words by Eamon Whalen
Hannibal Buress still loves life on the road. Thanks to roles in Comedy Central’s Broad City, Adult Swim’s Eric Andre Show and an increasing amount of movie roles, the thirty-two year old comedian has gotten to the point in his career where he probably wouldn’t have to put up with the exhaustive, transient lifestyle of touring if he didn’t want to. Yet this week he’s prepping for an extended stay in Minneapolis to shoot his next, yet-to-be-named comedy special for Netflix. The special also comes on the heels of the completion of the first season of his first leading role in a television series, Comedy Central’s “Why? With Hannibal Buress,”—a part man-on-the-street, part poking fun at current events, and part sketch comedy show. His visit also comes nearly a year after he made a joke contrasting Bill Cosby’s Black respectability politics with Cosby’s history of alleged sexual assault. While telling the joke, he says his only intention was to, “make it weird to watch Cosby Show reruns,” but instead it prompted a national reawakening to decades of allegations, catapulting Hannibal Buress into being a household name in one of the most unexpected and undesired ways possible.
Still, this surge in recognition hasn’t changed what his lifestyle has been for the past decade. He worked his way up from bombing at open mics in his hometown of Chicago in the early aughts, to now headlining 1,000 seat theaters in major cities. The other stuff—film, TV, rap aspirations—is indeed just other stuff to Hannibal. They’re essentially a vehicle to bring fans back around to his stand-up, where he combines the laid-back idiosyncrasy of Mitch Hedberg, the biting irony of Louis CK and the dry, social analysis of Dave Chappelle—the latter two of whom have dubbed Hannibal as one of his generation’s brightest comedic minds.
Before his extended trip to Minneapolis, while in Los Angeles shooting the fourth season of the Eric Andre Show, Greenroom spoke to Hannibal on the phone about his new special, struggles and successes of his show’s first season, a forthcoming solo Rap EP and how most of the 2016 presidential candidates are just too damn old.
Greenroom: Why did you choose Minneapolis to shoot your new special?
Hannibal: I picked Minneapolis because I have a decent history there. It’s one of the cities I’ve been to a bunch of times and always had fun. Also, it’s one of the few major cities that I wasn’t planning to hit this tour [laughs]. I’m excited for it, the crowds there are savvy comedy audiences. I did the Varsity last time and it was just a venue that stuck out to me visually. I just liked how it looked, some places just feel cool and look cool and have history. It’s just a nice spot. My agent was trying to push me to play a 2,000 seater or 1,500 seater but I was like, ‘Nah I want to play this 500 seater and camp out for a few days.’ I don’t get to do that much when I’m on the road. I’m usually in a city for one or two shows then I’m outta there. So it’ll be nice to chill out for three days and get settled and used to the venue so I can be ready to film by Friday.
GR: Is that a smaller room than you usually play?
H: It depends on the city. Some cities, 500 is where I cap out. For instance Lincoln, Nebraska, 500 is about it [laughs].
GR: When you go into writing a special, do you have specific themes in mind that you begin with, or do you write it more joke by joke?
H: Well it’s not really about writing a special, it’s about having a new show for a tour. I started that process last fall. Thirty shows or so is when you start to develop a rhythm. It’s really about making the show flow. I try to always have a couple bits that I know will stick with people. You want to have something that people remember after the show or a situation that people can experience and relate back to me. Things that people my age can definitely relate to—well all ages—but definitely that 25-34 range.
GR: What are some of the things you touch on in the new special?
H: Without spoiling it, I touch on what it is to be me at 32 years old. My thoughts on that, how I’m progressing in life and things that are going on with relationships, my career, thinking about having children, talking about my family a little bit more. Then, talking about the same shit, music, sports, drinking, hanging out and random thoughts. It’s a nice range of material from long-ass stories to weird-ass one-liners.
GR: As your profile grows, do you tend to hold back on pushing the envelope or saying wild shit onstage?
H: I just say what’s interesting to me and try to make it funny. Lately I’ve been talking about how a lot of the presidential candidates are too old. There’s a minimum age to run for president, it’s 35, but I think there should be a maximum. 58 should be the maximum age to campaign to be president. Trump is like 69, Hilary is like 67, Bernie Sanders is like 73. That’s too old man! That’s too old to have that big of dreams, get outta here with that, go do something else. Go invest in buildings or do charity work or something. Advise a younger presidential candidate and help them. Help somebody that’s not gonna have dementia in four to eight years. That’s just a real opinion of mine. My dad is 63 and he’s retired, he’s just chillin. These people are past retirement age and want one of the toughest jobs in the world. Nah.
GR: With that said, are you planning to pledge your support for any candidate?
H: I don’t know man, I guess it’s going to be Hilary and who knows on the Republican side. I don’t know dude, I’ll vote for whoever Jay-Z tells me to vote for.
GR: You talk a lot about the importance of a good walk-up for a comedian. What’s the key?
H: It depends on what you want. Music is huge obviously. Lighting is key. But really it’s about how comfortable you are. Do you got something in your hand? A drink? Are you gonna milk it? Are you gonna vamp with the crowd for a little bit? Are you gonna walk back and forth? Are you gonna grab the mic right away and hype people up? Are you gonna act like you recognize somebody and point at the second row and smile? There’s a lot of different tricks. Kevin Hart’s intro is amazing. I don’t want to spoil it but he’s doing arena shows and he did a stadium. Kevin has a high production level on his shit, that motherfucker puts on a show. I’m all about the walk-on music, it hypes you up.
GR: It’s like baseball players going up to bat…
H: Yeah it’s like going up to bat you know? The walk-on is one of the funnest parts of the whole show. Especially if you pop in at a show unannounced, that shit is the best. If people don’t know that you’re showing up and you pop up and everyone is like what the fuck?! I did a show with Chappelle and I wasn’t billed on it. There was a bunch of openers before me, but Chappelle’s DJ was the DJ on the Oddball tour last year. He had my walk on song that I used then. So I had the best of both worlds, I had the surprise appearance and my regular walk-on music and the crowd went crazy.
GR: What songs do you use?
H: I use “Attak” by Danny Brown, produced by Rustie. That has that big build up so we’ll blackout the lights and let it play from the beginning and then when the shit drops we’ll bring up the lights and I’m out there. I use “Alright” by Kendrick sometimes because that gets people going. And then “Fkn Dead” by Flying Lotus. It’s a 40 second song and I always tell him that shit is too short. But that song is epic, he played it a bunch on my show. That song sounds like you’re walking in somewhere and shit. [Starts playing it in background.] That shit just sounds epic.
GR: Last time you came to the Varsity you had Brother Ali open for you, you also did an after-party (see video re-cap below) with some of the members of Doomtree last fall. Do you pay much attention to the Minneapolis scene?
H: Yeah man, Rhymesayers and Doomtree are doing cool things. And it’s also just so cool to see the city support them. I can’t really think of another city with this kind of local hip hop scene—I mean Chicago’s got a good underground scene but it takes some time to grow in Chicago. There’s Atlanta. Atlanta clubs, strip clubs, and radio will be playing people that we’ve never heard of. The mainstream radio and media will be six months late on a song that’s been a club hit in Atlanta. Sometimes I’ve been in a club in Atlanta and everybody knows the words to a song and I’m like, ‘What the fuck is this song?’ So it’s just cool to see a city that supports their own.
GR: Chris Rock has a quote about how stand-up is the only career that once you get really big at it, people kind of encourage you not to do it. Now that you’ve had some movie roles and a TV show, can you relate to that?
H: No, well uhhh, nah man. The other stuff really just helps my standup. The standup fuels the energy to do other stuff. It’s a back and forth for me. It mainly comes down to a scheduling thing. If you take a nice role in a movie, that’s going to be a month or a couple months where you’re not touring or doing standup. It’s just about what you want to do, what you have time to do. I love being on the road. I love going places and having people come out to see me. Right now, it’s fun and the travel isn’t that tough, that could change five years from now. But right now, I love that shit.
GR: On your show you poke fun at the format you’ve chosen. From the teleprompter, to the random news bits, to Flying Lotus’ role. Do you find it confining?
H: Well, the show was picked up without filming the pilot. Our first episode was the pilot so we just kind of figured it out as we went along. The first couple episodes was finding things and seeing if they stick. We figured out that we wanted to do more man-on-the-street stuff. We never got it down to a solid format, we mixed it up a bit and just learned a lot. There are small battles with the network, but that’s anybody with a goddamn television show.
GR: What’s been the hardest part about having a show so far?
H: The studio audience man. There’s something artificial about it. It didn’t feel right, something about it felt off. I don’t know if that’s exactly the hardest part, but I didn’t feel natural in the studio and I didn’t feel natural with the prompter. The prompter doesn’t really fit my speaking method. I might talk fast sometimes or talk super slow or have crazy pauses, and when you’re speaking off a prompter that doesn’t work. Maybe over time I’ll get better at it.
Also, it’s just a lot of work to do something weekly like that especially as a new gig. Over all I learned a lot man, when people are writing for you you kind of have to tell them what you want. I figured that out close to the end. I had a reference point because I could tell them to write stuff more like this bit. But there’s so many different things to deal with from the writers to wardrobe makeup, the producers, network, booking guests. You wear a lot of different hats running a show and starring in it.
GR: You made a joke when Eric Andre was a guest that you were probably going to get cancelled. Have you been renewed?
H: Nah, I haven’t been renewed. But I’m going to talk to Comedy Central once I wrap up shooting The Eric Andre Show and finish the touring and the special. Then I can get back to business mode. They’ve been super supportive of me doing whatever I want to do. They want me to succeed.
GR: The man-on-the-street parts are some of my favorite bits, especially your debate with the street preacher. How did that happen?
H: What really happened was that was one of the times I didn’t have a full crew. The other ones, the Meek Mill bit, the PETA bit, we had full crew, which I hate for man-on-the-street because it makes it less intimate and makes people less likely to say some crazy shit. So for the street preacher bit, we were at Comic Con. It was me, my boy Brian Babylon that does social media for me, and a Comedy Central exec, Adam Londy. I had just done a bunch of press for the show at Comic Con and we walked onto a packed-ass block. There were a lot of people talking to me so I wasn’t exactly angry but I had a lot of pent up energy from being talked to a lot, and I had had a few Bloody Marys. So I started walking up to people protesting and stuff, just asking them what they were promoting, as if they were promoting a movie or TV show like everyone else there. So I went up to him, asked the same thing. And then we just started going back and forth. Initially I thought it would be something cool for the web but what’s funny is that my showrunner—he’d probably hate that I say this but—long story short, he didn’t want to put it on. I badgered him and it went on and it ended up killing because that dude was so ridiculous. I was genuinely baffled by that guy. Like, are you a real person? This is you every day?
GR: What would you and Open Mike Eagle’s college selves say if they were told that Mike would be the first musical guest on your Comedy Central show?
H: That’d be crazy. But you know what, we’d probably be like, ‘Hmm, that sounds about right [laughs].’ I knew Mike before I was doing stand-up. It’s been cool to have someone in the business that I’ve known for that long.
GR: How did Flying Lotus become your House DJ?
H: He actually asked to be the music supervisor, but the show didn’t really call for that, we didn’t have a lot of time in post production to be like, ‘This scene could really use some Twin Shadow.’ [laughs.] After the first episode I thought we needed some different energy. So I hit him up and asked if he wanted to be the DJ.
GR: I read that you recently bought a drum machine, is Flying Lotus going to give you lessons?
H: You know what? I kind of didn’t use that, man. I used it in New York at home and then brought it out here but one of the knobs fucking broke off. I haven’t really had time to fuck with music stuff like that because I’ve been out here. I’ve been working on my show then it’s straight into Eric’s show. My goal, is to hopefully put out a solo rap EP on my birthday. I’m calling in my rap favors and getting beats and verses from people and hopefully will put out a project February 4th.
GR: Who are you going to reach out to?
H: Ahh I’m not at liberty to say, but when I get it together it will be together.
GR: What is this season of Eric Andre going to be like?
H: Crazy man, it’s almost done. We’ve got some crazy guests. Stacey Dash was just on. T.I was on, OG Maco was in today. My concern coming into the fourth season was, ‘What the fuck can we do to escalate it?’ And we really did escalate it. There’s more money that’s being utilized. A fun thing about watching Eric Andre, versus my show or even Broad City, is that for Eric Andre we shoot the interviews for an hour and they might use three or four minutes from it. Then it’s all types of graphics or weird shit happening. I can watch it as a fan because I don’t know how they’re going to place my scenes.
GR: Do you have a particularly funny Eric Andre anecdote as of late?
H: He was doing this one bit where he was playing an offensive comic. So before he went into it he was like prepping the crew by saying, ‘These are not my views, I’m just playing this guy.’ While he’s prepping the crew I’m thinking, ‘Dude, you be showing your asshole, [laughs] and this is what you’re prepping them for? Some mildly racist jokes that you’re saying insincerely [laughs]?’
GR: Has playing Lincoln on Broad City given you a newfound appreciation for dentists?
H: No. But I do get dentists writing me every now and then like, ‘Thank you man, you make us seem cool.’ But you know what? after the first season I was looking up dentist offices in my neighborhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I go to this spot and I’m like, ‘Oh shit, this is where we shot.’ It was accidental, I just needed a wisdom tooth taken out. I was getting my wisdom tooth taken out in the same chair that I was just acting like a dentist. It was really weird.
GR: Did people call you up for features after “Gibberish Rap?”
H: Yeah! I was really excited when I put out “Gibberish rap.” It was an exciting time, it’s crazy it’s almost been three years. But I was like, ‘Yo, I’m doing features.’ And I did a song called “Versace Breakfast” with this one dude Freddy Scott. I was like, ‘Hey man, find the studio time and I’ll go in.’ I didn’t do many features after that. I kind of lost the fire.
GR: How has it been to watch the Chicago rap renaissance around the same time that your career has taken off?
H: It’s cool to see people blow up, man. Chance obviously is doing his thing. It was cool to direct his video [“NaNa”]—he’s a superstar now. Vic Mensa—I put on a last minute show on Christmas eve or the day before Thanksgiving or something—I hit up Vic last minute and we did a show together in Chicago. And now it’s like, ‘Oh shit, this dude is killing it!’ A lot of the Save Money guys, I had Towkio and Joey Purp on the show.
GR: Have you checked out Mick Jenkins?
H: I’ve listened to a couple of his things, he’s got the track about water?
GR: He’s got a whole mixtape about water.
H: A whole mixtape about water? Oh shit, I’ll have to check that out.
GR: As a Chicagoan and someone who talks onstage for a living, what did you think of the Kanye VMA speech?
H: It was entertaining, I was there actually. Center, maybe three or four rows back [laughs]. It was funny to see live man. The way they made it into a Seinfeld bit was hilarious. I don’t think he’s really going to run for president but if he did—nah he’s not gonna run for president. It was a Kanye speech, he did what he does.
GR: What did you make of Drake and Meek Mill?
H: If you’re going to accuse somebody of something, you gotta come harder. Did you see somebody brought a Drake sign to one of Meek Mill’s concerts? Meek Mill was like, ‘Get the fuck out of here, trying to pick on me like I’m a dweeb or something, you know I got my shooters standing next to you.’ Like shit, whoa, that’s a really sore spot for him.
GR: If you were to do a list like the XXL Freshman for comedians, who would be on it?
H: I gotta think of people who wouldn’t be insulted by me calling them a ‘freshman’ [laughs]. Like, ‘What the fuck, Hannibal? I’ve been doing this for years!’ But Dave Helem and Junior Stopka out of Chicago. Helem has been been working for a while, Junior too. Stroy Moyd out of the Bay and David Gborie.
GR: Has Chappelle given you any advice on handling fame?
H: Nah, not really. We just kind of chat, man. I’ve done a bunch of shows with him so it’s not really a thing where I’m treating him like a unicorn. [laughs] It’s more just kicking it.