Neil Hamburger is perhaps the most insightful and challenging “comedian” currently trodding “the boards,” with an inherent musicality in both his subject matter and the venues he plays. We recently spoke with Neil of many things: his new DVD, That’s Not Gold, That’s Dung! (Drag City), his eating and bathroom habits, blood, semen, his drinking problem, suicidal feelings, the mask of death hovering above one’s Motel 6 bed after 6,000 nights on the road. And overpaid musicians.
L.A. WEEKLY:Do you have any explanation for the popularity of a band like the Red Hot Chili Peppers?
NEIL HAMBURGER: Well, you know, that is not a group that I’m very fond of. Have you seen the guy who has the tattoo of Jimi Hendrix and it looks more like Diahann Carroll?
Yeah, that’s Flea. He’s a funny guy.
He may be a swell guy, but his music is horrific. They don’t allow people to bring tape recorders into their shows, because when you get home and sober up from all the PCP, you hear that these people really can’t perform properly. Anthony Keidis, when he sings on the records, they have to splice those things together by the half-syllable to make it sound like a vocal.
Then there’s Madonna.
You know this new thing with the African people that she’s trying to save — how about this, Madonna, you write a check for every penny you have, and you keep a hundred grand for yourself to live off of, and stick a sock in your mouth! I know she’s a very powerful lady, so I guess I’d better watch what I say. I said some bad things about Yo La Tengo once and next time I did a show . . .
. . . there’s a guy with a sawed-off shotgun waiting for me.
And they’re all ex–rock critics in that band, so that’s even worse.
They’re packin’ heat.
How about that Courtney Love? Isn’t she something?
Well, she’s not a nice lady, that’s the sad truth. When these jokes get made, a lot of these people bring it on themselves. And they may be hurt, but when they’re sleeping off the embarrassment and the horror in a Select Comfort bed in a mansion up on the hill, and I’m down on a cot on the rest area — you know, there’s no real reward in this.
What motivates you to keep going?
There’s no motivation at this point. I know that every night I’m gonna spend onstage for the rest of my life, and there’s no breaking out of that cycle. It’s like the boy in the plastic bubble — it’s not a nice thing to live in a bubble, but what is the alternative? To die and to be rotting out in the sun where everyone can see it.
We got a call saying, “Neil, Steve Martin has heard good things about you from his people, and he wants a videotape of your show. Can you send it out Federal Express?” We figured out it was 20 days’ worth of lunch it cost me to send this videotape, and then we’re talking another $1.99 for the videotape itself. I never heard back from Steve Martin, but then I heard through the rumor mill that he does this to everyone, because he’s a big baseball fan and he likes to tape all these baseball games off TV. And if you break into his house and peel the stickers off the video collection, for each baseball game you’re gonna find the name of every comedian who’s ever had a dream.
Neil Hamburger performs at Spaceland Sat., Sept. 2.