Review – Neil Hamburger at Soho Theatre

Neil Hamburger, the man left behind by pop culture, is doing the business at Soho Theatre with his vicious tongue and acid reflux problem

BHF_Neil_HamburgerNeil Hamburger occupies a unique corner of the comedy world, in that he is regularly put in the ‘anti-comedy’ box, yet predominantly does one-liners. It does feel like anti-comedy though, as he presents himself as repugnant, vile-minded individual who no one would ever really want to hang out with.

A number of people tonight go one stage further and decide they can’t even be in the same room as him: four people walk out. All four are women – whether that’s noteworthy or not I couldn’t say. The remaining 50 or so in the Soho Theatre Downstairs are highly entertained by Hamburger, without the roof ever really lifting, though a group of American frat boys at the back get very carried away at times.

The mainstay of his act is jokes that are also bitter fantasies about his hate figures, most of whom are younger, more successful and attractive stars than him. Anyone who follows him on Twitter will know he takes particular perverse pleasure in hating on Britney Spears. And lapping up the death threats he then receives from her acolytes.

But his targets aren’t just lithe, young entertainers. He calls pestilence and violence onto people more of his generation, such as Robin Williams, Madonna and “diseased Aerosmith vocalist” Steven Tyler. Some of them are predictable targets, such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and U2, though he despatches them with a creative viciousness that is perversely irresistible.

It then gets even weirder and seemingly more random, with Janis Joplin and Ben and Jerry getting the treatment. This more scattergun approach could easily weaken the Hamburger persona, the over-the-hill entertainer, but in fact it gives his persona legs. It actually becomes a bit shocking, as if we have some sort of comedy serial killer on our hands, taking people down just for the sake of it.

As he shuffles around the stage, he sparingly uses the trademark clearing his throat (a truly disgusting hoik, right down the mic), and clings onto glasses of whisky with the same desperation with which he clings onto his showbiz career. The Soho’s new downstairs venue kind of suits him. It has the velvet curtains and basement feel that denote old-school showbusiness.

A couple of things that didn’t work out tonight – firstly, a one-liner that turns into a routine where he dwells on set up “why do gay men?”, Hamburger recoiling at the phrase in feigned homophobic repulsion/attraction, doesn’t have a strong pay-off. Secondly, some of the references that he makes are a bit alien to British ears, or at the least don’t carry the same associations. You get the gist about his jokes on Smash Mouth and Fred Durst, but presumably these punchlines would land harder with an American audience. And a couple of names meant absolutely nothing to me or my colleague.

Also his range of reference is wide enough to occasionally alienate, which prevents the momentum really building up tonight.

A really impressive show though, and as water-tight a comedy character as they come, with a handful of absolute dynamite jokes up his sleeve. His one on Crosby, Stills and Nash will stay with me for a long time, and I also loved his ones on Wham! and the Jackson 5. So basically, if your’e not easily reviled, this show definitely comes with a recommendation.

4 stars

Neil Hamburger: Discount Entertainer is on at Soho Theatre until Saturday, September 10.

Review written by Paul Fleckney

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