Even offstage, it seems, there is no Gregg Turkington. There is only the comedian he embodies onstage, Neil Hamburger. Like Andy Kaufman's alter ego Tony Clifton, Hamburger is a larger-than-life lounge lizard whose genius lies in being so bad that he's good.
With his incessant throat-clearing, he's made an art form of bad comic timing, and he relishes pushing the boundaries of taste, unleashing jabs like, "Why did Colonel Sanders's daughters refuse to eat KFC's extra-crispy fried chicken? It brought back too many bad memories of their late father's foreskin."
In April 2008, Hamburger released the tobacco-in-cheek record Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners, which includes such gems as "Three Piece Chicken Dinner" and "Please Ask That Clown to Stop Crying." Call it irony personifed.
Neil Hamburger With Jacob Calle, 8 p.m. Wednesday, July15, at Mango's, 403 Westheimer, 713-522-8903 or www.mangoscafehouston.
The Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Tom Green Show and Tim and Eric vet has done decidedly well for himself in recent years, including touring and appearing in The Pick of Destiny with Tenacious D.
"I mean, they put me onstage at Madison Square Garden," enthuses Turkington, er, Hamburger by phone en route to Chicago. "That's better than any nugget of wisdom. They don't need to lecture me. It's like these dogs: Where do they learn to piss all over the fire hydrant or eat each other's bowel movements out of the grass at the park? You don't go to school for that. That's just something that comes naturally."
There's also the matter of Hamburger's appearance at last year's Democratic National Convention. Sponsored by parody newspaper The Onion, he didn't exactly get on the convention floor or get to meet any of the delegates. Even though he's not a political comic by any means, the convention and his fan interactions have given him decidedly deeper insight into the electoral process.
"You get people who want you to tell jokes for their candidate," Hamburger sighs. "People come up that are promoting city-council elections. They want me to tell a joke that is at the expense of the other party's city-council candidate. I say, 'Look, this might work in your neighborhood, but I'm touring nationally.'
"You get all kinds of things," he continues. "We had a guy who came to a show and wanted me to do a benefit for him — he's got an eight-foot tapeworm in his intestinal tract. How do I know he's even telling the truth? He had some microscopic slides he was trying to show me that proved he had a tapeworm in him. It could be a complete scam. You just don't know."
Despite the monetary windfall that comes with such success, Hamburger shies away from extravagance. While top-tier comedic peers like Dane Cook or Jim Gaffigan may gig-hop via chartered jet, Hamburger overwhelmingly prefers his "private giant bus," which goes by the name of Greyhound Bus Lines.
"It's not very private," he says. "In fact, there was a guy sitting next to me who was masturbating during [one] trip. I had to switch seats."
His unique brand of social commentary may make him wary of running into favorite target Madonna ("I can say something horrible about her, and believe me, I have and will, but is it really worse than watching Swept Away? That's much nastier commentary than anything I can come up with"), but it's also earned him legions of unexpected fans — the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example.
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"I had about 25 jokes about how horrific their music is and the debilitating nature of their continuing public drug addiction," Hamburger notes. "These jokes really hit the nail on the head when it comes to their awful, awful act, but a guy I know who spent some time working with them told me a couple of those guys collect my albums. They're actually fans."
Yet no matter the heights of fame or the allure of the road, Hamburger knows that the true keys to long-term comedic relevancy are a disciplined writing process and unwavering tenacity.
"When you're driving 700, 800 miles a day, which is my average, you come up with these jokes as a way to distract you from bad thoughts that float around inside the brain," he explains. "When a thought comes to mind that might be funny, you get out the golf pencil and write it down on a napkin. When you get to the show that night you give it a try and see how it goes over.
"If it doesn't go over, the next day you try to tweak it a little bit and give it another shot the next night. Then if it's still a failure, you use it for the next thousand shows anyway."