Little is known about comedian Neil Hamburger outside of the fact that he is, “America’s Number One Funnyman.” His acerbic one liners and off paced rhythm contributes to the uniqueness of his stage presence and overall act. He manages to portray a traditional and alternative comic at the same time through a well rehearsed character and a distinctly informed sense of humor. A favorite of Hollywood and Rock and Roll elite, Hamburger has been handpicked to open up for such legendary groups as Tenacious D and the Foo Fighters among numerous others. Hamburger has a long list of comedy albums all released through the staunchly independent record label Drag City Records, with his most recent being Hot February Night. SanDiego.com recently spoke with Hamburger as he was preparing to kick off a brief west coast tour that begins tonight at The Casbah in Little Italy.
What have you been up to lately?
Neil Hamburger: Doing shows here and there; heading off to Grass Valley on Saturday night to do some recording there - always on the move.
What sort of recordings will you be doing?
We’re just doing a few songs, its more music. Just cutting a couple songs. It’s been awhile since we did some of that so we decided to get that rolling again.
Will this be country music again or more of an adult contemporary Neil Hamburger album?
I would say somewhere in between, probably leaning more towards adult contemporary.
What do you look for in an opening act?
Well we want something that’s going to entertain the folks. I mean that’s what it’s all about is entertainment. Somebody that can put on a show so that the folks who paid their money are going to be entertained every second of the way. We’re also looking for folks who don’t have a giant setup. You get some rock and roll band and then everybody has to sit there for hours while somebody tries to make the drum kit work. And that’s another thing we like to avoid whenever possible.
Will there ever be a feature length Neil Hamburger movie?
Yeah, we’re actually talking to some folks about doing something like that, so it’s not out of the question. We definitely would like to have something like that; and the sooner the better.
When do you think you found your voice as a comedian?
I don’t think about stuff like that. We’re out there doing our shows. Leave that to the folk singers and guys like that, to try to figure that sort of thing out. I’m just trying to put on the best show I can night after night instead of sitting around some coffee shop thinking about whether or not I’ve found my voice. That’s the kind of thing that drives you crazy. You do too much of that and before you know it you’re in a straightjacket.
How long does it take to cultivate the material that comes out on one of your albums?
Well these albums, who knows? I have no idea. If we’ve got a good joke, you’re gonna hear the joke again. If you’ve got something that works, let’s keep going with it. There’s no need to throw it out just because you’ve got a newer joke about some asshole who was in the news that afternoon. So you’ve got to mix it up with the old and the new, just like any rock and roll group would do. Like Buddy Holly used to do before he was taken from us.
Have any of Britney Spears’ fans who you’ve encountered on Twitter ever come to one of your shows like they said they would?
No, because these people are very cowardly. They’ll threaten you with death but they’re never going to show up. For them to actually leave their hovel and come out on the town is a bit much for these people. They were planning on picketing one of the shows and there wasn’t a single person there. A lot of hot air from these people.
Outside of the quality of their product and service, what is your main beef with Taco Bell?
Now in the business you’re in, you can make a home cooked meal, or maybe somebody can make you a good home cooked meal. But in this business that I’m in, we’re stuck with what we can get. And unfortunately sometimes you end up with a Taco Bell or an Applebee’s or something like that and it can really ruin your whole month. I mean this is the kind of sickness that doesn’t go away quickly - when you’re talking about cases of food poisoning or just overall depression from the décor of these restaurants.
Do you have any favorite road snacks when you’re touring in the van?
We’re mostly sticking with sterilized types of food. Canned fruit is very popular. You get these canned fruit cocktails and a plastic fork and eat that as you go down the road. That’s not a bad way to go.
Do you still do your joke about Julia Roberts being horny?
We did a show at the University of Chicago some years ago. It was a daytime show, outdoors, sunny day, beautiful weather; it was in the summer time. So I go up there to tell the jokes and everything’s fine, and then I notice that to the right of the stage was one of these giant inflatable play areas for children. So I’m telling some jokes and all these young kids are staring up at the stage, and at this point I only had a few jokes left to tell and one of the jokes I had planned was the Julia Roberts joke. Feeling that this would not be right to say to these children in the area, I changed the joke spontaneously to, “Why did Julia Roberts rub chocolate on her tummy? Well, because she was happy.” And the kids laughed and everybody wins. If you can get all ages that’s great, normally I wouldn’t even bother because I’m playing in these nightclubs that are twenty one and up so what’s the point of doing candy and chocolate tummy jokes.
Does Neil Hamburger have a message for the children?
The message is don’t come to the shows. This is filthy humor. I would love to do jokes for you kids but unfortunately today’s economic climate dictates that for me to work I’ve got to tell these filthy jokes to these filthy people. That’s all I can do.
Neil Hamburger headlines The Casbah, Wednesday March, 28