If you don’t get Neil Hamburger’s jokes it’s your own fault. At least, that’s what the self-styled ‘America’s Funnyman’ tells tonight’s audience after one of his many obscure references fails to translate this side of the Atlantic. ‘You’ve got to go on Wikipedia before coming here,’ he yells. ‘It’s unfair on the artist if you don’t research this stuff before the show!’
Tonight’s Edinburgh gig from the king of anti-comedy (and the character creation of Gregg Turkington) is the perfect storm. Seventy percent of the room finds the greasy-combovered comic’s mix of non-jokes, angry rants and weepy catchphrases irresistible, while 25 percent are baffled and the remaining few punters walk out after 10 minutes.
Indeed, Hamburger’s bile-filled one-liners aren’t to everyone’s taste. He looks repulsive in his grimy tuxedo, coughs crudely into the mic and lets out wails of despair after his bleak punchlines. The comic’s jokes range from complete genius to shockingly awful through puzzlingly arcane. He reluctantly musters up enough energy to give his set-ups a touch of Vegas professionalism, but when the punchline hits it disappoints him more than his audience. And that’s exactly what makes Neil Hamburger so much fun – his pitiful self-disgust and unapologetically convoluted jokes are blisteringly funny.
Tonight, Hamburger gives us a quick history lesson of his Fringe venue. Underbelly’s sticky Belly Dancer room was once a torture chamber, he claims, but has also played host to some unbelievable stars from the past. When he takes aim at less-dead celebs, though, Hamburger cooks up a vitriolic roast and cruelly skewers his targets, despite introducing them as ‘leeeegendary’. He thinks these people are sick, but he’s more disgusted at himself for having to churn out cheap jokes at their expense.
If Hamburger wasn’t such a well-observed, subtly performed character the show would totally fall apart. It’s Turkington’s commitment to his creation – no matter how many punters he baffles, confuses or angers – that makes him all the funnier to those who get the joke. He’s a tragicomedy genius.
Neil Hamburger is at Underbelly Cowgate, 8.50pm