Neil Hamburger - 2002

Share:   Facebook  Here's a legendary old interview between Mark Prindle and America's Funnyman Neil HamburgerTwitter   Email to friend               

Neil Hamburger is a famous comedian who has been touring the circuit for nearly two decades on the strength of such jokes as "What's the difference between an astronaut and a resident of San Francisco? An ASTRO's NAUT likely to catch AIDS." I was fantasticallishicly excitable when he agreed to conduct a "20 Questions" interview with me. Unfortunately, he flat out refused to answer three of the questions, so below please find a "17 Questions" interview with Neil Hamburger. Buy his records! Full-length CDs on Drag City records include America's Funnyman, Raw Hamburger, Left For Dead In Malaysia and the all-new Laugh Out Lord CD, due out in early November. Some people say he's the worst comedian of all time, but these people have never seen Rita Rudner. My questions are in bold; his answers are in plain text.


What was your childhood like? Were you the "class clown"?

No, not at all. There was a lot of depression. So I'm glad to have left that behind, to be "on the road" now, as an adult, keeping myself busy and distracted.

At what age did you realize that comedy was your life, and how did you break into the biz?

This would have been in the late teens. I was involved with a program for troubled teens. Disturbed teens, they called them. We had to meet after school and a counselor would arrange group activities to try and break us out of our shells. The State of California sponsored this program. A lot of it made me want to dig a hole and bury myself. One day the counselor had us cooking crepes, and a girl got badly burned on the oil. Eventually, the counselor came up with this idea that having us perform at an open-mic night, at a local comedy club, could be a good idea, a good way to exorcise the demons. So one night at The Laugh Wharf, in Hermosa Beach, they opened early and let us all do a few minutes each. I worked very hard on my routine, but didn't expect much out of it. But I found that from the moment I stepped on that stage, or rather, that plank, because they didn't really have a stage there, it was a very small place...but from the moment I stepped up there, I was addicted to the laughs. There were only a few people there, but they laughed, at least somewhat. Which made me want to try and get more. Which I continue to do to this day.

You've been tempting fans for years with your ongoing threats to issue an album of religious humor called "Laugh Out Loud." Now that it is finally coming out, what can fans look forward to hearing on it?

Well, it didn't turn out like I wanted. A lot of the toilet humor ended up on that album. Which is OK...if it will help the record sell. I don't have a lot to do with putting together these albums. I just do the shows, and they piece them together at a recording studio, using the tapes they've made. I have to admit, that a few years ago, when I originally envisioned this record, it would have been more straight-ahead faith-oriented. But my faith has been shaken lately, since September 11, it's been harder to have that type of faith, harder to take that type of faith seriously. And also that my career has not gone anywhere, despite a lot of prayer. So I don't bother with that anymore, with the constant praying and begging for a miracle. You see all these stars when they win the Oscars, they always thank God, and say that He helped them win the Oscar. Well, OK, He helped THEM. But He hasn't helped me. God has been against my career for awhile, and I don't know why. I don't know why He has singled me out, when there are a lot of worse entertainers out there who He has helped out a lot, in terms of success. I've prayed as much as anyone. But uh, yes, back to the album...they took a lot of the "blue" material from some of my recent shows and pieced together another Neil Hamburger album, some of which is religious in nature. But the thing that could push this album into the charts is the songs. There are a couple of novelty songs that we recorded in Phoenix last year, where I'm backed by the band Today's Sounds, and these songs really have some potential! To chart, I mean. Because the comedy-music charts are very empty these days, ever since Weird Al fell ill.

You've complained quite often about your ex-wife getting engaged to a dentist. Have you ever had the opportunity to get revenge on them for this? And have you met any girls on the road to take your mind off of your ex-wife?

The revenge is that I haven't been to a dentist in the past 5 years. I don't care if my teeth rot! I won't give those guys the satisfaction. I'll buy a pair of pliers and some plaster and fix it myself before I'll line the pockets of that profession. Girls on the road, yes, I have met a lot of them. Sometimes they will buy a Neil Hamburger button, or a magnet, or cassette. But usually they don't... So I just let them slip away into the darkness, into the night. But you know, I save money at the Motel 6. You know, they charge $6 for each additional person! I always pay the rate that's on the sign. If it says "$34.99 and up", I pay $34.99. Plus tax.

I once heard you on a radio show where they were calling you the "worst comedian in the world." Is this your goal? I thought you were a serious comedian. Please explain.

I don't know what that's about. I perform 365 shows a year! The worst comedian performs none.

I've heard that the new album has some original songs on it. Are you planning to become a professional singer if the comedy gig doesn't work out?

Well, it's more a sideline thing, something we're trying to do to drum up interest in the comedy. The songs are great, and the production is as good as anything you'd hear on the radio...but I don't know that I have the vocal training of some of these guys, of a Kenny Rogers, or Kurt Cobain, or the type of thing that you can make a career out of. But I would like very much to have a hit record, and I think I've got a good chance of that with these new songs.

Many comedy fans have complained that your look is old-fashioned. Have you considered dumping the tux and huge glasses for a more modern look?

I don't know what you're talking about. If you mean I should go on-stage dressed like a slob, like a lot of these people do, well, NO. I'm not going to do that because that does not work, simply does not work. The glasses--if I dump that I'm going to walk into a wall! That would end the show right there. I don't know what you're talking about. A tux is the top-most in clothing. You don't get married in a T-shirt and jeans. You don't see the President give a speech to Congress in a ripped T-shirt. This is a professional show I'm doing here, it's a job. It has a uniform! Would you like the police to arrest you for smoking pot, and he's wearing a T-shirt? I don't think you'd like that.

Could you describe a typical Neil Hamburger concert for those who have never had the chance to attend one?

No, I don't want to do that. You have to come to the show.

You seem like a traditional guy, yet you make a lot of modern cultural references in your act (i.e. Red Hot Chili Peppers, ebay, Britney Spears). How do you keep updated on the latest comedy topics?

I read USA Today. It's all there.

One of the most popular segments of your act is the bit about "What if all our favorite movies were filmed inside toilet bowls?" Lately, you've been inviting audience members to shout out movie titles so that you can show your quick wit regarding what they would be like if they'd been filmed inside toilet bowls. I'd like to throw a few out at you now to demonstrate this fantastic act. Please respond as you would if this were a show:
Schindler's List
The Money Pit
Raiders of the Lost Ark
On Golden Pond
The Amityville Horror
The Color Purple

No, I don't want to do that. Again, if I do this for free in your interview, then no one has any reason to pay to see the show. And then I do not have an audience. Which has been a real problem in the past. Now that I have a little bit of momentum, as small as it is, I want to keep it, thank you!

How do you explain the Zipperlips phenomenon?

It's just a catchy little routine that took off! It's a universal concept, the concept of the zipperlips. So people automatically can relate, and find a reason to forget their troubles and give in to the laughter. Now we've got a whole song based on it, and maybe one day a sitcom.

Your web site ( claims that a Neil Hamburger movie may be in the works. What is that all about?

Well, we have a script, a New York screenwriter prepared a script. But we need backers. It's sort of fantastical story, a fantasy type of thing. I think it could be a great movie, as long as they don't have too many costume changes like with that Dana Carvey movie that bombed recently.

What do you feel has been your finest recorded effort to date? And why?

I haven't heard any of them, except for the new one, which they made me listen to because I had complained too much in interviews about the other CDs being defective. So they wanted to make me approve this one, from a technical standpoint only. But, uh, the finest one would obviously have to be the one that sold the most. And I don't have that information right now, in front of me.

I flew all the way across the country to catch your recent Albuquerque show, then got to the door and found out that you'd been bumped for a bunch of local punk rock bands. Can you explained what happened here?

That has happened a lot. I think that the bands must have threatened the promoter with violence. I just don't have the strength to do that. I'm no match for a whole gang of these skinheads.

How did you come up with your famous catchphrase, "That's my life!"?

Why don't you just ask Colonel Sanders for his top-secret 11 herbs and spices? No, I will not play your game.

What's next for Neil Hamburger?

More shows! Always more shows. Lots and lots of shows. The shows do not stop. Hopefully, more of them will be the prestigious ones, and not so much of the pizza parlor bookings.

Reader Comments
Neil Hamburger = genius. Thanks for introducing me to him through your site. I'm obsessed and I'm slowly losing friends because of my recitation of his many fine jokes.

"Is it just me or George Bush the WORST president in the history of the United States. Which makes it all the harder to understand..."

So if Neil Hamburger is really performance artist and this is all a big, ironic gag, then wouldn't his audience of hipsters technically be enjoying his jokes with sincerity

Add your thoughts?

*And buy some GODDAMNED Neil Hamburger CDs at this link!

To return to more pressing issues, click here for Mark Prindle's "News For Nose"