Raw Hamburger: Neil Hamburger’s “Western Music & Variety” [DVD]

Neil Hamburger

Years ago, I bought an album by Neil Hamburger and was eager to play it for my roommate.  After listening to a few comedy classics, including “Why are M&M’s filled with chocolate?  Because it would be illegal to fill them with shit”, I was asked, “How much did you pay for this?

8 dollars.”

8 dollars?! Oh man, you got rolled.”

And that is how it goes with GreggNeil HamburgerTurkington; you either appreciate his anti-humor or you feel ripped off. If you ever watch old footage of Andy Kaufman performing as Tony Clifton, you might feel a similar awkwardness, where as, not only is he not funny, but he’s also seemingly worthless.  It feels like you’re looking at a rejected cartoon.  Most of Turkington’s projects, like his musical acts Faxed Head and Zip Code Rapists, have yielded similar responses.

The first time that I actually saw him live, his show was nearly ruined by the audience.  I’ve always wanted to see him play “real” comedy clubs with “real” heckling.  Instead, he did his routine at Le Voyeur, a whole in the wall dive bar in Olympia, Wa, and he did it  for a room of kids that were, for the most part, already fans.  There were lots of joke requests followed by people finishing his punch lines for him.  Finally, he closed with a long, drawn-out joke about Anthony Kiedis asking a bartender for heroin.  The joke lasted for, what seemed like, 30minutes.  I was amazed by this and I couldn’t stop smiling.  He had managed to transform the whole audience from feeling aware and hip to just being really annoyed.  I had gone to the show with the hopes of seeing people taken off guard and eager for the show to end, and I’d finally gotten that.

neil hamburger DVDIn 2008, Neil Hamburger released the country album Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners and supported it with a 9-city tour.  This DVD, Western Music And Variety {Drag City} documents the last show of that tour for Neil Hamburger and his Too-Good-For-Neil-Hamburger-Band, which really is too good for Neil.  The invitation-only concert was recorded on July 4th, 2008 at Hollywood‘s historic, and now defunct, Radio Recorders recording studio and was hosted by Dr. Demento.  The songs are pretty amusing and sometimes a little long, but his band is always great.

The group is composed of Prairie Prince (The Tubes) on drums, Dave Gleason on guitar, and, one of my favorite bassists, Atom Ellis (Dieselhed, The New Cars).  Gleason, Ellis and Prince are a solid band and their interplay on the surf instrumental, “Visalia” is especially impressive.  Atom Ellis played bass for distortion pioneer, Link Ray and “Visalia” is a great example of why.  Gleason and Ellis’ harmonizing on “Hula Maiden” is genuinely sweet, and comes to the rescue of Neil’s own vocals.  Hamburger‘s band never once treats this event like a joke, even though it is.

There is more on this DVD than just songs;  Neil also does three short joke sets throughout the show.  He also performs a dramatic reading of the Bee Gees song “I started a Joke“.  Hamburger‘s character is always fun to watch, with his customary throat clearing into the mic, and spilling of drinks.  He has honed his drunken, asshole persona almost perfectly and, at one point between songs, he asks, “Is there a janitor here?”  He follows it by demanding, “Janitor, get me the mop bucket and fill it with vodka, immediately, or the show will not continue.

The bonus features include two music videos [“Jug Town” and “At Least i Was Paid”], a performance from the Chicago children’s show, Chic-a-go-go, and a great, although very poorly shot, performance at a luxury cat boarding facility. “Live at the Cat Hotel” involves Neil telling mostly feline jokes in front of a wall of cages filled with cats.  It creates a very surreal situation and is also my favorite part of the DVD.  Apparently, proceeds from the show went to buy food for rescued cats and, seeing a discarded comedian performing on behalf of discarded cats, is really quite touching.  Also featured in the bonus section is a slide show of “Life on the Road” and an unreleased webisode, “All Alone with Neil Hamburger“.

Western Music and Variety works better as a companion to his albums than an introduction to Neil Hamburger.  If you’ve never heard/seen him before, I’d start with the Inside Neil Hamburger EP.  It’s less than 15 minutes, which is just long enough to see if it’s something that you would like or not.  My favorite of his albums is Left For Dead In Malaysia.  It goes beyond just presenting a bad comedian who is not getting any laughs, and actually shows him falling apart personally.  With a good amount of his bits, he throws in a passive comment here and there about his wife leaving him.  You almost feel sad for him, but then you remember that it’s only Neil Hamburger.  It can be a hard listen, but you feel accomplished once you’ve finished it.

Thanks to Ween, making a humorous country album has become a little difficult.  With 12 Golden Country Hits, Ween created an album that didn’t just poke fun at the genre, but was also actually really good.  I have a hard time with Neil’s country songs and, although I enjoy what he’s shooting for, I still feel that his voice is better suited for joke telling than for country singing.  In some ways, that may be what actually makes this DVD quite special, because, this time, I was the one that ended up feeling like everyone else in Olympia who had grown tired of that Anthony Kiedis joke.




Specifics:

Title: Western Music and Variety
Label: Drag City Records
Total Running Time: 87 minutes
Release Date: July 21st, 2009

Featuring:

1-hour Variety Event
Two Music Videos
TV Appearance
Short Film: Live at the Cat Hotel
Slide Show
Band Bios

  • Beckett

    I had the exact same experience the first time I saw him, except it was Oberlin ohio, and the same joke saved the night. Anyone know if that joke is available anywhere?