Try putting your ear up to a black-velvet painting of a hobo clown. You¹ll notice a lot of ... silence. The same thing goes for America’s Funnyman, yet another endeavor by comedian (?) Neil Hamburger: a phenomenon of irony and the most painful parts of the stand-up shtick. He has the delivery and signature moan (hmmmm) of Kermit the Frog as he begins with a rhetorical question we can't disagree with: "What's this world need but a good laugh? Agree?" Of course we do, only to have Hamburger proceed to strangle any possibility of laughter, or even a smile, with bad timing, dismantled deliveries and just being "America¹s Unfunnyman." Like the audible audience, you can't help but lose interest quickly and begin going about your business, straightening your place, letting your dog out, noticing the dust that's collected on ... everything. But then something happens. Somehow, someway, you find yourself smiling. What's going on? Mr. Hamburger has managed to deconstruct that incredibly tiresome and overdone stand-up comic routine we're all too familiar with. He pulls that clichéd format apart, then leaves it there, naked and vulnerable, just begging to be ripped apart by hecklers. "The most annoying thing in the world is..." Hamburger hesitates, so his sentence is finished for him: "You!" In fact, he does everything wrong, that is, when it comes to what we're used to as being the "right" way to be funny. But when the right way is old and boring, it must be destroyed. And remember, you first have to know how to do it right before you can kill it, over and over again. Neil Hamburger is making a career out of dying: "Get off the stage!" "Sorry, I can't take requests tonight, there's just too many of you."
You might be one of those people who'll listen to America’s Funnyman and conclude, "This sucks!" My answer is, "It sure does!" But it's supposed to, and once you accept that, you're open to all kinds of new possibilities in humor. Wonder at the beauty of the dark side of the joke with the man who put the Ha! in Hamburger.
Anita Schmaltz writes about the arts for MT. Send comments to [email protected].