INTERVIEW: Comedian Hannibal Buress

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 28, 2012 4:15PM

2012_12_28_HANNIBAL_fullres_ZXW-3_(2).jpg Hannibal Buress performs 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Dec. 29 at Zanie's Comedy Club in Rosemont (MB Financial Park, Rosemont); 7 p.m. Dec. 30 at Zanie's Comedy Club in St. Charles. (4051 E. Main St., St. Charles); and 6:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. shows at Zanie's Chicago (1548 N. Wells St.). Buress is also one of the featured guests at this week's edition of The Paper Machete, 3 p.m. Dec. 29 at Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway Ave.). For more information on Buress's tour dates, visit hannibalburess.com.

The first thing I notice is the phone number with the Chicago area code. Hannibal Buress may have left the Second City for Brooklyn and better fortune, but he still lives and breathes Chicago.

Buress’ star has been on a rapid ascent ever since Variety magazine named him one of their “10 Comics to Watch” in 2010. He’s moved from being a staff writer on Saturday Night Live to writing for 30 Rock to his current gig on Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show where he plays straight man to host Eric Andre’s antics and performs comic interludes similar to themes he mines in his comedy routine.

Buress’s comedy act has grown by leaps and bounds since he started as a student at Southern Illinois University and has especially progressed in the two years between his debut album My Name is Hannibal and 2012’s Animal Furnace. He also still hosts a free weekly comedy showcase at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn when he isn’t on tour. “I’ll continue to do that as long as I can,” he said in an phone interview with Chicagoist a couple weeks back.

Even though New York is Buress’ home these days, he still makes frequent appearances in Chicago for gigs and to hang out with friends and family. Other topics we touched on included how his comedy style has progressed over the years, how hip-hop influences his comedy and what rappers could make the transition from music to comedy.

Chicagoist: When you return to Chicago for a gig or just to hang out, do you have a sense of nostalgia for the city?

Hannibal Buress: No. I make it back to Chicago often enough that I’m still familiar with the city. I like to hang out at my old spots when I was starting my comedy career. I’m excited for these New Year’s Eve gigs because they pay more.

Chicagoist: When you are back in Chicago, what are your typical haunts?

Hannibal Buress: If I’m playing Zanie’s I usually go to Old Town Ale House after shows. I hang out at Allende and Diner Grill.

Chicagoist: Do you have a certificate from Diner Grill for finishing the Slinger?

Hannibal Buress: No, I don’t get the Slinger when I’m there; I usually get a ham and cheese omelet. The hash browns are really good there.

Chicagoist: Do you go as much to catch up on things as you do for research for future additions to your comedy routine?

Hannibal Buress: Not really: these are just places I like to hang. These places are all spots I used to hit after gigs. Allende was right near Tonic Room, Old Town Ale House has been around for years and Diner Grill is just a chill place for some good food.

Chicagoist: How long will you continue to do the free weekly showcases at The Knitting Factory?

Hannibal Buress: I don’t know. Right now I enjoy the current format and someone’s always hosting if I’m not around. Who knows how long I’ll stay in New York. If I move, I’d like to keep it going in some capacity, whether it be weekly or monthly. Right now, it’s cool. It’s just around the corner from my place and I can use it to try out new material.

Chicagoist: How have you noticed your comedy progress since moving out to Brooklyn and in the years between the two album/DVD releases?

Hannibal Buress: The major difference is the experience that comes with performing and travel. You wind up with more things to talk about. The new album is more talking about my experiences than simple punchlines and jokes. My act now has become how I think about things and my perspective about things happening around me.

Chicagoist: You’re also a huge fan of hip-hop and. How do you incorporate that into your comedy? Is it a matter of flow or with the way you’re writing your jokes?

Hannibal Buress: I go to hip-hop shows mainly to pick up performance tips. I watch whatever I can and learn how to put on a better show. It influences the flow a bit; delivery is huge in comedy. You can say something one way, but if you find a different way to say it and you get a better reaction, that’s a plus.

Chicagoist: Are there any rappers who, in your opinion, could make a smooth transition from music to comedy?

Hannibal Buress: Redman is really funny. 2Chainz has a real funny delivery. I think Mos Def has the capability to be a good comedian. Phonte from Little Brother is another one who could be a good comedian. These are rappers who aren’t necessarily doing goofy songs, but when they talk to the audience between songs, they show a good sense of humor and delivery.

Chicagoist: Have any rappers ever responded to your comedy?

Hannibal Buress: I did a bit about Young Jeezy where he has a line in his song (“Lose My Mind”) about his house being so big his rooms have rooms and I say “Nah, Jeezy. Those are closets.” Somebody from Rolling Stone brought it up to him and he said, “Nah. His crib probably ain’t as big as mine.”

Chicagoist: The deeper you go into your comedy career, do you find yourself becoming less of a “Chicago-style” comedian and more of a “New York-style” comedian? Or does your location not matter?

Hannibal Buress: I don’t think there are styles, per se. I think my experiences translate wherever stage I’m playing.

Chicagoist: You’ve spoken before about there being a point when you moved to New York where you were homeless for a spell. Were there ever any doubts about the move during this period?

Hannibal Buress: Um, not really. It wasn’t because I was doing bad at comedy—I think I was more stubborn than anything. I was getting booked; I just wasn’t making enough money and brought that on myself. It was homeless by choice, more than anything.

Chicagoist: Have your experiences in New York made you a better businessman? It seems as though a lot of entertainers don’t pay as much attention to the business aspect of their careers as the creative process.

Hannibal Buress: I think so. The more you progress, the more you learn. I try to pay attention to ticket counts, draws, guarantees and bonuses. I look at my deals closely these days and try to come up with other projects and ideas, since this business is about creating content.

Chicagoist: How is the second season of The Eric Andre Show coming along?

Hannibal Buress: Fine. We’re also filming our New Year’s Eve Special right now. I have to read my script to see who’s going to be on it, but it looks exciting.

Chicagoist: How much detail and planning goes into each episode and how much of it is a collaborative effort?

Hannibal Buress: Eric, since his name’s in the show’s title, is heavily involved, as am I and other writers. There’s also a bit of improve that happens during the shoots that gets cut down. It’s a fun situation.

Chicagoist: How have your experiences as a staff writer on 30 Rock and SNL helped you as a writer?

Hannibal Buress: With both of those shows, you’re always on deadline and you have to create new content almost on the spot, figuring out how to polish an idea and make it ready for shooting. There’s a discipline that it’s given my writing.