You can’t tell by his slow, almost stoned drawl, but 2016 has been a busy year for Hannibal Buress. The 33-year-old comedian reprised his role in Comedy Central’s Broad City, voiced characters in multiple animated movies, released a documentary and comedy special on Netflix, and is currently on the road for his second national stand-up tour—The Hannibal Montanabal Experience—coming to Taft Theatre on November 11.
I really enjoyed your show Why?, especially the last few episodes, but I read that you didn’t think it was the right fit for you. Why’s that?
I don’t know if I’m just a host in that way. Maybe it was the studio aspect of it. There were parts of it that were fun. I enjoyed interacting with the DJ, bringing on musical guests, and some of the sketches we did. I haven’t watched it in a while, maybe that would give me a different perspective. I think it just felt a little unfocused and all over the place. We didn’t go in with a solid focus, vision, and kind of a mission comedically. We kind of figured it out as we went, which happens sometimes. We didn’t have a pilot episode; our first episode was the pilot episode essentially. They gave us a show with this new format and we were able to work from there. That’s that. It definitely did have its moments comedically, but overall I don’t think it represents me at my peak at all.
It seems like many comedians that have gone through similar experiences like you had with Why? and Unemployable, that it’s sort of a right of passage. What did you learn from them?
Unemployable I think should have made it on television. I just think that was focused and had a point of view. We had a set way of getting laughs in a few different ways where we had the stand up in there, we had my interactions with people, plus we add voice over that we can put in afterwards as we want. We had our moves established in that show comedically from the jump. It may not have went because they didn’t like it at the time or because of me tweeting it out that they picked it up, that surely might have hurt it also. I put that out afterwards and people connected with it and enjoyed it a lot. It’s the nature of the biz, man. You learn what you want to do and keep it moving. Now I’m just listening to other ideas, and if something organically comes up, I’m not actively sitting down at my desk, I gotta come up with a TV show now. But if something comes up that works and it fits me, then I’ll do it.
Is there any sort of different satisfaction you get from the different kinds of performing you do?
Most of the other stuff is just seeing the finished product…You do it, then you wait for a while and see all this beautiful animation put around your voice and other people’s voices who you didn’t do sessions with at all. It’s all edited together. It’s pretty fascinating to see that. I’ve gotten used to it over the past couple of years, but still I come from stand up, a medium that’s based on immediacy and getting reaction right away. Some of these projects take two years to come out. I joke on one of them, I think some movie took a year and a half, I said, “Man I could die before this comes out.” 18 months, that’s a lot of time for some bad shit to happen.
You talked in your Edinburgh documentary [Hannibal Takes Edinburgh, which was released on Netflix in April] about wanting to challenge yourself. That was filmed in 2012 and you’ve had a lot of success since then. Do you still feel that need to challenge yourself?
Yeah, but now the challenge is just in trying to put on a great show to do on the road and always give the audience my best. The Edinburgh thing, the main challenge in that is that in that festival, you perform at the same time, every day, in the same room. Obviously, Broadway actors do it and actors all around the world do it, but if you’re not used to that, it can be kind of jarring. Also, by yourself performing. It got to be, I don’t want to say it was driving me crazy but the monotony was rough. Even if you’re touring and doing the similar material, you get a new space, you get a different green room, you get to see a different city, you have a different restaurant you go to. So there are these other variables. Being in that same city was, for me, something that was tough. But there’s people that do that festival every year and put together a new show every year, man. But I also think they still go a little crazy two to three weeks in.
When you’re coming up with material, do you have friends you use as a sounding board or is it more working things out in clubs?
It depends. Sometimes, it’s both. Sometimes I’m telling a real story about something that happened and people are really laughing at it, Ah shit, maybe I should tell that on stage. Sometimes it’s just trying ideas at the club and then developing something else. It’s not just one way. Sometimes it’s something I overhear somebody say, just a stranger say something, man that was something really stupid or I see something that strikes a thought in me or a situation happens. So it’s both. I’ll bounce stuff off of friends that aren’t comedians, but if it’s just some weird thing that happens that I can’t stop talking about, then that’s what I’ll put on the stage usually.
With observational comedy, is it a burden having to pay attention to things in life all the time?
I wouldn’t say it’s a burden, but yeah my mind is a bit active. Trying to just always, constantly make sense of things and why people do things. Or looking at people’s body language, looking at my body language. I wouldn’t say it’s a burden, but the mind is very active. It gets even worse if I smoke weed. It can get uncomfortable, and just too much.
Do you have an audience in mind when you’re writing?
Not when I’m writing, no. It’s just whatever’s funny. Sometimes it’s jokes that will hit more with certain crowds, obviously. There’s rap references that might hit with a younger crowd. I have this joke about being at Queen Latifah’s house, playing Taboo, and my word was flip-flops. So I have to get my teammates to say flip-flops without whatever the words on the card were. My first instinct—I was a little drunk—I quoted, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this song by Future, but he says I just fucked yo bitch in some Gucci and then flip-flops. So that’s what I said. I said, I just fucked yo bitch in some Gucci and then nobody there really jumped on it. I’ve tried that joke in front of a couple different crowds. Sometimes it’s met with silence, and then sometimes it gets crazy laughter because it’s reference based. You have to know that song to know what I’m talking about. But if you know that song, and you know also the game Taboo, then that joke really will hit for you.