Neil Hamburger - "Decrepit Old Dogs" (Hot February Night)
I think in my review of Western Music & Variety, I may have been unfair to Neil Hamburger’s central concept, as it was colored by my dislike of the DVD. In short, I questioned the target of his irony, deduced it was shitty stand-up, and let it go at that. The Neil Hamburger character has, however, evolved into something much different and much sharper, beyond the Andy Kaufman-esque put-on and the sad Catskills and divorcee schtick.
Really, it’s his association with Tim and Eric that has brought this to the forefront. As he opened for them on their latest Chrimbus tour, the association became kind of obvious. While a lot of their act is based on silliness and goofy, ironic badness, the best part of their comedy is the emotional stuff, like their continual daddy issues — which is comparable to Hamburger’s material about his pathetic life — and their ugly American bits, making fun of the constant branding and advertising we are bombarded with and the way people react to and are shaped by this onslaught. And really, as Bob Odenkirk has pointed out, what drew him to the two in the first place is how they satirize the very delivery systems by which people receive their information. Their act then isn’t merely a pitch-perfect ironic “Hey look at these assholes; aren’t they awful” kind of comedy, but a much deeper satire. Plus, Casey and his brother.
So, seeing Hamburger on this tour, and revisiting Hot February Nights, which Drag City is reissuing — in part I’m guessing, due to his newfound popularity due to the association with Tim and Eric — I realized that Hamburger’s act has evolved less into being about either failed stand-ups or the sad character he created than it is much more about a satire in line with his more popular tourmates. On one level, his live jokes are on a continuum with Anthony Jeselnik’s short set-up/punchline bits. While these jokes would probably fail (to an extent) in the mouth of an open-mic-er, and do depend (again, to an extent) on Hamburger’s persona, they’re not bad on their own. But on another level, they satirize the obsessions and pop culture fascinations of a large swath of the population. McDonald’s, Smash Mouth, Brittney Spears, Courtney Love (on Hot February Nights, which was recorded in 2007, recently deceased singer James Brown): Sure, a lot of the jokes rest on obscene or ironically-shocking punchlines, but the real joke is the awful shittiness of all the people and companies he references.
Also, it’s pretty delightful listening to Hamburger antagonize the audience, claiming he can smell a rowdy audience member’s fecal breath (which he got from eating feces), or taunting them with how much money he gets paid or how well he knows Jack Black and Kyle Gass (he opened for Tenacious D). And the transformation of his catchphrase “But that’s my life” from a genuinely sadfunny remark about the character’s life in 2007 to an empty buzzphrase that means nothing perfectly captures Hamburger’s transformation from a satire of stand-up to a satire of the broader culture at large.”