Neil Hamburger
Hot February Night
Drag City

Ishtar is a funny movie. Now that notorious 1980s stinker isn’t “ha ha” funny, kind of more “Ha huh? Ha” funny. Funny like you just have to go with it and forget the set-in-stone assumption that it’s a “bomb,” that it’s stars weren’t playing to type, and that it’s emblematic of coke-fueled ’80s Hollywood waste—all “common” knowledge, although apparently no one actually went to see that flick. In other words, who knows, maybe you’ll laugh.

You’d think “think for yourself” wouldn’t be a needed phrase anymore. And I’d thought Neil Hamburger’s decade-long shtick—horrible, greasy, waste-of-space stand-up comedian—had started to break through on some college club circuit level, doing a good job of denting the usual assumptions of “ha ha,” not unlike Ishtar’s very slow-burning cult rep. Which, if you like the way audiences get really really pissed during Hamburger’s set, this could be a problem. As a longtime Hamburger fanatic and friend of mine recently surmised, “It’s weird, he’s done it for so long, his jokes are, like, good now.”

So Hamburger made the right choice last year playing larger arenas as an opener for Tenacious D, a similarly bent comedic shtick that has become a standard instead of a send-up. It makes total sense D would dig Hamburger. But their audience...

After a country music album and a few years since his last stand-up CD, Hamburger’s back with one of his funniest yet, “good” jokes or not. But the big theater crowd—no doubt suffused with D’s frat legions, who, raised on Spike TV and viral vids, probably think they’re down with “sick” jokes—quickly (and I mean quickly) tire of Hamburger. Despite such hysterical au courant ridicule targets like Buddy Holly and Gerald Ford, the crowd soon goes from groan to gripe over witticisms like:

Why does God give people AIDS?
Well, so that they have an air-tight excuse to get out of having to see the latest Robin Williams movie.

Why did Al-Qadea, under the direction of Mr. Osama Bin Laden, burn in a public town square in Kabul, Afghanistan, over 10,000 copies of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album?
Well, because it’s a terrible album!

Why do so many children who’ve been diagnosed with cancer throw up their final meal before dying?
Well, because they’ve been eating the food at Ronald MacDonald House.”

As the years have gone by, Hamburger holds back less and less with the inebriated naysayers, displaying confidence even and laying waste to hecklers with such barbs as, “These jokes were choreographed by Rudolph Nurev, the great Russian ballet dancer, and we will not let you interfere with this expert timing. Fuck you, garbage boy!”

In response to a portion of the hoard chanting, “Get off the stage! Get off the stage!” Hamburger strikes back with “I am getting off on stage. I’m having the time of my life, asshole. And if you’d take those three corks out of your ass, maybe you’d be having a good time too! Can we get some more laughs in the monitor, please?”

Hamburger has also moderated his constant disgusting coughing to a level where it too is almost fitting. Now he’s taken to letting out light, quiet, whiny, long, divebomb kind of noises after his jokes. Hamburger knows he’s bombing. What’s your excuse? Go rent Ishtar already!
Eric Davidson