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UPROXX Interview: Hannibal Buress Tells Us All About His Failed Schemes To Get Airtime At 'SNL'

By / 03.26.14
hannibal buress

Constance Kostrevski


If you’re not already familiar with Hannibal Buress, it’s time to get familiar with him. The 31 year-old native of Chicago isn’t going away any time soon and has quickly established himself as one of the funniest standup comedians working today, worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as comics like Louis C.K., Patton Oswalt and Jim Gaffigan. Hell, some are already positing that he’s the funniest man alive. And while that may be something of an outlandish declaration to make, it’s not that outlandish. Buress just seems to be instinctively funny, like being funny is something that comes as naturally as breathing to him. It’s just something he seems to be able to do without really having to try that hard and there’s probably a switch he consciously has to flip in his mind when he finds himself in social situations where humor isn’t acceptable.

It helps that he even looks funny. By that I mean that it’s hard not to look at Hannibal Buress and not just want to laugh. He’s sort of oddly shaped and often looks stoned and/or like he’s up to something, with a dash of straight-out-of-Central-Casting pervert tossed in. You get the feeling that if you were seated next to Buress on a plane that was about to crash he’d be cracking jokes about the situation the whole way down, interrupting your frantic, last-second attempts to pray for the salvation of your soul or to get a final message to loved ones via text or email on your phone, and you’d be helpless to keep yourself from laughing as you plummeted from the sky to a fiery death.

I first saw Buress perform at a small improv club in New Orleans in the summer of 2012. There might have been 20-25 people in the audience that night and at some point during his performance, Buress mentioned that he was in town for a bachelor party for his cousin. Buress then invited everyone in attendance to join in on the festivities by participating in a second line parade in his bachelor cousin’s honor after the show. This Saturday night, Comedy Central will air Live from Chicago, an hour-long standup special featuring Buress, and a healthy chunk of the material he performs in it traces back to that weekend in New Orleans (including the aforementioned second line for his bachelor cousin), some of which he performed recently on the Tonight Show. Also included in the special: Buress’ bits about trends in rap music and posing as Donald Glover’s agent to get free tickets to an Eddie Griffin show we posted a few days ago, along with many other expertly told stories and observational gems. In its totality, Live From Chicago — Buress’ new Comedy Central standup special — is hysterical from start to finish. There are no stale bits. Everything works and it all works to near-comedic perfection.

We recently spoke to Hannibal — who serves as co-host of the Eric Andre Show on Adult Swim, has recurring roles on the Comedy Central series Broad City and the FX animated show Chozen, and who may or may not soon have his own Comedy Central show —  about his new standup special, working on SNL and 30 Rock, what he hopes for out of his career and his love for New Orleans, among other things.

UPROXX: You worked as a writer on SNL and 30 Rock when you were in your 20s, both of those are jobs that a lot of people would kill for. What made you walk away from those jobs, from writing on those shows, to focus on a standup career?

HANNIBAL: I did those jobs and they were fun. I had ambition to try to be a writer, but I really wanted to do TV writing just to learn that part of the business so I’d be able to run my own show one day, you know? So I worked for SNL and 30 Rock and I got to work under Tina Fey and see what it was like to be somebody that’s writing but also starring on a show and also executive producing it and running the show. I got to see what that was like. And then I really wanted to focus on standup after that, just getting better at standup. So after 30 Rock I went on the road for about, I think about eight months straight, up until filming Animal Furnace (a prior standup special).

UPROXX: You said you went out on the road doing standup for eight months. What places did you visit that made the most memorable impressions on you?

HANNIBAL: I’ve been to the Edinburgh Comedy Festival a couple of times and that’s been a real learning experience. It helped me learn a lot just ’cause I got to watch different type of performers from around the world that were doing comedy in a different way. Or they just had these really well-produced shows that had great technical aspects. So going to the festivals I get to see all these type of performers. You could just watch shows all day, all types of shows — comedy, music, theater and everything else at these festivals. I got to learn a lot there and also when I was doing my show I would do an hour every day with no open act. You just walk out. So that just really helped me become a stronger comic just because once you can just do a show, an hour show with no opener and do well, then when a crowd has warmed up, then it becomes easier. So yeah, going to those festivals was a big help and I learned a lot from them.

UPROXX: I saw a video from an open mic night in San Francisco where this guy named Myron the Moron shaved his fake bleeding vagina on stage and you were in the audience. Do you see a lot of oddball stuff like that, people experimenting and trying out all sorts of outrageous stuff, when you’re on the road visiting all these places?

HANNIBAL: Yeah, Myron, he was interesting, man. (Laughs) I mean, I don’t get to go to open mics as much. I get to do some in Chicago. But that was a night off that I had in San Francisco. It’s a great comedy town. And you know that’s the thing with open mics. It’s just a wide range. It’s just an open mic. So you’re going to see people that, you know, pro comedians that are just working out new material, you’re going to see people, you know, that are fresh and new that aren’t any good. They’re still finding their shots on stage. But you’re going to find some people that are just doing the weirdest sh*t you ever seen. So I like just going there. It’s a fun energy at an open mic. I think they said that place in San Francisco shut down. But it was a real good vibe there. It was mostly comedians outside of four or five people there that were regular audience members or friends of the comedians performing. But the vibe there was real supportive and they laughed at each other’s stuff and it was just a good high energy. I enjoy it. Sometimes it can get grating, but that was a real fun open mic to go to.

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UPROXX: I know this is going to be kind of a broad question, but what’s the ultimate goal for Hannibal Buress, for your career?

HANNIBAL: The ultimate goal, I mean, I just want to put out great comedy. You know, to put out great specials and do good TV and do movies. I want to be remembered as one of the best of my generation. Like, that’s how I want to be remembered. And I want to get into a position — like a lot of actors — where once you get to a certain level you create your own production company where you start developing other people’s projects. So after I become more established I want to start helping out other performers, you know and helping them develop their projects.

UPROXX: Any good Tracy Morgan stories from your time working at 30 Rock?

HANNIBAL: No, man. I mean Tracy and I didn’t really cross paths too much I guess ’cause he was an actor and I was writing on the show. He was pretty chill when I got to deal with him. But sometimes, when an actor can’t make it to a table reading one of the writers will have to sub. So there’s been times when Alec Baldwin couldn’t make the table reading and (30 Rock producer/writer) Robert Carlock would run in and read for Alec Baldwin. So there was one time Tracy couldn’t make it and I had to read for Tracy in the table readings. I was real nervous about that. But it ended up going okay but I was nervous about how good my Tracy impersonation was.

UPROXX: That’s understandable.

HANNIBAL: Yeah ’cause I had a lot of lines then. Also I was thinking — cause you know I was writing but wanted to be an actor on the show — so I was thinking, “Oh man if I nail this Tracy impression, you know, nail this in the room, this might be my big shot right here.” So I got to nail being Tracy right here in the table reading.

UPROXX: Well I’m kind of curious. Did you ever or your agents or people representing you pitch to the SNL and 30 Rock people about putting you as an on air performer? ‘Cause I’ve seen you on Broad City and frankly you steal every scene that you’re in.

HANNIBAL: Well, at SNL I did make a pitch to be on air because I wasn’t getting any sketches that I wrote on the air. Somebody gave me some advice, they said that sometimes comedians or the writers have gone on as Weekend Update guests. So I pitched something to Seth Meyers. I said, “Hey can I get on camera?”, which is a pretty crazy thing to do, but I wasn’t getting any sketches on at all. Imagine going to your boss and saying, “Hey, I know I haven’t been doing my job very well and all but how about I do this other job. I want to do this.”

But you know to his credit he said alright. And we tried it at the table read. I wrote up the bit. It was me giving financial advice. So we put together this thing of me giving financial advice. And we did a table read and I actually did it at dress rehearsal, but it got cut from the show. But it was pretty cool to do. So that was my one chance of getting on camera at SNL.

At 30 Rock they put a lot of the writers in the show. And this one time there was a part for a homeless man that had just one line and they said, “How about we put Hannibal in it?” And after that they just kept on writing me in episodes. It was cool. I hadn’t expected it. They kept writing me in to the point where I thought it was comical. But it was cool and somebody put together a cut of all those scenes. It’s on YouTube now. So it was a real fun time at both of those jobs man. They were great opportunities.

UPROXX: You obviously have an affection for New Orleans. You’re a frequent visitor and you perform here regularly. But what made you decide to dedicate a chunk of new material to the city?

HANNIBAL: I’ve have a lot of fun in New Orleans. It’s a great party city and there’s good food and good music. And then the second line I talk about in the special was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. We had our own moving party and it was cool man. It was just fun and the music was great, people would join us and we had Bourbon and people were dancing. And it was just, it was a great time. And so since then I’ve come to the city often. I come for BUKU, fairs, Mardi Gras and just come to hang out and do shows there. It’s just a lot of fun.

I had fun doing these New Orleans jokes because the bit is, you know, it’s one of my few bits that’s not critical of something. Usually one of my bits is either me kind of being self-deprecating in the bit or me sh*tting on somebody in the bit or saying somebody’s dumb or this is dumb or I hate this or this is stupid. But this is a bit about just really having a good time and having fun. So that’s the reason why I enjoy doing it.

UPROXX: You know there’s been a lot of film and TV people who have moved to New Orleans in recent years. It’s become known as “Hollywood South.” Why don’t you just make yourself a home here? You’d have an endless supply of material.

HANNIBAL: You know, I dreamt about it recently. I dreamt about getting a house in New Orleans. But I think it’s best for me to keep as a place that I visit. Because it’s just me. I mean, I like eating and going to live music, and there’s endless amounts of that there. So it’s good for me to come to New Orleans every couple of months for a couple of days. That works for me. But living there would be completely bad news.


UPROXX: Why should America watch your new standup special, Live from Chicago?

HANNIBAL: For this special I’m just excited for this material to get out. I mean it’s just, you know, I think I’m just going, I think Animal Furnace was solid, but I feel like this material is better. I’m a more confident performer who’s got more experience performing. It’s just got some good stories in there and I worked really hard on the material as far as just really honing it and performing it and selling it. I got on an awesome jacket in my special that my girlfriend got me. It’s just an awesome jacket. I lost weight for it.

UPROXX: That’s great. Your girlfriend got you a nice jacket and you lost weight for the special.

HANNIBAL: I LOST WEIGHT FOR THE SPECIAL! I WORKED OUT FOR THE SPECIAL! But I gained all that weight back. It’s all back now.

(Live from Chicago airs this coming Saturday night on Comedy Central at 10pm EST. If you just can’t wait until then, the special is currently available for purchase on Comedy Central’s website for $5. This interview was edited and condensed for space.)

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Here’s Hannibal’s bit about hiring a second line in New Orleans, with animation added…

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