When we last spoke to Hannibal Buress in March of last year, he told us that he hoped to one day be remembered as one of the best comedians of his generation. It certainly seems in the little more than a year since then that he’s made great strides toward that goal. The New York Times noted this earlier in the year, labeling Buress someone who’s evolved from “cult favorite to star” after years of being a “supremely gifted and respected comic who has been on the verge of stardom for so long that he was at risk of getting stuck.”
In addition to touring regularly as a comic, Buress remains a cast member on Broad City and co-host of The Eric Andre Show, and has been starting to land prominent roles in a number of films. Perhaps most notably, he has his own new show, Why? With Hannibal Buress, which premiered Wednesday night on Comedy Central. We spoke to Buress recently about the show — before its first episode had been filmed, in fact — his stand-up act, and why he’s not interested in having a role in the Full House reboot.
Tell us about your new show. There were no advance screeners available for it, so I know very little about it other than it’s going to be hosted by you, and that it’s going to be a weekly show, and it’s going to be on Comedy Central.
Yeah, man. That’s pretty much all I got, man. It’s going to be man-on-the-street stuff. It’s just going to be a TV show with some public stuff, man. No real narrative or storyline yet. It’s going to be, hopefully, a funny show. I mean, I’m not being purposely vague, it’s just that we really haven’t filmed yet. We have some stuff that’s written that I think is funny. We’ve got some great writers on board. We’ve got a great director on board. We’re kind of working on the sly, man. That’s that. It’s just going to be a funny show, hopefully.
So, you’re kind of figuring it out as you go, I guess? It sounds like it’s going to be more like Chappelle’s Show than it is, say, like Larry Wilmore’s show or where there’s people sitting at a desk doing interviews and conversations and stuff like that.
Yeah, I don’t want to talk to people that much. I don’t want to talk with that many people. It’s hard to run a panel. I can’t do that. That’s too much heavy listening. That’s why they went from four [guests] to three [guests] on that show.
That’s true. Now that you mention it you’re right. They did cut down from four guests to three.
First of all, it’s tough to book four interesting people every day, and it’s tough to keep an interesting conversation going on with all of them.
Yeah, for sure.
They were like, “What if we had one less person. We would save money and we would all not have to book four people every day.” When it comes down to it you have to book four less people per week, 16 less people a month, and it makes your job a little bit easier in the show.
Something I’m personally curious about you. You no longer wear glasses. Did you get Lasik surgery or something? What was the decision there?
Yeah, well in the business you can fake like you wear glasses, but you can’t fake like you can see. If I need to wear glasses I’ll wear glasses. They’ll have glasses for me if I’m acting. If I don’t need to wear glasses they’re not going to have eyesight for me onset.
That makes sense.
And I don’t like contacts. I can’t wear contacts. I can’t even put contacts in my eyes. They tried to put these weird contacts in my eyes. They said my eye was too small. We had the hair and makeup lady, she was trying to put them in there and she just couldn’t.
Your eyes are too small for contacts? Really? I didn’t know that was possible.
Yeah. I’ve definitely had auditions where they’re like, “OK let’s try it without your glasses.” Then I’ll squint and try to see but that’s pretty much it because you can fake like you wear glasses, but you can’t fake like you can see.
Do you think not wearing glasses effects your standup performances at all? Has anyone ever commented to you that the glasses add a comedic element to your performances? Like, maybe you’re funnier with the glasses on?
Maybe, I don’t know. People are like, “I saw you on television with glasses, what the f*ck is happening right now?” Yeah, just like for the rapper that had braids, cuts their braids off and people are like, “Holy sh*t what the f*ck he cut his braids!” It’s just what people get used to after a while. I do actually sometimes wear glasses on stage and then I’ll take those glasses off because those glasses are fake. Then I throw those glasses into the crowd and then pull an exact same pair out of my pocket and then put those on.
Speaking of your performances, having a DJ on stage with you on your recent tour was something I thought was really really interesting. Where did that idea come from? Was that something you just always wanted to do, have a DJ performing as part of your set?
Years ago I had the idea. It’s not really unique — a lot of comics have DJ’s. Definitely a lot of black comedy shows have DJ’s. It’s just an energy piece. It creates a vibe.
When I played in comedy clubs the one thing I didn’t like was that I didn’t have control of the whole vibe and the whole experience. People come in because I’m headlining, but there’s some corny-ass music that I don’t like playing. Then there’s some whack-ass announcer going “Ladies and gentlemen welcome to our Comedy Club! Are we ready to have a good time? Make some noise!!!” Then there’s a host, “Next week we’ve got such and such coming.” I don’t want to hear that sh*t right before I go on. After a while it would be so jarring. I would go from a run of theaters or music venues where I basically had control of the vibe but then I’d do a comedy club in the middle and then that sh*t would happen and it would drive me crazy. Especially when you get used to a consistent situation and then it deviates, and you’re like, “What the f*ck is this, this sucks.”
That makes total sense, you can control the environment.
At one comedy club they play this crazy, dumb-*ss video before the show and I was like, “What the f*ck is this?” I said, “That video’s stopping, that’s not happening tomorrow night. The video sucks and I don’t like how it makes me feel so I assume that other people don’t like it either.” I’m a big music fan so I added it to my onstage before the show, to get people going a little bit. Then as far as the jokes it’s just funny to talk about different music things in my set. It’s an extension of what I feel with my friends and what I talk about with my friends. Early on I would just talk about a lyric on stage, “This rapper said this, and can you believe that.” It makes it more dynamic to have that actual lyric played there so people can hear exactly what you’re talking about, hear the artist say it. I like to do rap jokes. I want to do rap jokes in the way that somebody that knows that rapper can laugh and also their grandmother can laugh at it and get it in the same way. I think having the DJ there kind of makes it add production value. It just makes it easier for a general audience to grasp.
Tell me about Daddy’s Home, the movie you did with Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell that’s coming out soon.
I play a handyman that thinks Will Ferrell’s character is racist. That’s pretty much it. I’m just really showing my range as an actor — a handyman, a dentist, a cop…
Creepy guy in the park.
Creepy guy in the park. Homeless. I’m able to do a bunch of different things. Yeah, so we’re excited to see it come together because it’s been pretty cool that I have a movie come out. It was cool to work with those guys. We filmed in New Orleans and I was in New Orleans about two or three months, which was a lot of fun.
I read an old interview you did where you said that when you were kid you desperately wanted to be Stephanie Tanner’s boyfriend on Full House when you were a kid. There’s a reboot of the show coming. Maybe we can make this happen?
Oh, I don’t want to be a part of that.
You’re against the reboot, I take it.
I’m not against the reboot, but you’re talking about the dreams of an 11-year-old boy that were based on a TV show that he was a fan of at the time, that he doesn’t watch anymore at all. My dreams have changed, man. I’ve moved on.
(The first episode of Why? With Hannibal Buress can be viewed online here.)