Comedian Hannibal Buress Tackles Every Medium to Get Fans to See Him on Stage

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COURTESY OF HANNIBAL BURESS
  • Courtesy of Hannibal Buress
For comedian Hannibal Buress, all roads lead back to stand-up. Whether he’s starring in a supporting role in a new movie with Ed Helms and Jeremy Renner or interviewing Jon Hamm on his podcast or delivering dry quips on TV shows like Broad City, Buress is hoping all that work will get viewers and listeners into the comedy clubs to see him perform.

On Sunday, September 16, Buress will see how his multi-platform career strategy is working in San Antonio when he takes the stage at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. The Current caught up with Buress this past weekend to talk about everything from basketball to his busy film career to an incident that happened earlier this year where his mic was cut off mid performance.

Prior to our interview, the Current agreed not to ask Buress questions about Bill Cosby, a topic of conversation that has come up ever since he revived rape allegations against the legendary comedian during a stand-up routine that went viral in 2014. Cosby was convicted of sexual assault five months ago.

You’re a fan of the NBA, specifically your hometown team the Chicago Bulls. I’m here in San Antonio. What did you think about how the Kawhi Leonard drama wrapped up this summer? Did we get screwed?
I wouldn’t say screwed. There’s probably a lot of different nuances to that situation than we know. We don’t know everything. There was pressure involved. But [DeMar] DeRozen is a great player, too. I’m just excited to see how the season goes.



Are you a baller yourself or do you just like to play the video games?
Yeah, I don’t really play in real life. I’m better with the games.

Jimmy Kimmel recently played a one-on-one basketball game against Texas senator Ted Cruz. Is there anyone in politics you’d like to dunk on?
Ah, I didn’t see that.

Yeah, it wasn’t a great game. Cruz won, but it took them two hours to get to an 11-9 final score.
Really, it took two hours?! Ah, they’re trash. Both of them are trash. That’s unacceptable. Were they only shooting jump shots? Was no one going to the hole?

They were driving to the hole, yeah, but it wasn’t pretty.
Ah, trash.

The world has changed a lot since your last comedy special debuted in 2016. How does your comedy today reflect where you are now in your life?
It’s just me talking about how I feel about a lot of different situations and telling stories.

Do you get into politics at all or do you think that kind of comedy is overdone these days?
I talk a little bit about it. I try to find different angles if I can link to the political landscape, but it’s not a real focus of mine. It doesn’t take up a lot of the show. I’d rather just talk about me.

I think part of what makes you a great comedian is that you sometimes make people uncomfortable. As a comedian, is that something you do consciously – for example, what happened earlier this year at your show at Loyola University? (Note: Buress’ mic was cut when he broke the Catholic university’s pre-established rules and joked about priests sexually assaulting kids).
With the Loyola situation, you’d have to ask people [who were there] if they were uncomfortable. The decision to cut off the sound was made by one person. It wasn’t the audience voting. You know what I mean? I don’t think it was that crazy of a point. It happened to be during this show where they had these restrictions. But the students didn’t vote on the censorship. It was someone in the administration that did that. I left, but the students never left the building. I was driving away and my agent called me and said, “[The students] didn’t leave. You can come back and finish the show with no interruptions.” People don’t have to be comfortable all the time, I guess.

The most important thing is that you make people laugh, I guess is what you’re saying.
I just try to put on a good show and have it be a fun an interesting time.

You have such a dry sense of humor at times. You don’t strike me as a comedian who feels the need to always be on when not on stage. Would you say that’s true?
Yeah, I’m not on all the time. That would be exhausting to do that. Well, I wouldn’t say exhausting. I mean, I feel funny, so I wouldn’t need to push that constantly.

So, if you’re hanging out with your family on Christmas, they don’t expect you to make them laugh?
No, that would be weird if everyone was doing that. It’s Christmas. It’s not about me. It’s about baby Jesus. (Note: Buress is a self-described atheist.)
COURTESY OF COMEDY CENTRAL
  • Courtesy of Comedy Central
What does the stage give you that movies, TV shows and podcasts don’t? Do you still get that same feeling after doing this for 16 years?
The stage provides immediacy. All of those other things provide something that other mediums don’t. I started with stand-up and other opportunities popped up from that. With stand-up, you can come up with ideas the day of or right there in the moment. You can try anything and see how it works and get feedback like that. It’s about the autonomy. It’s about what I want to do. It’s my show and there’s not as many moving parts as a movie or as a TV show.

What about your podcast, Handsome Rambler? You’re on your 58th episode, so it seems to be going pretty well, yes?
The podcast is such a freeing medium. You don’t have the restrictions of an audience or the expectations of having to get a big laugh every minute. You can try different things and be more experimental and goof off and have fun. Hopefully, you can draw people to the live stand-up show from the podcast.

How much do you think your breakout into more film roles in the last 3-4 years is a direct result of your success on shows like Broad City and the Eric Andre Show?
I mean, I can’t pinpoint exactly if that’s the case. I think some stuff has come from Broad City or having a presence in other movies. Work begets work, so if you do something people like, then it kind of helps the momentum.

In the last four years, you’ve had roles in at least 11 films that have had wide theatrical releases. What are you looking for when it comes to movie roles and are you worried moviegoers might feel a Hannibal overload?
(Laughs) I’m not in these movies for that long. I’ve been in a few. That’s a question for a different type of actor.

Yeah, that last part of my question was supposed to come off as facetious, sorry.
Oh. (Laughs) I’m fortunate. It’s fun to be a part of a lot of big projects. Ultimately for me, it’s about showcasing my skills in those projects get people to come see me do stand-up. It’s a calling card for that.

You sell a shirt on your website with a random photo of yourself printed on it. It looks like you’re at a club or something. Who is the guy behind you looking your direction and why didn’t you just crop him out of the photo?
That’s [stand-up comedian] Matt McCarthy. That was taken at the ECNY Comedy Awards in 2008 or 2009. I just thought it was funny. I always liked that picture. It was my profile picture back then. I think [the photographer] told him to make an angry face. I like the photo because I have this lean going on where I look cooler than I am. I decided to make it into a t-shirt, why not?

Is Matt happy that he is part of your official t-shirt design?
I mean, it’s not like [the shirts] are flying off of the shelves. (Laughs) I sell some at the shows, but it’s not super crazy.

$29.50-$55, Sun Sept 16, 8pm, Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Auditorium Circle, (210) 223-8624, tobincenter.org

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