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a frank conversation with..

riding the freight trains with hobos to save tour expenses, America's (self-proclaimed) Fynnyman Neil Hamburger manages to steal a phone to play some catch up, plug an upcoming gig and try to kick start a stalled comedic career. speaking in a royal "we", as if there is a Neil Hamburger entourage, this paranoid comedian martyr speaks right from his bleeding heart...

are you not doing a show tonight?
NEIL HAMBURGER: No .... no .... well, I might tell some jokes to some of these hobos.

so the tour hasn't been going according to plan?
NEIL HAMBURGER: Well if you were planning on it being a complete disaster, then yes it has been going as planned. But then that's what you expect, and your expectations have been met. At least we're doing well on that front: in not being disappointed.

can you recount some of the disasters, or is that a touchy subject?
NEIL HAMBURGER: A couple of nights ago we had a show in Paso Lobles, California. I was supposed to get two pitchers of ice water - that was my rider. We tried to get some food out of these guys but they didn't wanna do that, so we at least went for the water. I don't know if you followed some of the Irish hunger strikes, but if you're drinking liquids you can sustain life for quite a while. Water really is the true staff of life. It's not wheat as some of these people say. So we had our pitchers of water backstage, but the thing of it was, there was a fly in one of the pitchers of water. It was dead and it was on the bottom, so I don't think it was just a question of it just landed there and died. I think those people gave me water without really showing a professional courtesy to make sure it was clean. I think this pitcher was in the back store room, it had a very dusty taste. So that started this week in a bad way.

that doesn't sound good, not good at all. do you think they had it in for you Neil?
NEIL HAMBURGER: I think so. You know I've done some of the top tv shows, performed on some of the biggest stages in the world. You know a lot of these people are very bitter. They have these failing restaurants and you get somebody coming in whose been around show business for a while, and the bitter, angry people, pizza chefs, night club owners, whatever, ... taking out all their frustrations and that's not right.

so exactly what kind of places are you hitting on this tour? you mentioned the biggest stages in the world...
NEIL HAMBURGER: Well a lot of those shows were in the past. I'm afraid things have declined because of the fuel crisis.

fuel crisis?
NEIL HAMBURGER: Yeah. People can't afford the money to buy the gasoline to go out to see Neil Hamburger. It's a simple explanation as to why there's nobody at the shows.

what about the locals who can certainly walk, or even bike to the concert?
NEIL HAMBURGER: Well there have been a lot of things in the media recently about steroids, with Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro. And clearly a lot of the kids have experimented with steroids over the years, and that made it easy for them to run up the hill where I might be performing. But now the government is cracking down on that, so these kids aren't taking the steroids anymore, and they get atrophied in front of the tv, and they can't walk up the hill. There's obesity. Some of the fast food chains have had record profits this year. It makes it harder for people to walk. They start gasping for air. You combine that with the fuel crisis and you have an explanation as to why my career has not met expectations.

do you have a segment in the show where you preach about drugs, or do you leave that to the parents?
NEIL HAMBURGER: I think that's something best left to the government and parents. I could tell these kids "don't do drugs, this is terrible", but they would look at me and say, "what you do is terrible so why should we listen to you?" I'm not much of a role model. You get your policemen, detectives, people like that who the kids look up to; I believe they're in a better position to pass on that type of wisdom.

what happens when you hit the stage Neil? do you have a plan?
NEIL HAMBURGER: Yes. The improvised comedians who come out and say what comes off the top of their heads, those guys are the ones doing these types of drugs, so they're out of their minds. I'm more of the old school classic comedian tradition, similar to Abbot and Costello, or a Laurel and Hardy. You work out your best possible act and you stick with it forever, and you beat it to the ground. Here's the thing: you may have a few people come to the show and say "I saw this Neil Hamburger before and it was funny, but I don't wanna hear those jokes again." All the people that have seen me could fit in a couple of football stadiums. But if you take the rest of the people on planet Earth, that is an incredible audience to tap into. There are four billion people who have never seen my act before. So if I take the jokes that have served me the best, and put those all into one dynamite forty-five set, those four billion people are gonna have the time of their lives, and we can really change this world.

doesn't that theory negate the people coming to see you over and over when you revisit their town?
NEIL HAMBURGER: We don't have those repeat customers. You know, those people have emotional problems.

do you always wear snazzy tuxedos on stage?
NEIL HAMBURGER: Yes, you have to look your best because people are paying good money that they've earned, although a lot of them tend to be independently wealthy, not everyone has to work these days , a lot of them are on trust funds. The ones that do work, they are working their fingers to the bone, so why should I come out in a dirty t-shirt with spaghetti sauce spilled down the front? Have you seen some of these bands, like Yo Lo (sic) Tango? They dress like they just woke up in a garbage can. How about a tie guys? It makes the whole show go a lot better.

so as you're travelling the freight trains with the hobos, how do you keep the tuxedo spotless?
NEIL HAMBURGER: I have a bag for it. It's a plastic bag but ... you know the thing about that is you gotta dry the tuxedo in the evening because the mildew will grow in the plastic, and you'll wake up and the tuxedo will be green. It gets a little crumpled in the bag, but a lot of these people are so stoned and drunk out of their minds on god knows what that they don't notice a few creases. They're more interested in laughing their fool heads off at these jokes which I've prepared for them, and of course, making connections with the opposite sex. A lot of my fans have wound up making love with each other afterwards, so do come out to the show if that's your type of thing.

speaking of the opposite sex, do you get any groupies hanging around after the show?
NEIL HAMBURGER: I get a lot of them. Some of the hottest people you've ever met. You know, if by hot you mean lonely sorts of fellows who want me to sign things for them. Soft spoken with uh, let's just say they could use some cinnamon breath mints if you know what I mean. If that's your bag then we got 'em. A lot of people do like to make love to these men - in theory. So if you do, then come out and take these people off my hands because they're very emotionally needy.

is it safe to say that the majority of your audience is of the male gender?
NEIL HAMBURGER: We've had some girls at the shows. They do turn up from time to time and it always brightens up the club, cuz they have those curves .... those curves that can really throw you off when you're trying to tell a joke and one of these things comes into the club. But the show must go on. I could have one of these outer space Martians land a craft on the stage, and It'd be very unprofessional to start obeying his orders. It's better to just keep doing the show.

a true professional!
NEIL HAMBURGER: To my detriment. I don't know if you watch a lot of tv, but a lot of these people who are doing very well are absolute slobs. Have you seen this guy Jimmy Fallon for instance? Here's a man who's not particularly funny, and he's always got that food crusted on his chin and lips, and he keeps getting these roles I can only dream of.

i guess there is no god.
NEIL HAMBURGER: I think that's been proven. I wish things would turn in my direction but they don't. We're coming up to Canada because that's one of the few places where some of my home spun humour is still appreciated.

and our (Canadian) dollar is weaker than yours so you get more for your buck.
NEIL HAMBURGER: That's true. I'm gonna stockpile some inexpensive goods. Last time I got a whole tub of powdered fruit punch mix for ninety-nine Canadian cents. You dilute that it with water and you got yourself a great drink. There's a lot of benefits to your economy that a lot of American comedians don't immediately realize.

can we talk about your history?

going back to your childhood.

were you the class clown, were you America's Funnykid?
NEIL HAMBURGER: I remember a lot of tears. A lot of sadness. Psychiatrists. I remember waking up feeling I was sleeping under a black cloud, which could have been a stain on the ceiling - I dunno. It's a very foggy memory, but I don't think there was a lot of joy.

how did you get started in comedy then? what was the impetus?
NEIL HAMBURGER: Well I think it's really what someone like me was born to do, because you have no other skill really. I was doing fast food work for a while - if you're familiar with that line of business. I was a fry cook. I lost the job because I wasn't cooking the fries well enough or fast enough, and was sent to a job councillor. He took out a list - this was a California state run program for troubled youth - this chart had all these occupations and what they are paid, and near the bottom of course was fry cook. Which of course I was not able to handle. So he went to the job right below that which turned out to be stand-up comedian. So that's what I do now. And I don't believe there is anything underneath that list, so if this doesn't pan out that's the end of the line for me, and I'm going to have to jump in a black hole, which I really don't wanna do.

let's cheer up here Neil. isn't there a great rush of euphoria as you hit the stage?
NEIL HAMBURGER: No because I'm not on all these drugs. It's actually a feeling of profound deep sadness, mixed with professionalism, and a willingness to get the job done, because my job is to take the pain that you're feeling - all the troubles, misery, addiction, emotional problems, romantic break-ups and failings, the lost jobs, the car accidents, the fender benders ... I had this guy the other day who had his feet run over by a delivery truck ... all these things that make life unbearable - my job is to come out and let you people forget about all that fro forty-five minutes. To have you laugh until your sides are splitting and just forget your problems. Really I'm absorbing your problems and letting you people leave with a clean palette so you can go out and enjoy life. As a result I'm carrying a lot of people's problems on my shoulders, but isn't that what Christ did?

a-men. but Neil, it seems like a huge burden. how do you get up for a show?
NEIL HAMBURGER: Oh it's difficult alright, but it's all I can do. I don't think my french frying skills have improved with time, and my hands shake. this is what i do, I think I do it well. I've been told I don't, but i believe I do, so that's what I'm gonna do up there in Canada - for the people.

if by chance your popularity sky-rockets and Hollywood comes calling ...
NEIL HAMBURGER: We just did a movie! Have you heard of a Hollywood actor named Jack Black? Well he put me into his new movie which is called "The Pick of Destiny" - got me a small role. This is the real deal. Now it's probably a thirty second part, provided they don't cut it out completely, but I play a young comedian named Neil Hamburger coincidentally, and I tell some jokes. So good things can happen to bad people, you just have to keep lighting the candles - I think that does a lot: believing. You have to believe in something. Anything really, it doesn't really matter. Light a candle, open a fortune cookie, and your dreams may come true ... or not. Usually they don't actually. For every Brittney Spears you get five million untalented blonde girls with false breasts who end up as prostitutes instead of top selling pop starlets. But you know, she kept the candle burning, and that's all I'm gonna ask you guys. Although I know the fire laws are kinda strict with the nightclubs in Canada as for bringing candles in. So maybe you could put something in boldface in this article telling people to keep the candles at home, i think the club would appreciate it.

i must warn you that if you have any prior criminal record of any sort, you will not get across the border.
NEIL HAMBURGER: Well I was arrested once for telling some off-colour jokes, but they dropped the charges when the police chief himself laughed his head off at some of these gags.

so laughter really is the solution to everything isn't it?
NEIL HAMBURGER: I really think it is. Everything else failed: Hare Krishna, that didn't pan out did it? ... say, I hope this article doesn't get cut so they can write about some of these screaming bands...

....tape hiss...

ps: Neil did not disappoint as a couple of nights later he stormed the less than capacity crowd in Ottawa balancing three drinks in one hand and hammered out twelve straight tasteless Michael Jackson jokes. You really oughta have been there.

interrogator and photo snapper: john sekerka
(steal only with consent ... or candy, lots of candy)

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