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Madonna, Billy Bob, Elton – no star is safe from Neil Hamburger

Neil Hamburger is the sweaty, sad-sack comedic persona reportedly created by musician and comedian Gregg Turkington.

Simone Turkington

He's known as America's Funnyman, if he really can be known at all. Neil Hamburger, who is the sweaty, sad-sack comedic persona reportedly created by musician and comedian Gregg Turkington, plays Toronto's Comedy Bar on Sept. 14 and 15. Before his arrival, we asked him about some of the celebrities in town this week for TIFF and other high-profile gigs. His responses were highly sardonic, most certainly fictitious and, in some cases, near libellous.

I spoke to you years ago, when you were just starting out. It seems like you've made a go of it, with this stand-up comedy thing.

Well, it's strange. The folks out in the audience are laughing their heads off. But due to various lawsuits and having my pay garnished by ex-wives, attorneys and former managers, I'm not going to be able to keep my money until 2027. So, in terms of being able to buy a sandwich, it's just as difficult as it ever was.

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Perhaps we should have a fundraiser for you. Speaking of which, Elton John was in town this past weekend for the big Fashion Cares benefit concert. Are you a fan of his?

For the most part. The man has really gifted us with so many great memories. And I don't know if you saw this, but he was badmouthing Madonna recently, with a lot of vitriol. I would say that the string of badmouthing of Madonna is perhaps Elton's greatest gift of all.

Madonna was here with a film a year ago. There was a story circulating that somebody on her team had instructed festival volunteers to avoid eye contact as she walked by in the hallway.

I'm not surprised. I heard a story where she told a limousine driver that his tip was just going to be the benefit of spending time in her company. And bad movies! Have you seen Swept Away?

I have not. She'll actually be in town again this year, but for a pair of concerts at Air Canada Centre, not a film.

Well, how dare she speak directly to our children with her sewer mouth. She's got a bad stage show, with bad lip-synching. And, I may say, judging from her recent performances, she may possibly be a living ghoul.

I have no response to that. Let's move on to some of the great actors involved with the film festival. What's your take on Tommy Lee Jones, who portrays General Douglas MacArthur in Emperor?

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I don't quite see the resemblance. But I loved him in Coal Miner's Daughter, I can tell you that. The problem with Tommy Lee Jones is that I was trying to book a room in Toronto, for when I do my shows there. I finally found a Super 8 motel that claimed it had some rooms available. I was just about to book a room, when I heard in the background a conversation between the front-desk person and the manager. The manager got on the phone and said that he was sorry but that he couldn't give me a room because a Mr. Jones had come in and reserved the whole motel for his handlers and his management. So, I did a little research, and I think it could be Tommy Lee Jones. And if that's the case, I'm not going to be thinking too highly of him when I'm sleeping in the back seat of a car, wrapped in newspapers to keep from freezing to death.

That's understandable. What about Bill Murray, who is receiving Oscar buzz with his portrayal of Franklin Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson?

I do like him. But I strongly feel that the man made a big mistake and possibly threw his career away by not doing Meatballs Part II, Meatballs III and Meatballs 4. These were big, big films. I feel that if he'd done those, he'd be sitting on a few Oscars.

But he's done so many great films. Surely he's made up for not continuing with the Meatball franchise.

He did do the Garfield movies, which was a step in the right direction. Hopefully he can take some of the portrayal of Garfield that he did so well and sort of spin it into this portrayal of FDR, who, much like Garfield, was a real joker who loved lasagna.

I had no idea. Now, we also have another rascal, Billy Bob Thornton. He's directing and starring in Jayne Mansfield's Car, where he plays, get this, an obsessive-compulsive oddball.

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Really, I would have hoped that as long as they're doing that Roosevelt picture they would have slapped a wig on Billy Bob and have him play Eleanor Roosevelt. That would be some interesting casting.

Very funny. But I'm not sure Billy Bob has much of a sense of humour.

You have to be careful when you talk about him. He's a guy who doesn't like to be wisecracked about in the newspaper. You do that, and the next thing you know you get a knock on the door and he just lifts you off the ground and throws you through a plate-glass window. That's very frightening.

Are you making that up?

I've seen him do it in the movies, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him do it in real life. He's a big guy.

There's another tough guy in town, Bruce Willis. What's your gut feeling on him?

He seems like a good guy. I loved his music. He's done these celebrity vocal albums. I've done a couple of those myself. Maybe he's not the best singer. Maybe I'm not the best singer. But these celebrity vocal records are really more souvenirs from these personalities who you enjoy. I picked up the Bruce Willis record, which I think was called The Return of Bruno. Have you heard of that album?

Yes, it's a blues record. Bruce Willis sings and plays the harmonica.

I don't like the blues, frankly. That's some awfully bad music. But I do think that having the personality of someone who you've enjoyed in films suddenly come to life in a song, that's something special. It could be Leonard Nimoy or William Shatner, who made some great records. And Richard Harris, he had some real hits. So, I will always tip my hat to Bruce Willis for being part of the whole celebrity vocal scene, which I contributed to with Neil HamburgerSings Country Winners. Also, I recently cut some tracks with Margaret Cho for her new record.

Congratulations on that. We're glad you could travel up here to play the Comedy Bar. By the way, where do you call home these days?

Home is in the hearts of the people of whatever city I happen to be in. We do 299 shows a year. To have a home would just be a waste of money. I just get up on stage and tell jokes and hope that it feels like home. Occasionally it does.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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