Funny Guy

WED 7/30
Although Neil Hamburger calls himself "America's Funnyman," a lot of people don't find him funny. But to some, that makes him funny. His live albums are full of awkward silences and heckling from the audience. Is he the butt of the joke, or is the joke on us? Reality television has taught us that public humiliation, heartbreak and ridicule make us laugh. And indeed, some people find Hamburger to be a comic genius. He's toured with everyone from Guided By Voices to Tenacious D and recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

While some comedians create a character, Hamburger is the character. He plays 360 gigs a year -- some at comedy clubs, some at places like pizza parlors -- and he's broke because he has to make alimony payments to his wife, who left him for a dentist.

At a Hamburger show, you feel like you're laughing at him, and he doesn't know it. His fans are sadistic, taking pleasure in his pain, his comic bombing, his divorce, his disconnection with the audience and, most of all, his insistence on trudging through what seems to be a failing career.

Hamburger doesn't just tell bad jokes -- some are downright horrible. "My aunt and uncle came to see the show the other night, and surprisingly they didn't like it," goes one bit. "They said, 'Neil, you're disgracing the Hamburger family name,' and I said, 'Uh, I thought McDonald's did that years ago.' " Neil Hamburger appears Wednesday, July 30, at Silky's, 4219 Washington Avenue. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. For information, call 713-880-2990. $6. -- Kwame M. Anderson

TUE 7/29
Crime and Punishment
You won't find Academy Award-winner Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger or Richard Gere on stage at the Hobby Center in the touring Broadway version of Chicago. But if you dug the kind of high-voltage sensuality and song depicted in the screen version, the live experience of this Tony Award-winning production may be even more rewarding (minus the extreme pelvic close-ups, of course).

Set in the '20s, this Bob Fosse creation tells the tawdry tale of nightclub singer Roxie Hart and wannabe Velma Kelly, who end up in prison on separate murder charges and are both represented by slick lawyer Billy Flynn, the Johnny Cochran of his day, in notorious trial proceedings. In between, there's plenty of conflict, crimes of passion and the infamous "Cell Block Tango" dance scene, replete with sexy female convicts. In other words, if the play were set in the modern era, the lady inmates would be the subjects of E! schlockumentaries and would receive six-figure book advances.

The production includes Broadway vets Bianca Marroquin as Roxie and Brenda Braxton (nominated for a 1995 Tony) as Velma. Tuesday, July 29, through August 3 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. For tickets and a full schedule, call 713-558-8887 or visit $25 to $68. -- Greg Barr

FRI 7/26
Queer Nation
What does it mean to be a red, white and blue queer? Nationalism and sexuality collide in Turned Up Volume: Houston, a multimedia performance by Houston gay and lesbian teens. Created in a ten-day workshop for members of the Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals, Turned Up Volume gives each youth participant the opportunity to write, film, direct and edit a video piece on queer patriotism. See the results at 8 p.m. Friday, July 25, and Saturday, July 26. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway. For information, call 713-223-8346 or visit $8. -- Keith Plocek

SAT 7/26
Belly Up
What's better than a room full of chiming castanets, undulating, exposed bellies, gyrating hips and flowing, see-through Middle Eastern fabrics? Knowing that you're helping to preserve and promote the ancient, classical art of belly dancing, of course! For its annual gala, the Houston Area Belly Dance Association will perform a variety of belly dance styles, including Egyptian, Greek, Persian, North African and American tribal. 7 p.m. Saturday, July 26. Sirrom School of Dance, 5570 Weslayan. For information, call 713-621-2552. $15 to $20. Proceeds benefit the Houston Area Women's Shelter. -- Troy Schulze

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