Neil Hamburger's bad jokes are still good at the Waldorf
At the Waldorf on Friday, April 6
Neil Hamburger has performed at numerous local spots over the years, but none as good as the bowels of the Waldorf Hotel, where he played to a standing-room-only crowd on Friday night. The only problem for this reviewer were the goddamn keeners who got there so early that I was forced to stand throughout. But that’s the sacrifice I make for my readers.
Gregg Turkington has been playing Hamburger for almost 20 years, and it’s nice to see the man inching toward the age the character is supposed to be. He no longer looks like a kid playing dress-up, which adds to the overall effect.
Unfortunately, Hamburger is such an icon now that everyone’s in on the joke. Not long ago, his intentionally bad riddles and awkward delivery were met with open hostility by those expecting a professional comedy experience; now he gets big laughs throughout.
In delivering his unique brand of call-and-response humour, Hamburger gets to have his cake and eat it too. The hip crowd will laugh at purposefully nonsensical jokes, such as his tribute to the late Whitney Houston: “Knock knock. Who’s there? Will. Will who? Will never know why someone as talented as Whitney Houston would throw it all away and get tangled up in the world of illicit pills.”
Okay, there was the we’ll/will pun, but the punch line drones on so seriously that its earnest turn is its own hilarious conceptual format.
And then he wins with albeit-still-bad jokes, but ones that at least have a more obvious indication of a standard gag: “Why wouldn’t any of Paris Hilton’s guests have the apple-based beverage at her party? Because they heard there was semen in cider.”
It’s the combination of those good/awful jokes and the presentation by an out-of-touch has-been in a tux and a bad comb-over that makes it work. Besides Hilton and Houston, he takes on such other passé personalities as Britney Spears, Madonna, Wham!, and the Doobie Brothers—comedy ripped right out of the microfiche’s headlines.
The show was essentially a scaled-down version of Paul Anthony’s monthly extravaganza, Talent Time. Anthony hosted and belted out a rousing, off-key version of “I Get a Kick Out of You” with the house band before bringing out inventor/Michael Jackson–impersonator James Ming Kwok, a modern-day, real-life take on Andy Kaufman’s Foreign Man character—only this wasn’t a character. It was, however, the best rendition of “Beat It” I’ve ever heard. Next up was JP Inc. (JP Hasson), who played an SNL–era Will Ferrell–type of overly earnest, low-grade show-biz entertainer. And like many an SNL skit, this went on way too long. Despite a turtleneck and fake full beard, his commitment to the character was thrown out the window with every fuck he uttered.
But it was exactly the kind of lineup that brings out the full, cheesy flavour of Hamburger, who soars in comparison. Not that he needs any help, because the man is great (bad) enough on his own.