Friday, June 20, 2014

Burger time: Neil Hamburger in Chicago

Posted By on 06.20.14 at 02:11 PM

Neil Hamburger
  • Robyn Von Swank
  • Neil Hamburger
Whatever the hell Neil Hamburger does, he's been doing it for more than 20 years. The Tony Clifton-esque alter ego of Australian-born musician Gregg Turkington, Hamburger confounds—I hesitate to use the word entertains—audiences with standup sets that are more accurately described as one-man performance art pieces. With his incessant wailing about his ex-wife and elaborate onstage breakdowns, Hamburger subverts the neurotic funnyman persona of Bill Hicks, Marc Maron, and George Carlin by pushing his material into grim and decidedly bizarre territory. Sickly, sweaty, and almost always cradling a few tumblers of booze in his arm, Hamburger doles out clumsy, hacky jokes and one-liners that are either pointedly offensive or just plain stupid. It's Turkington's dissident way of simultaneously experimenting with the form of standup—his years of playing in punk bands no doubt contributes to this—and illustrating just how disheartening comedy can get.

He's not exactly audience friendly, but that shouldn't dissuade you from catching his set at Schubas tomorrow night. Hamburger is a product of early-90s anticomedy, a style taken up in recent years by the likes of sketch artists Tim and Eric and found footage collective Everything Is Terrible!, who mine humor from situations that are either horrific or banal. The point is to basically dare audiences to laugh at things that aren't funny, and to find absurdity in convention. Sometimes this requires a little bit of good-natured cruelty: Hamburger's first album, 1992's Great Phone Calls (Amarillo Records), is a series of prank calls (remember those?) that finds the comic essentially harassing unwitting civilians until they hang up.

He's not as deliberately antagonistic these days, but he's also not averse to riling up a crowd—his single most memorable set, recorded for the 2007 album Hot February Night (Drag City), was an opening gig for Tenacious D at Madison Square Garden where he openly insulted the crowd's music taste and repeatedly pretended to introduce the band only to dip back into his set, the thousand concertgoers responding in kind with voracious chants of "Get off the stage!"—or railing against popular opinion. On his forthcoming album First of Dismay (Drag City), he unleashes on the vacuous nature of American Idol and Steven Tyler in a bit that ranks among his most lucid to date, proving Turkington's intellect occasionally sneaks its way into Hamburger's lizard brain.

Sat 6/21, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, americasfunnyman.com, $18. Alvarius B and Junior Stopka open.

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