Michael Bergeron
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FPH Interview: Gregg Turkington

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When audiences see Entertainment this Friday, January 15, at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park they will be in for a post-screening surprise. The film’s star Gregg Turkington will perform a stand-up comedy act in his acerbic persona of Neil Hamburger

“I just want to say right off that I’m home with my two-year-old kid. Every once and a while there could be some sort of outburst of toddler mayhem,” Turkington tells Free Press Houston in a phone interview. “It’s something I haven’t done a lot of. Usually I do a Q&A with the director Rick Alverson. But in Houston I’m going to do a comedy set when the movie ends.”

Turkington has made a name for himself for over two decades as a deadpan comedian on Adult Swim, as the owner of an early’90s record label that specialized in post-punk music Armadillo Records, as well as a career as a stand-up comedian named Neil Hamburger.

“When you’re making a movie you want to make the best movie that you can make. Neil Hamburger is an existing character that I’ve been doing for 20 years. We felt that it wasn’t in the best interests of the movie if we stick to the mythology and the back-story that has sprung up about this character,” says Turkington.

“We wanted a clean slate for the character in the movie. Rick says he borrowed him. There are things that Neil Hamburger does in this movie that I would not do playing Neil Hamburger on tour.”entertainment2_758_426_81_s_c1

Entertainment follows the hapless adventures of The Comedian (Turkington) through comedy clubs, airplane graveyards, seedy bars and the Mohave Desert. The movie was filmed in an around Bakersfield, California. Entertainment co-stars John C. Reilly with appearances by Amy Seimetz and Michael Cera. Director Alverson previously cast Turkington in his film The Comedy.

Early in his career audiences were clearing confused about what Neil Hamburger was all about. Was Turkington using the Andy Kaufman mode of entertainment by becoming a different personality while in front of a microphone.

“The longer I did Neil Hamburger I built up a following. There would be fans there to see the show they wanted to see,” explains Turkington. “Just to keep things interesting for myself I would book one or two oddball shows in the midst of the tour. I enjoy getting a different response and having an unpredictable experience.”

Turkington toured as a comedian with Tenacious D domestically and in the UK. “Those were hostile crowds big crowds, these are crowds that are not there to see an old guy,” says Turkington who is currently 48. “I come out in a tuxedo and tell jokes. I did several tours in Australia with a punk band named Frenzal Rhomb. They’re great people, but their audiences tended to be teenagers, aggressive punk teenagers. Throwing things, spitting, getting real pissed off. You know how they say trial by fire. If something goes wrong during one of my shows now it just feels like no big thing.”

Perhaps not oddly, Turkington references the Robert Bresson movie Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) as an inspiration for his character of The Comedian. Balthazar is a donkey who gets passed from owner to owner in a series of escalating emotional events.

“I consider myself more of a comic than an actor. Because I enjoy working with Rick and we wanted to make this film all of a sudden I was thrust into this world. It’s not something I trained to do. Thinking about that donkey was a point of departure. It’s a very intense movie shown in film schools because it shows the power of the director. How he filmed the donkey. It’s hard not to feel that this donkey is giving an Oscar worthy performance. It could have been ten donkeys. When you’re watching it, it’s like the donkey read the script and is trying to put on a good show.”

Entertainment will screen at 7:45, followed by Turkington’s stand-up act.

— Michael Bergeron