweatpants no doubt. I would recommend breaking up with him and finding somebody more suitable.'

Finally, Oliver's problem is: 'I would like to quit my job, but would prefer not to get another one. Any advice on how to support myself?'
'Well, Oliver, maybe you could hook up with this Natalie. She seems very patient, very accommodating and probably was supporting this last boyfriend who had the faecal problem. All I ask is that you use the toilet and not shit everywhere since that seems to be very important to her. As it should be.'

'Shaky Advice with Neil Hamburger' for iPhone is available from www.apple.com/itunes.

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