Neil Hamburger on surviving Do-Division Street Fest
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Anti-comedian Neil Hamburger has been hacking and wheezing his way through squirm-inducing jokes since 1992, attacking audiences with his nasal whine, tight-fitting tux, and all-around poor taste. Still, he’s a welcome sight at Do-Division Festival this weekend, where he’ll be emceeing Empty Bottle’s Damen stage on Saturday, no doubt introducing acts like Maritime, Pelican, and the Hood Internet with just-dated-enough-to-be-funny gags about David Carradine and Michael Jackson’s deaths. Seeing as how Hamburger has played just about every venue conceivable, from Australian rock festivals and cat shelters to Harlem’s Apollo, The A.V. Club asked Hamburger to impart his wisdom on surviving Do-Division, street festivals at large, and why livestock might be preferable to some of the bands he’ll be sharing a bill with.
Neil Hamburger: I have high hopes for this festival. Most of the ones I have done in the past were horrors. In general these festivals need to take on a corporate sponsor like Febreze or Air Wick so they could douse the unwashed attendees before they enter the premises. The smell that wafts up to the stage is frequently reminiscent of a chicken slaughterhouse.
On the bands
NH: The acts at Do-Division this year are of the highest quality, and many have won awards. From their name, Pelican sounds like it would involve some sort of Caribbean Islands, KC & The Sunshine Band-style disco-dance music. I sure hope so. I cannot take another moment spent listening to the dreary sounds of the “new-rock” music so favored by today. The Mynabirds are also playing. More birds ... I’m thinking a Jimmy Buffett-vibe, with female vocals. I see on the program something called The Ponys, whom again, I have never heard of.
And Earl Greyhound? If only we had actual animals performing, instead of bands. But the new labor laws prohibit that. El Ten Eleven, I see them on the program. That is a lawsuit waiting to happen, from the Southland Corporation, which owns the 7-Eleven trademark. Southland also donates quite a bit to fighting muscular dystrophy, a generosity I’m sure none of these acts would ever be capable of.
On the crowds and weather
NH: Hopefully Hood Internet and Yacht, acts that apparently pass for headliners these days, don’t attract a whacked-out crowd of drug-wasted sports athletes. That is the hardest audience to deal with as they could easily kill you, if the heat doesn’t. I am going to have to wear ice packs under my wool tuxedo, as the weather service is already predicting heat for June. Apparently there will be lots of quality-brand vendors on the premises; maybe Walgreens will have a stall selling Blue Ice. If not, I will buy a homemade version from one of the local artisans who package the chemical in recycled plastic coated with a Guatemalan cloth motif.
On the food and activities
NH: I have been disturbed by the lack of potato salad at outdoor festivals in recent years. I am glad to hear that there is a “Family Fun Fest” going on as part of the festival so that parents can throw their kids in the “bounce house,” or inflict them on the gentle animals of the petting zoo while I am delivering my more salty material.
On the future of festivals
NH: I would like to see more diversity at rock festivals. All the bands booked always have one major thing in common: I've never heard of them. Would it really hurt to have an internationally recognized act like The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra on the bill? They are still out there. Still putting on a great show. Everyone loves the sound of trombones. Most of the “bands” that get booked at these outdoor festivals have never even heard of a trombone. If one was handed to them, they'd use it to cook drugs in.