It won’t come off in this written-down interview, but I was dying laughing through the entire conversation. It may be hard to see why from the transcript but if you know Hannibal Buress you’ll know why–he is so goddamn funny all the time it’s like he’s an alien.
Hannibal Buress was named after the North African general from antiquity who marched over the Alps with a crew of elephant-riding warriors to try and take down the Roman empire, and nearly pulled it off. I don’t know if that leads to an appropriate metaphor about the current Hannibal’s comedy career, but at the very least is shows that he doesn’t lack for ambition: it’s built into his very existence. And yet his style of comedy seems utterly casual. Chris Rock called him the illegitimate son of Mitch Hedburg, but it’s sort of the other way around: unlike so many other guys who would kill for that comparison, Hannibal doesn’t see the resemblance. What Rock meant was probably that they both are dudes who say things funny way more than they say funny things. Try to re-tell either one’s jokes without the pitch-perfect quirks of delivery and they don’t have the same gorgeous luster to them. Basically they both have the power to make you crack up with only an carefully odd, expertly off-kilter tone of voice, as if they were visitors from some foreign country with a silly accent. Not that he’s just a performer, clearly he’s a writer of the highest possible quality too, having written on 30 Rock and SNL already in his very young career. But it makes sense that he’s now doubling down on being a pure standup, he is clearly one of the most original and powerful new voices in the art that will be eventually mentioned in the same breath as Louis, Carlin, or Pryor, marching in from the hinterlands to knock everyone in the business on their ass. Mark my words, Carthage will destroy us eventually. See I knew we’d get to the metaphor eventually!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wefdgu93uhY&feature=related
This phone call, to preview his shows at the Arlington Drafthouse tonight through Saturday, was recorded mere hours after he’d returned from doing a month of daily shows at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, which clearly had exhausted him. He was still brilliantly and naturally funny though. We talked about crazy Scottish hecklers, what he was like in High School, why he left 30 Rock, and he dropped some titillating hints about a new Adult Swim show he may be working on soon. Enjoy!
BYT: So you just got back today from Edinburgh, the comedy festival there, is that true?
BYT: Have you been to Scotland before?
HB: One other time, I went to Glasgow last year.
BYT: Oh nice. So it wasn’t like, too crazy culture shocking in any way?
HB: I mean, it’s very different. The festival itself is unlike anything we have here because there’s a lot of people doing comedy albums and solo show over an entire month which can be exhausting mentally, and it can be a little bit stressful but it was a fun time and I was happy I did it.
BYT: Yeah, that’s what I heard, the comics I know that have gone there or have heard interviewed about it say it’s like South by Southwest is for for bands– it must be insane, everyone doing something somewhere. Did you find it like that or did you manage to relax and make it fun?
HB: It was fun. It was great to see [and] watch a lot of shows going on all day. There were shows that start at ten in the morning and shows that start at midnight. You just get to go around and see the different performances from around the world, so it was really nice.
BYT: That’s cool. So recently you moved from writing on 30 Rock to doing stand-up full time. Can you talk a little about why you made that choice?
HB: Yeah, it’s because I just wanted to get out there on the road more and build my fan base and travel. I am putting out a new album so that wouldn’t have been something I could do if I was still writing for 30 Rock.
BYT: Although you were acting on it too, and I thought the homeless character was really coming along; I thought he was developing well!
HB: He might be back I dunno! Or he pukes on Lutz, pitches a sketch and now that’s the end of him. Who knows?
BYT: I always thought it was weirdly apropos that you were playing a homeless guy on 30Rock because so many of your jokes take place in the street. It seems like you must run into a lot of homeless folks because some of your jokes have homeless guys in them, and then that one where you’re kicking a pigeon, or that dude on his cell phone catching a pumpkin. All these characters, it seems like you get a lot of material from just walking around outside, is that something that occurred to you when playing the homeless guy or is it just a weird coincidence?
HB: That’s just a weird connection to you maybe, but I’m interested to hear it. The kicking pigeons thing is funny because it’s one of those…I used to sell T-shirts with that on it and people would come up to me and tell me weird stories about how they would kick pigeons and I’d have to say, “Hey, I really don’t, I’ve never kicked a pigeon in my life.” That’s be too mean. Yesterday when I was flying back from Scotland, I watched that Mike Tyson documentary about him keeping pigeons…so now I think about pigeons in a whole different way. Now I kinda regret that I did that joke.
BYT: You could totally bring it back around and go on a five to ten minute really serious part where you just talk about how pigeons are actually beautiful creatures with a lot of soul and stuff like that.
HB: Yeah, they were really cool. They would train them, the pigeons, they would raise them. That was really cool to watch but I don’t know if it’s hilarious.
BYT: Who knows? So I earlier this year I interviewed Eric Andre, from the Awkward Comedy Show, I guess you would say, with you. We talked about how awesome for the kind of comedy all of you [on the show] did. It just makes a lot of sense. What do you think about that, almost as a genre of comedy?
HB: I don’t think of it as a genre of comedy. I think of it as a way to make it stand out. As far as my genre of comedy, I don’t consider it really awkward comedy, I mean, I tell jokes about stuff that I saw and just what I think, stuff that has happened to me. So I don’t really think anything is awkward about the style. But the title itself was something that kind of helped brand it as something different and get it noticed but I don’t think the awkward label really applies to what I do.
BYT: Do you see yourself in a tradition with other observational comics, like Jim Gaffigan or Jerry Seinfeld?
HB: I do what I do, I mean, I do jokes, they can compare if they want. As far as the awkward thing, I don’t think that necessarily what I do is awkward, but I think that was a good way to enter the scene.
BYT: When you were growing up though did you have a favorite comedian that inspired to start doing comedy in the first place?
HB: Not really, I didn’t really get into comedy until a couple months before I started doing comedy, if that long. It was just something I started doing, ya know? I was listening to comedy albums, [so then] I started watching comedy. I mean, after I started doing comedy, I bought a bunch of DVD’s. Richard Price, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Patrice O’Neil. Those were the guys I really watched but I would always watch anybody just to try to learn. I was in Chicago so I would go to ‘Zanies’ and watch comedy every week just to see how different people approach it.
BYT: So what were you into before comedy, before you decided to be a performer?
HB: I was a college student, I started when I was nineteen so I wasn’t into anything really. I liked sports a little in high school but I wasn’t doing that anymore. I was just nineteen, with no life experience. Just like most nineteen year olds, you don’t know exactly what you want to do.
BYT: But you stayed in Chicago for a long enough time for you to develop. How long did you stay in Chicago before you decided to come to New York?
HB: I came to New York for four months in 2006, so I came after I’ve been doing comedy for four years. I was doing some sets, I booked Montreal, then I went back to Chicago for two more years, and then came back to New York in 2008. You want to grow where you came up so when you move, you get noticed easier. You can grow in New York but it’s better to come here already solid to get your reputation quicker.
BYT: I’ve been hanging out recently with some Chicago comic guys and they are always bragging that Chicago is one of the toughest comedy towns around, in a certain way. It seems like there’s a lot of opportunities, a lot of shows, but the atmosphere there is very cutthroat; everyone’s willing to undercut each other in a friendly, competitive way. Did you find that, or, how would you characterize the Chicago comedy scene?
HB: Everybody talks shit sometimes, ya know, but it’s nothing that really had a lasting impression on me or something that really defined the culture of the comedy scene. I just kinda always focused on doing shows and trying to get good.
BYT: Back to Eric Andre, he mentioned you guys may be making a show on Adult Swim. Did that ever go down or was that just talk?
HB: We shot a pilot for it so we’re waiting to hear everything.
BYT: Can you tell me anything about it?
HB: It’s called the Eric Andre show. It’s him, it’s just a crazy TV host, I’m his sidekick and he has these guests. It’s really hard to describe, he would describe it better but its very crazy. It’s a fun gig, and I’m glad he brought me on as a part of it so we’re just waiting to hear what happens.
BYT: It says in your bio that you love eating Halal on the streets.
HB: Haha yeah, I posted that on my Facebook fan page so it’s sort of a bio but a joking bio for clubs. Most people don’t even know what a halal is but it is really good…It was just something, I mean, I posted that and I didn’t really feel compelled to change it. It is my favorite New York street food. You go to a good street cart and it’s dope.
BYT: Since going away from 30 Rock you’ve been touring a lot. Are there any hilarious or crazy stories recently? I feel like you’ve kind of jumped to a new plane of places that you’re playing. Is the touring experience a lot better now than it was when you were starting out?
HB: Yeah, I’m headlining now so it’s comfortable. I mean, I’m not staying in comedy-condos, well one city has a comedy-condo. I’m able to take care of myself better on the road, I fly to most places, I get upgraded sometimes because I fly a lot. So yeah, it is a bit more comfortable. Most of the gigs have a different energy; now that I have a fan base and people buy tickets but I do still have some bad shows. In Scotland I got burnt out a couple times just doing the stuff and trying to sell it because you’re doing a month’s worth of shows so it got kinda crazy. But besides that it’s been really good. I got a jay-walking ticket in Montreal. I’ve been having a lot of confrontations, my friend said I was looking for a fight but I don’t think I was. Sometimes people do or say dumb shit to me and I respond to it. I escalate confrontations just to the point to where they want to fight but I don’t. I don’t want to be on someones blog fighting cops.
BYT: Whoa, what was the situation in Montreal, what happened there?
HB: It’s just a jay-walking ticket. They walked up and said I was jay-walking, and I didn’t realize they enforce that. He gave me a ticket but I didn’t give him my I.D. right away so two more police come up and it took about an hour for three police working on a jay-walking ticket. I think there was definitely some racism because I was like, “why are you doing this” and he said something about Al Capone being caught on racketeering charges and I think he was hoping for something like that; hoping I had a crazy warrant or something. I get into a lot of stuff like that for some reason, but it was one in the afternoon and I was sober. I didn’t like that they were enforcing that. They were doing their jobs, but I don’t like their jobs.
BYT: I feel like you were literally pulled over for walking while black, which I’ve never even heard of in the US, at least not since the 50s.
HB: I don’t know, an old lady also got stopped but she gave her I.D. right away and I was thinking if I didn’t give mine then they would say fuck it but they were all serious and like, “We will go to your hotel room with you to get your I.D.”
BYT: You said there was some other shit that you’ve been in, was there anything in Scotland? I’ve heard crazy stories about Scottish hecklers at the comedy festival. Was there anything like that?
HB: Well actually, in the show, there was these guys and somebody kinda motioned toward them in the audience and this guy, kind of a bigger dude, is just staring at me like he’s upset so I said ‘What’s up dude?” and he just stares blankly at me. I said “Are you all right?” and he’s just staring and I’m like “Hey, I’m not casting for bar brawlers if that’s what you’re trying to do” and he just wouldn’t say anything. Also, these ladies just yelled “Your show is shit” and it was like three minutes into the show. They all looked like they thought they were going to fight me. They looked aggressive but it could be my fault because my default face looks kinda angry too so who am I to say “Hey, why is your face like that?” I wish I had that on tape.
BYT: It seems like there is a culture over there where people just fight, because that’s what time of day it is. So you said by the end you might have gotten a bit loopy. So when doing the same show a bunch of times have you ever spaced out or forget what you’re saying?
HB: There was a couple of times when I’d think, did I say that already? Other times I just wouldn’t want to say that stuff anymore so I would try newer stuff that wasn’t as polished. It might compromise the whole show a little bit to not just say the same thing over and over but it was what I had to do. For my mental health.
BYT: One of my favorite jokes of yours is the jar of pickle juice around your house. The part of the joke that I really love is that you have a specific number for how many time you have to flick your hand at the sandwich to get it to taste like pickles. (7-11 times on average). That seems like a real piece of research. I could be wrong but did you just come up with those numbers or did you actually figure it out?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBgoBjJkxfI&feature=related
HB: Yeah, I just came up with those numbers randomly!
BYT: It could be a whole genre, besides awkward comedy, science comedy. Where you do the research for making the jokes, publish it in a peer reviewed journal…
BYT: Maybe that’s getting too nerdy.
HB: Yeah, it is.
HB: Nah I’m just kidding man. That could be OK, you do the research and I’ll write the jokes.
BYT: Phew. Sounds good! Well thanks so much for talking today Hannibal, have a good show at the Drafthouse this weekend.
HB: No problem!