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Neil Hamburger 

Laugh Out Lord (Drag City/Glory Home)

"Why are M&Ms filled with chocolate? . . . Because it would be illegal to fill them with shit." If that line busts your gut, bring a suture and some gauze, because Neil Hamburger cuts with just such zingers.

Hamburger tries on a different comedy coat for each of his records, like his "dirty" humor masterpiece, Raw Hamburger, or this follow-up stab at "religious" humor. Of course, there are only about two or three jokes on the whole album that have anything to do with religion. ("But times really have changed, with the internet and everything. It used to be, when you died, you went to hell. Now, when you die, you go to AOL.") At this point, Hamburger's act has completely devolved into slumped-shoulder ruminations on his sad-sack life.

The real man behind the Ham is a bit of a mystery -- some say he runs Drag City Records, or maybe he's in a band on that label. What is known is that this is some elaborate performance piece, out to destroy stand-up comedy once and for all. His "jokes" and attendant disappointed sighs are told over bored audience chatter -- clinking glasses, coughs, and all. But most who show up at his gigs "get" the shtick and laugh heartily, which sort of spoils the effect of the groan-inducing guilty pleasures of his records. Some even claim that his jokes are getting better. Let's hope not.

More by Eric Davidson

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