Monday, June 4, 2012

Interview: standup comic and actor Hannibal Buress

Posted By on Mon, Jun 4, 2012 at 1:08 PM

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Hannibal Buress is among New York's busiest comics. The Chicago native moved to New York in 2008 with $400 and immediately hit up a few open mic shows. He briefly roughed it by crashing his sister's house, then sleeping on trains, in hostels and coffeehouses. But he later was hired as a writer for Saturday Night Live after an appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Tina Fey picked him up to write for 30 Rock, where he also appeared on camera as, incidentally, a bum.

Buress is typically described as a "laid back" comic, who delivers sometimes brutal lines in his distinctive mellow tone. His weekly show at The Knitting Factory has attracted the likes of Louis C.K. (who put Buress in his Louie) and Chris Rock, who describes Buress as "If Steven Wright, Mos Def and Dave Chappelle had a baby, that would be disgusting, but it would sound like Hannibal Buress. The funniest young comic I've seen in years."

Buress recently released his second album, the alliteratively titled Animal Furnace, and an hour-long Comedy Central special, and earned the Best Club Comic award at the 2012 Comedy Awards. He's also the "co-host" of Adult Swim's weirdo fake talk show The Eric Andre Show, which airs 11:30 p.m. Sundays.

He performs at The New Movement (1919 Burgundy St.) at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6. He talked to Gambit after his return from a gig in Norway.

You just got back from performing in Europe. How'd it go?

Most shows go well, man. Overall, I'd say at least 20 percent of them go well. And those are the ones that get reported on the most. That's a horrible number. If you only have 20 percent good shows, and you're still working as a comedian, then it means you've blackmailed someone. It was a fun show, though. It was different. The Norwegian audience was almost like a TV crowd. They give a lot of applause breaks for jokes that usually don't get applause breaks. There are some jokes that get applause breaks here in the states, and then some that never get applause breaks. It was fun. They were appreciative and nice, and I'll definitely go back.

You had to gauge the crowd from their response?

I was in my head, thinking about what works. Most of it worked. I don't know what I excluded on purpose. But most stuff went well.

It's been a big month, this past one.

Yeah. The month is over.

You had The Eric Andre Show and Animal Furnace coming out pretty much at the same time, and now a tour. You going to slow down a bit?

I'm touring, doing gigs. I'm taking a vacation at the beginning of July. Not sure where I'm going, maybe Belize or something. But after that, a week of vacation, then it's back to work. My job really isn't... I mean, the travel can be exhausting but the work itself can be... it's just about time management, as far as generating material. It's not that hard, compared to real jobs. Like, "Hey, you gotta go get on this plane. Get on this plane and watch TV shows while you're on this plane, then go to a hotel room then go talk." This is my life. It's fine. I do need to take a vacation, though. I've never traveled just to travel, you know? I'm sure I'll fucking get anxious, man, and want to do gigs. But it's necessary to relax, and do nothing. But a lot of my existence is doing nothing, just waiting to perform.

With Eric Andre, you get to tap into some more offbeat work. Do you prefer working that part of your brain?

I'm not doing anything different; I'm just kind of reacting to what (Andre) is doing. He's usually doing some weird shit, and I react to it. ... When we do some super weird stuff on there it's written by them, but as far as when I'm just there, at the desk, or standing with a guest, it's just improv and being weird, just trying to be funny. We shoot so much stuff for that show, and it's such a short show. We might shoot, for one interview that's going to be on for a minute, we'll shoot 40 minutes for that. It's about throwing out as much stuff as we can to see what's funny and letting the editors look at it.

So a different process than writing on 30 Rock or SNL.

Yes, in ways, incredibly different.

Did you have a favorite moment working on those shows?

Whoaaaaaaaaaa maaaaaaaaaaaan. (laughs) No, just kidding. When I was on 30 Rock a few times, that was really fun. It was unexpected that they had me on camera, and kept putting me on camera. Each time they did that it was really hilarious. Each time I figured Tina Fey was saying, "Enough with this homeless dude! Stop writing him in there!"� But they kept writing me in and bringing me back. I'm happy they enjoyed the character and people seemed to enjoy the character a little bit. That's been really cool.

You've evolved over the last couple albums. It's subtle, not a radically different shift, but how do you feel about, from album to album, showing publicly how you change?

You don't want to be the same. I've recorded My Name Is Hannibal in the beginning of 2009, and I just recorded Animal Furnace in December, so that's almost three years in between. Three years worth of shit happened to me, I've had jobs since then, I've toured the world, and I've performed a lot more standup. ... From doing comedy for three more years, those experiences, doing it that much, I feel I got better as a standup and I have more to talk about.

In coming to New York and experiencing homelessness, you look at it as more of a logistical problem, or that things didn't work out how they were supposed to. Did that worry you at the time?

It didn't, but... (laughs) It didn't, but I really wanted to be in New York. That's what I did to be in New York. I could've went about it different ways, I could've apologized to my sister, or made up with them, but that's what it was, man. It wasn't like I was 35 with no family in New York and broke and just lost my job. I was 23, I could've been at my parents' place in Chicago, and I could've been working a job in Chicago instead of coming to New York with, like, $400 or some shit.

You've seen the city from that perspective, and now as a successful comic hosting a weekly show. How has the city changed you?

I really like New York. I appreciate what the city has done for me and the comedy scene here. It's been nice, seeing it from sleeping on the train (to) working on different stuff, you know?

And you still have the Knitting Factory show on Sundays. You have any favorite moments there?

It's been a lot of good nights at the Knitting Factory, man. Chris Rock has been through, Louis C.K., Aziz (Ansari) has come through a bunch — there's just been a lot of good shows. Whenever I'm home in New York, I love doing it. It's right by my house, it's always a great crowd.

Will this be your first time in New Orleans?

Yeah, I'm only coming because — no dis to New Orleans, I hear it's a great city — but my cousin is having a bachelor party from (June) 7th through the 9th, and I'm throwing it. So basically I took these shows to pay for the bachelor party, and to be in New Orleans. I can't just go to a city and not work. I said I'd get there a day early and make some money for these strippers.

Buress performs at 8:30 p.m. with Chris Trew and Scotland Green and at 10:30 p.m. with Dane Faucheux and Leon Blanda. Tickets $15, available online.

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