Behind America's Funnyman

For rare comic Neil Hamburger, it's all about the laughs -- and keeping the bug spray handy

Behind America's Funnyman

Perhaps more bronchial than mercurial, Neil Hamburger is nonetheless a vestige of stand-up's salad days, when funnymen traveled afar at great personal sacrifice to take their acts wherever a laugh was needed. No dog track or pizza parlor stage is too small for comedian Neil Hamburger, who returns to headline Emo's this Friday.

Austin Chronicle: Mr. Hamburger, how's your health these days?

Neil Hamburger: I'd rank it as poor. We're trying to keep this tour going despite some of those setbacks – you know, the cancer and some of the fleas, because you do pick up fleas at some of these clubs. You spray that stuff, but the problem is you spray it on your legs, then it discolors the fabric of your tuxedo, which can cut into the professionalism.

AC: When did you know you had show biz in your bones?

NH: About five years ago. I was coughing up a lot of blood. We went to see an X-ray technician in Sulphur, Louisiana; I was convinced I had some sort of leukemia. And when they did the X-ray, they said, "No, no, Mr. Hamburger, it's show biz you've got in your bones, and please pay the bill on the way out the door."

AC: Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?

NH: After the show, generally, I like to unfold my cot, which we carry in the trunk of the car, and set that up at the various rest areas I often sleep at. I unfold these blankets that we stole from U-Haul. They have these packing pads, and those things will keep you warm like nothing you've ever used.

AC: Many top comics buy jokes. Have you ever purchased material?

NH: No. What I've done is at some of these truck stops – on the walls of the men's bathroom you'll find some of the best jokes you'll ever see in your life, and what I do is just clean them off because the next comedian that comes along is going to be using this material, and I'd kind of like to use it for myself.

AC: Have you considered doing any USO tours?

NH: We are trying desperately to help the men and women out with some of these laughs, and also get some publicity, too, because that is the best audience you can ever perform to. Who voluntarily went to see Bob Hope? Nobody. But on these tours these people are stuck. You're gonna get a dishonorable discharge because you walk out during a Bob Hope concert? I don't think it's worth it. So they'll sit there and laugh. And that's what I want. end story

Neil Hamburger performs Friday, Jan. 30, at Emo's, 603 Red River. Les Messieurs du Rock and Fatal Flying Guilloteens open. For information, call 477-EMOS.

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