Review: Neil Hamburger Comics DigestA comic review article by: Dylan Garsee
I tell people that I have only cried four times in my life: when the White Stripes broke up, the first time I saw Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about His Father, when I saw Kyle Chandler at a movie theater and the first time I listened to alternative comedian/master Twitterer Neil Hamburger's 2007 comedy album Hot February Night. When The White Stripes broke up, it felt as though my world had shattered. If you don't cry during Dear Zachary, then you have never felt feelings before. Come on, Coach Taylor. Come on. But the tears I cried from Hot February Night came from being unfamiliar with Neil Hamburger and his act, the schadenfreude from the unsuspecting crowd, and the sadness stemming from the fact that I was listening to a comedy album by myself on a Friday night. No matter what career trajectory Neil Hamburger takes now, I will always treasure that night.
Blank Stare Entertainment's Neil Hamburger Comics Digest contains exactly 36 pages of various adventures in the comedian's life, be they mundane or fantastical (mostly the latter). The 36-page book opens with a scene in which Neil receives a letter from Blank Stare Entertainment that states they won legal rights to his name and likeness in a bare-knuckle boxing bet. After Neil yells his catchphrase "Well that's my life!" the real digest begins with various pieces from various artists about various stories to varying degrees of success, injected with '50s-style advertisements and coloring pages.
While the seven comics in the digest are funny (some more than others), only one seems to capture the essence of Neil Hamburger, if only a small part of it: Robert Dayton's "The Pizza Protector," a crudely drawn adventure where Neil breaks into the nuclear factory where Domino's apparently makes their pizza. He fights evil guards and giant robots, all while spouting nonsensical one-liners like "I guess they don't do carryout orders!" and "Must avoid marinara sauce…one drop can kill!" "The Pizza Protector" takes Hamburger's constant (and gut-bustingly hilarious) Twitter wars with companies such as Axe Body Spray and Pepsi and successfully translates them to a medium that makes sense, unlike the other comics in the collection.
Neil Hamburger's act is less standup and more performance art, where the audience's reaction is almost more important than the jokes being told. Removing the audience from the act is like removing Meg White from The White Stripes, sadness from Dear Zachary, or Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights. Simply injecting Neil Hamburger into zany situations-- like a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and having Neil Hamburger fight a Big Foot-esque monster-- doesn't equally create humor. And if not being funny is actually the joke, it's still lost because the comic medium is a one-on-one between the artist and the reader: if the intent is to be funny, the artists are missing the point of Neil Hamburger; if the intent is to play a joke on the reader, the results are just mean-spirited. Either way, most of this comic doesn't work.
This seems to be to only release from Blank Stare Entertainment, and if they were founded only to make the joke of making unfunny Neil Hamburger comics and having people react negatively as a part of a much larger meta-joke for Neil Hamburger, then they succeed. But I just don't care by that point.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.