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Not concerned with mass appeal, Gregg Turkington thrives as Neil Hamburger

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Neil Hamburger headlines “Comedy Night at The Indy” on Sunday. (Courtesy photo)
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With his ultra-greasy comb over, garish lounge tuxedo and array of cringe-worthy one-liners, Neil Hamburger is going to offend some people. And that’s just fine for Gregg Turkington, the comedian who created the louche, ridiculous persona.

“I’m certainly prepared for the probability that most people will think what I’m doing is crazy,” says Turkington, who performs as the character at The Independent this weekend.

Turkington, who lived in San Francisco in the 1980s-90s, was inspired to try out Hamburger after witnessing unseemly oddballs who made up the low-stakes comedy circuit of Reno and Lake Tahoe casinos. He originally imitated the curmudgeonly comics by making crank phone calls, before moving on to comedy albums, and eventually taking the stage as the fully-realized character in a standup routine.

“It started with this preposterous joke that there really should be no audience for, but to me, they were really funny ideas,” says Turkington, who starred as a comic playing the Neil Hamburger character in the 2015 movie “Entertainment.”

He adds, “Now this character is pretty well known, has been in a feature-film — it’s kind of crazy how big it’s become.”

Those unfamiliar with the character sometimes find him off-putting or bizarre; Turkington says reactions to his shows vary from place to place and on case-by-case basis.

“I think it’s more interesting for me when I don’t know what to expect,” says Turkington. “Sometimes you walk into these small towns and you think people are going to tar and feather you, and they couldn’t be nicer. And I’ve opened shows in San Francisco — my town, basically — and people have been incredibly hostile.”

Interestingly, Turkington’s other famous comic persona is the opposite of Neil Hamburger.

Working with Tim Heidecker, he created an alternative “Gregg Turkington” character — an obsequious, clueless film critic with a love for VHS movies.

The comics’ movie review podcast “On Cinema at the Cinema” is filled with ancillary details and little analysis.

Although it started as a one-off bit, the podcast evolved into a mini soap-opera now airing on Adult Swim, with both characters developing as ultra-exaggerated versions of themselves.

Turkington concedes that “On Cinema” and Neil Hamburger may be confusing and difficult for newcomers. At the same time, he loathes being called an “alternative comic.”

“I just don’t think I could do ‘traditional standup’ any more than I could repair a Jaguar,” he says. But at the end of the day, I’m trying to make people laugh. It’s just a specific audience I’m targeting.”

IF YOU GO
Neil Hamburger
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 16
Tickets: $16
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.theindepdentsf.com

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