Neil Hamburger Hot February Night

[Drag City; 2010]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: anti-humor, stand up comedy, spoken word
Others: Tim and Eric, Don Rickles, Andy Kaufman

Embedded within Hot February Nights, the latest album from America’s Funnyman Neil Hamburger, are many indispensable tidbits of (dis)information. Of course, to glean these sparkling jewels of wisdom, you’ll need to listen to the album in its entirety, but in the interest of whetting your comedic whistle, here are just a few of those treasure troves of knowledge you will inherit upon listening to Hot February Nights. You will learn:

- why Robert Redford stuck his cock in a jar of Paul Newman’s spaghetti sauce;
- the medical term for when decrepit dogs regurgitate garbage before dying;
- why Metallica cut their hair; and
- why Dick Cheney shot Texas attorney Harry Whittington in the face (spoiler alert: it was retaliation for the Biggie Smalls incident).

For those blissfully oblivious to his world of anti-comedy, whiskey high-balls, and cheap leisure suits, Neil Hamburger is the brainchild of Australian-born musician and artist Gregg Turkington. Hamburger comes off like an updated version of Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton persona; alter egos borne out of a desire to enrage their respective audiences in a bid to turn stand-up comedy into a social experiment. Searching the often dubious annals of the internet, one rumor abounds that before Turkington conceived of Hamburger, he had at least some initial influence in founding the legendary experimental performance troupe Caroliner. Turkington’s connection to the experimental sound art collective may seem incredible at first, but upon further analysis of the dynamics of Hamburger’s bilious hacking and poorly executed punch-lines, the purported connection becomes much more believable. Similar to the theater-of-the-absurd antics enacted by Caroliner, Hamburger’s comedy draws on art brut, utilizing low-brow aesthetics to convey much more sophisticated and high-brow ideas.

In addition to his alleged work with Caroliner, Hamburger has appeared on Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job! and was involved in a failed Adult Swim spin-off that would have featured Hamburger hosting a program in the style of a Japanese game show. He also produced and starred in the internet series Poolside Chats with Neil Hamburger, filmed in Tom Green’s backyard, and has a number of stand-up and prank call albums to his name. More recently, he has begun to appear on late-night television and in the past few years has opened up his shtick to a growing audience, galvanizing himself as a counter-culture icon.

Once a tour-only disc sheathed in a simple cardboard sleeve, Hamburger’s most outrageous effort to date, the paradigm-shifting comedy spectacle that is Hot February Nights, has now been given the velvet glove treatment by Drag City. Recorded on tour with Tenacious D in 2007, the album showcases an especially polarizing performance from Hamburger, who spends over half an hour reviling the arena crowd, gradually inciting more and more derision from the bamboozled Tenacious D fans. Hamburger cruelly picks targets of college worship to rake over the coals in a clear attempt to agitate the likely fraternity-heavy group. As The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and Pink Floyd are all skewered by Hamburger, the crowd is whipped into a near riotous frenzy, bringing the staged reactions of hostile audience members from past Hamburger discs like Laugh Out Lord and Raw Hamburger to real and hilarious life. Before long, chants of “get off the stage” ensue, to which Hamburger, completely unfazed, effortlessly fires back, “I am getting off on stage; I’m enjoying every second of this.”

Throughout Hot February Nights, Hamburger makes several references to his jokes being choreographed by the Russian dancer and Soviet defector Rudolf Nureyev. It’s another example of a high-brow joke hidden amongst a pile of gutter humor that carries with it a heavy social weight. Nureyev’s dance was meant to subversively liberate people from the oppressive, soul-crushing, mechanical clutches of the Soviet borg, and Hamburger’s comedy is similarly revolutionary. As he lambastes the hapless celebrity-worship of shameful icons Paris Hilton and Courtney Love, and derides themes of American greed and fast-food excess, he is calling us to wake up from both our own societal shackles and the cultural mind-control brought on by a failing empire. Even if you’re not into the political ramifications of it all, you will still most likely bust your gut laughing; besides being a genius piece of subversive performance art, Hot February Nights is also a downright uproarious listen and soon-to-be-classic comedy album.

Links: Neil Hamburger - Drag City

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