By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — When it comes to the art of conceptual stand-up comedy, few people are treading in the uncomfortable and sometimes confrontational footsteps of the late Andy Kaufman (and his obnoxious lounge act alter-ego Tony Clifton) the way “America’s funnyman” Neil Hamburger does.
The creation of actor, musician and punk-rock enthusiast Gregg Turkington, Neil Hamburger went from an appearance on a cult prank phone call album to featuring on his own faked live comedy recordings for an indie-rock label before actually taking the stage. After being born in Australia and growing up in Phoenix, Turkington moved with his father after his parents split and immersed himself in San Francisco’s burgeoning punk scene.
An obsessive fan of the sludgy noise-punk pioneers Flipper (he would eventually compile shows he recorded into the live document Public Flipper Limited, Live 1980 – 1985), Turkington co-edited the zine “Breakfast Without Meat” and befriended enough bands and musicians to be able to start the independent label Amarillo Records. His prank phone call album Great Phone Calls for the imprint became an underground hit and led to several singles featuring his obnoxious comedian character Neil Hamburger.
Those early singles enticed Drag City Records to offer a deal for a full-length album by the soon-to-be-infamous Hamburger. While Turkington had dabbled in comedy at San Francisco open mic nights during the late ’80s, his initial Neil Hamburger recordings were fabricated documentation of “live” shows with the character telling horrible jokes over rapturous applause and laughter taken from other comedy albums.
The success of Hamburger’s debut America’s Funnyman would encourage Turkington to actually taking the character to the live stage. After a move to Australia, he connected with popular punk band Frenzel Rhomb, who invited Hamburger to serve as their opening act, giving Turkington a chance to refine the character’s desperate, excruciating delivery full of awkward pauses and throat clearing interspersed with dark one liners and question-and-answer cracks of questionable taste that frequently slagged celebrities.
Hamburger would become an established favorite on the alternative comedy circuit, playing festivals and supporting rock bands (he eventually played Madison Square Garden, opening for comedy-rock group Tenacious D on their Pick of Destiny Tour in 2006) and appearing on late-night talk shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Fox’s Red Eye.
The character in many ways presaged the rise of surrealist anti-comedy style of Adult Swim fixtures like Tim and Eric (who Turkington has collaborated with frequently) and Eric Andre. Turkington would branch out with the character, delving into music with the 2008 album Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners and more recently playing a version of both himself and the sad sack comedian in the twisted comedy-drama film Entertainment that came out to excellent reviews (along with some expected bewilderment) in 2015.
What exactly a special holiday-themed show with Hamburger might entail is anyone’s guess, but for this Club Chuckles presentation at the Swedish American Hall on Saturday night, the comic will be joined by Major Entertainer Mike H — a stand-up, bizarre singer/songwriter and self-proclaimed “professional opening act” who has toured extensively with Hamburger and Eric Andre — and Magic by Simone, the popular solo act of Turkington’s wife who regularly performs with Elizabeth Messick in the renowned LA magic duo Mystiki.
Neil Hamburger Holiday Show
Saturday, December 2, 7:30 p.m. $20-$22
Swedish American Hall