“What’s the worst thing about being gang-raped by Crosby, Stills & Nash? No Young!”
Last night I got to see America’s funnyman, Neil Hamburger, in the flesh. I got to bask in the glory of his sweaty, comb-overed presence. He went on at 10pm at the Crescent Ballroom and did a 50 minute long set in which he gave Eric Clapton and Steven Tyler the vicious verbal vivisections that they so clearly deserve, did an audience participation bit about how awesome ice cream is, and told many amazing jokes about Britney Spears, Madonna, Smashmouth, Blind Melon, Fred Durst (“what’s the worst thing about Fred Durst’s herpes? His music”). His ums and mutters and loud and frequent throat-clearing were hysterical, not to mention his talent at magically conjuring up drinks throughout the night. At one point, he was pulling GLASSES out of his jacket and setting them on the table, next to 5 or 6 other drinks. I can’t even begin to imagine how much practice and work he must have put into being able to hide a full glass of booze in his armpit without it breaking or spilling all over the place.
He’s got a great act. His character is so well-defined, it’s hard to imagine what the guy must be like when he ISN’T in Neil Hamburger mode. He also has quite a knack for handling hecklers: he actually got one guy thrown out (after doing an ‘applause-o-meter’ to see if the crowd agreed with the man’s expulsion) just for yelling out smart-ass obvious things throughout the show (the funniest thing about the guy being expelled: the shrugs the Crescent security guys gave before doing it, as if to say “okay, I’ll guess we’ll kick this guy out, why not?”), and then threatened to have another heckler be shot in the head, have his dead body dragged out in the parking lot, and then charge folks a buck (that’ll go to an animal charity, of course) to drink Mountain Dew & eat chili & then vomit that all up on his corpse. Or take a shit on him; that was another option Neil gave before returning to more of his jokes (I’m fond of “why was the sexual deviant drawn to hummus? Because the chick pees”).
Before Hamburger went on, three local comics did sets and then his opening act,Major Entertainer Mike H, went on. His act was interesting, in that it was hard to discern whether or not he was intentionally trying to act the part of a bad opening act, or was genuinely plagued with technical problems. He came onstage wearing a knit octopus hat (beneath it was a knit zebra head hat), plugged in an iPod with prerecorded music, and set up slides on a projector behind him that had crayon drawn pictures of Daryl Hannah in “Splash”, a guy singing rainbows out of his mouth, & pictures of Tom Hanks & the Statue Of Liberty. He sang brief songs that sounded like rejected tunes by Islands and The Unicorns, super-twee and crazy. After a few songs, allegedly his iPod got glitchy and stopped working, so (now sans octopus/zebra hat) he stalked the stage and told jokes about Indiana Jones. Awful, groan-worthy puns, the kind of jokes that make your eyes roll so fast in your head you’re almost afraid they’ll just keep spinning and spinning and fly out of yer skull. “What kind of car does Indiana Jones drive? A Harrison Ford”. That sort of thing.
But miracle of miracles, the iPod finally works for his last song, “Opening Act”, a truimphant lament about the sad touring life of… an opening act. That was the big hint that the iPod failure was staged and this was all a giant act. But for awhile, he was convincing. For a time, I genuinely believed that the poor bastard was plagued with gremlins and bombing onstage. It reminds me of a passage I read in Baudrillard’s books, where he talks about bank heists. According to Mr. B, if a group decided to enact a fake bank robbery in a real bank, using fake guns, that sort of thing, to everyone else (the bank employees and the police response) there would be no difference between fake bank robbers and the real thing. The fake resembles the real to such a close degree that it renders the fact of its fakeness obsolete. A cop will shoot a man holding a fake gun just as quickly as a man with a real one if he thinks they’re both equally dangerous (and if the guy with the fake gun is doing his job right, the cop WILL think he’s the real deal). In Mike H’s case he did such a convincing job of embodying a bombing opening act that it’s hard to say that he WASN’T a bombing opening act. It’s an interesting question: how hard can someone work at being terrible onstage before they actually become terrible?