That Was Then/This Is Yesterday

Interview: Neil Hamburger (2002)

Posted in Interviews by wwyork on November 15, 2014

By the time my management and ex-wife take their cuts of the pie, there just isn’t anything left. And literally, sometimes you are paid in pie, not cash.

This interview was done in anticipation of Mr. Hamburger‘s 2002 summer tour of the United States. It was conducted via e-mail. Since much time has passed since the interview was conducted, I should note that he is currently promoting a new album, First of Dismay, which is available in every format (except CD and 8-track), and he is not touring with Canned Hamm or Pleaseeasaur this time, but with perennial opening act Mike H.


Can you say anything about the new Neil Hamburger album [Laugh out Lord]? Does it represent a new direction, and if so, what is the motivation behind this new direction?

It contains a lot of religious-based humor. The motivation is that I was told to do that by my management, to try and cash in on some of the trends going around. I used to be a deeply religious, deeply spiritual man, but years of misfortune have driven it out of me.

It seems as if in the past, you have tried many different approaches—divorce humor, musical humor, working “blue,” geography, etc.—but none has ever really stuck. Any theories behind this?

I did my best. The problem is that the trends keep changing. It’s hard to keep up with that.

During some of the recent concerts where you were tackling religious issues with your comedy, I noticed you told a joke or two about Scientology. Are you worried that this will have negative ramifications on your career, seeing as how so many powerful people in Hollywood are affiliated with that religion?

No, because I don’t do those jokes in Hollywood, or in Clearwater, Florida, which is where they have their Scientology headquarters. I just do those Scientology jokes in places where people are more than willing to laugh at Scientology, like in Provo, Utah.

What was your reaction to the release of the controversial tapes from the Nixon archives earlier this year, especially the ones involving him and Billy Graham?

I don’t believe it. I’ve had my own tapes altered, you know, where you do a great show, and then it comes out on an album sounding miserable.

Do you feel that Canned Hamm are kindred spirits of yours in terms of harking back to an older era in entertainment and/or knowing what it’s like to taste defeat again and again in life, love, etc.? I think their song that goes, “They just want to be my platonic friend…” shows that they, like you, know how to find the entertainment value in life’s bitter defeats.

Yes. Definitely. The defeats! I wish I could tour with Canned Hamm year-round. But there just isn’t enough money in most of these bookings to split it up further. By the time my management and ex-wife take their cuts of the pie, there just isn’t anything left. And literally, sometimes you are paid in pie, not cash. So how could I pay them? I wish I could. They deserve to be famous. They’re 100% entertaining. Right now we’re shopping around a TV special to all the networks, “The Neil Hamburger Christmas TV Special.” It’s still in the development stage. But Canned Hamm have a big role in it, we have some skits together, really unforgettable stuff. I wish you could see it. I hope it gets to that stage.

Also, they have shown a willingness to take their clothes off in concert. Is this something you would be willing to do if it would get you more bookings?

I don’t think that would add anything to my act.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to suggest that this show offers something different, something for everyone, and I sincerely hope you will give us a chance. Pleaseeasaur on their own represent great entertainment value, as I’m sure everyone in Seattle already knows, that is one bang-up show! And with the addition of myself and Canned Hamm [note: feel free to substitute “Mike H” for Canned Hamm”], I’m thinking that this could be one of the best value events of the year. I mean, especially when you compare it to some of the movies out there right now, the “Attack of the Clones” and that sort of thing. Those just leave you feeling bad.

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