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Neil Hamburger: Left For Dead In Malaysia


Neil Hamburger

Album: Left For Dead In Malaysia
Label: Drag City

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It says something sad about the current state of stand-up comedy that three of the smartest, funniest, and most inventive stand-up albums of the past decade were not the work of a dynamic, hard-working comic grinding out a living in comedy clubs, but an entirely fictional character. Neil Hamburger may be one atrocious fictional comedian, but the three full-length records and assorted singles attributed to him are whip-smart, savagely satirical masterpieces that deconstruct the perverse world of stand-up comedy with keen wit and razor-sharp precision. What makes the Hamburger albums so effective is that they work on several levels: Primarily, they work because the character of Neil Hamburger has been developed far beyond the level of an Unknown Comic-like novelty. He's grown into something resembling an existential hero, forever fighting a vain struggle for laughter and applause in a world that is, at best, indifferent to him. There's always been an element of pathos in the Hamburger character, an unhappily divorced sad sack and professional failure, but that element of darkness is pushed to the forefront in Left For Dead In Malaysia, as he vainly struggles to make sense of a universe that's alternately hostile and inattentive. Like Hamburger's first two albums, Left For Dead mercilessly exposes, exaggerates, and satirizes the unnatural, formalized conventions of stand-up comedy: the forced joviality, the manufactured intimacy, the contrived nature of joke-telling, and the sort of theatrical masochism of an art form that requires its participants to confess their failures as human beings, then derive humor from their own shortcomings. Like its predecessors, Left For Dead has its rough spots, but on the whole, it's a wonderfully irreverent, genuinely funny album on par with Hamburger's brilliant previous work. Stand-up comedy may be dead, but Neil Hamburger has made a worthwhile career out of dancing on its grave.