On a neglected side-street of Manchester’s city centre, Gorilla sits quietly in the surrounding sprawl. To its right, past a tunnel perfectly sculpted for a stealthy, drunken evening piss, lies Dog Bowl; a bar teetering on the edge of achingly hipster, offering ten-pin bowling as a cacophonous aperitif to overpriced culinary dirge. Given that even the local trams feature caricatures with Monopoly Man moustaches, it seems an inescapable aesthetic. While the stereotype can cause an itch when you’re handing over double for a Jameson and Coke, it’s a welcoming and, eventually, comfortable world to sparsely visit. Within Gorilla, where that sub-culture seems defined, Tim Heidecker and Neil Hamburger proved, in more ways than one, that assumption is all too often erroneous.
Firstly, the demographics of its small gathering were wide. In age, dress and attitude, the audience were elusively cosmopolitan. That speaks volumes on the draw of Heidecker and Hamburger’s art. The only distinguishable commonality was in an expectation of chaos. Pedestrian stand-up, in its bland safety, was far from anyone’s thoughts as a tingling anticipation commanded the room. The two comedians’ acts are, through one perspective, reactions to the ubiquitous snacks that populate the majority of contemporary humour. That was the only prediction that came with a guarantee, since the content of the sets themselves was a universal mystery. Indeed, to many in the room, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and On Cinema were the only guides to take any reference from.
Heidecker took on the persona he’s been moulding for years; a somehow cracked mirror to the desperately fawning bonhomie of clueless, amateur open-mic warriors. It’s something he’s got down pat, as the strength of his deliberately weak material is astounding. Most worthy of mention is his skill for physical performance. It’s a neglected aspect of his utility belt, showcased liberally across every moment of his turn. I was also taken aback by his proficiency at improvisation. His interaction with the crowd well exceeded my own forecasts, with a lengthy segment of “improv” that was as satirical as it was viscerally hilarious.
Hamburger, the alter-ego of Gregg Turkington, followed paths more regularly trodden. However, that’s no indictment on the quality of his routine. In fact, it’s loud testimony to his craft. The sad, bitter and confrontational Hamburger is a second nature to Turkington. He’s been chipping away at the psyche of this parodic pastiche for over twenty years. The intimate acquaintance he has with Hamburger is clear, and compelling in the extreme. With this half of the night’s double-bill, the surprise came in the reception from my temporary peers in the audience of Gorilla. For every shrill “Why?!”, and each protracted knock-knock joke, the crowd wailed back in entranced subservience. In essence, is that not his grandest commentary?
Ultimately, I found it impossible to sum up the two to my other half, who accompanied me to the show. Unaware of their work, priming her for the event was a posing task (which I resoundingly failed at). My most misplaced assumption was in believing she would be alienated. For the most part, I’m glad to state that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Both Heidecker and Turkington are adept and intelligent, presenting a show that doesn’t require years of initiation to enjoy. Satisfied, members of the coterie filed back to their Manchester homes and hotels with good will and deep thought hand-in-hand. Chaos, in the end, was just one flavour in a pot that just as amply served gleeful coherence. That equal measure, which comes with a moreish bent, is a recurring trait in the finest.
At the conclusion, and as people slowly departed Gorilla, Heidecker and Turkington both made the most unexpected move yet. Fans with some modicum of patience were met with the opportunity to talk to, and even take photos with, the pair while exiting the building. Obviously, considering the featured image to this article, I was among those who got the chance. In my time with them, I found the reality of their personalities to be startling and refreshing.
Shy, Turkington is nonetheless forthcoming in his appreciative restraint; much unlike Hamburger, he elicits grace with a friendly and genuine smile. Heidecker, with whom I was fortunate enough to share a cigarette, is less frightening than I ever would have guessed at. Despite being harassed with the pathetic small-talk of a fledgling groupie, and locked into the calm of nicotine, he managed to engage on a level I’ll remember for the rest of my life. While nothing is off-limits for the sharp harpoon of Heidecker and Turkingon on-stage, their hidden truths are more accepting and pleasant in tone. For me, this affords their comedy an extra depth of both thought and expression. And, for those ready to make a mistaken assumption on the aforementioned groupie, Heidecker – wedding ring in clear view – was interested only in the silvery, relaxing smoke of my girlfriend’s Mayfair.