As a college student, Hannibal Buress never expected to be found on prominent IMDB pages. Instead, he was on his way to having a listing in the Yellow Pages.
If told he’d be a prominent actor and comedian then, Buress assumes he would’ve said, “What are you talking about? … I’m a business major.”
Buress went from studying at Southern Illinois University Carbondale to telling jokes, eventually writing for “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.” Later, programs like “Broad City” and “The Eric Andre Show” casted him in feature roles. He’s set to appear in highly anticipated films next summer such as “Baywatch” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
As part of his Hannibal Montanabal Experience stand-up tour, the popular comedian stops in Pittsburgh today, performing at 7:30 p.m. in the Byham Theater. Buress chatted with The Pitt News about finding his footing in the business, his writing process and his love for his hometown of Chicago.
The Pitt News: I feel like there’s a lot of pressure interviewing you as a student newspaper reporter with your bit [which chided Eastern Illinois University’s paper for a headline saying that he brought “diversity to campus”] — from “Hannibal Buress: Animal Furnace.” Does that still stand up as the worst student paper interview you’ve ever done?
Hannibal Buress: The interview wasn’t really bad. It was just me: I wasn’t as good of an interview at the time, so I was giving a bunch of answers that were kind of goofy, and I was joking. And [the writer] didn’t catch the tone. So it wasn’t the article. It was a mixture of things in how it came together. But it ended up being not a great article, which was partially my fault, with some of the quotes that were in there that weren’t from me and some that were from me. So it was not something that really is a focus of my stand-up anymore. I can’t really hang my hat on making fun of articles about me.
TPN: You last performed in Pittsburgh in 2014. Does it differentiate itself from other cities you perform in, or is it just kind of another stop?
HB: It’s a quick stop, just because of the schedule. But it’s a fun city — I enjoy hanging out [here]. I’ve been there three or four times. The people are cool. I enjoy Pittsburgh nightlife. I have no regular spots there — there was this one music venue I kind of like … I know a couple people there, the comic from there, Davon Magwood, I met him and he showed us around the city and took us to some good spots. It’s one of those cities that I’ve been to a bunch over the past. I think my first trip there was 2011.
TPN: What’s your writing process like for writing a stand-up show? Do you sit down and just put it all out, or is it more of a, “Hey, I just had this thought that would be kind of funny, let me write it down on my iPhone notes?”
HB: It’s not even both of those things. A lot of it is just stuff happening, and I might jot it down, but a lot of the stuff I jot down doesn’t end up being that good. A lot of the stuff that just straight up happens and I just talk about just kind of hits. Because it just kind of flows out naturally, versus me trying to put together something from scratch. A lot of stuff — even from my last couple of specials — initially, when I came up with them, I never wrote them down on paper. It was just, “Remember when that happened?” or, “Remember New Orleans?” “Oh, that happened here.”
Doing it on stage, you just kind of naturally remember it and where the laughs are, and then try it differently from there. I was supposed to write last night, but I ended up playing “UFC 2” for hours. You ever play that game?
TPN: I haven’t played it, but heard it’s good. I think I saw video of Conan O’Brien playing it once.
HB: It gets pretty intense, man, because I’m on career mode, and my guy was having a good career, and then things, they didn’t fall apart, but he lost some big fights. Yeah, I have to comeback. Like there was this one where I went for a takedown on this guy and he grabbed my head and put me in a submission. It can go poorly, very fast, on that game.
TPN: Obviously, this election, and our political and racial climate, has been ripe with commentary from comedians. Do you feel a duty to either speak out, or the opposite during your sets?
HB: There’s no duty, it’s no duty. I’m not a contracted worker. If you work on “The Daily Show,” or if you are Conan O’Brien or [Stephen] Colbert or John Oliver, then there’s a duty to do that. That’s what you do, you do political comedy. You have to talk about the news. But me, I’m an actor, I’m a stand-up, there’s no duty. I owe that to my audience — to talk about what I want to talk about.
TPN: What do you get recognized for on the street the most at this point: stand-up, “Broad City,” “The Eric Andre Show” or the homeless guy from “30 Rock?”
HB: Well sometimes you can’t tell, you know what I mean? Like, if someone just yells, “Hannibal Buress,” I don’t really know what that’s from. People do say, “Ah, I love you on ‘Broad City,’” a lot. And “The Eric Andre Show” is on right now — I think it’s the most watched season — so it’s a lot of that also. And there’s a lot of overlap between “The Eric Andre Show” and “Broad City” people. And I think those people have sought out my stand-up. It’s interesting, man. It’s a bit of a fragmented career. Some people just know me from a movie and are like, “Is that the cop from ‘Neighbors?’” Because I’m kind of low-key guy when I’m out and about — I’m not really a flashy person, so sometimes, I can kind of glide by people, be amongst people.
TPN: Even when you started doing stand-up, was acting in movies something you’d envisioned?
HB: Not really. I just wanted to work. At that point, starting out, I just wanted to do stand-up … In 2009, I got an agent. And this was before I started writing on “Saturday Night Live.” They set up general meetings. So you go to [Los Angeles] for a week and they set up all these meetings with casting directors or producers or network people. And it’s general meetings, they just meet you, and you talk. “What’s your story, what do you want to do?” And I would just say, “I want to do stand-up.” But they didn’t give a f***, because at this point, they were like, “Do you want to produce a show? Do you want to write a movie? Be in movies.” And I just kept saying I wanted to do stand-up. And I didn’t realize at the time that they were probably thinking, “This is a waste of my goddamn time.”
At that point I didn’t really think I had it in me to act in movies. That was foreign to me. And I would audition, and it would go poorly. And I would just think, “Nobody wants me in their movie.” So I was just focused on stand-up, and eventually it just kind of progressed to where people put me in stuff. I started figuring it out a little bit and learning how to do things a little better and learning what I do on camera and my different moves and got better at it, fortunately.
TPN: What was the most uncomfortable bit you’ve been a part of on “The Eric Andre Show?
HB: As far as interview, they had the studio very hot, very hot. I don’t know if you can notice this season but I’m sweating a lot of the time. They bring in the makeup woman — Golden would come on set every eight minutes to dab my face off. It was just so hot. As far as uncomfortable, after awhile, I didn’t really get uncomfortable because it’s part of a job.
I mean [Eric] shows his d*** too much. As much as they show his d*** on the show, multiply that by like 15, in terms of how much it’s out. I’ll be like, “You’re going for that a bit much … come on, grow up.”
There was one sketch I wrote in the first season called, “Who Can Get A Stranger To Let Us Hold Their Baby.” I came up with that idea, and when I got out [on the street], I went, “I don’t want to go up to a stranger and ask to hold their baby. It’s weird.”
TPN: The city of Pittsburgh obviously isn’t too fond of them, but as a Chicagoan, how crazy do you think the city would go if the Cubs pull off a World Series win this fall?
HB: I don’t know how crazy it would be downtown. It would probably be crazy in Wrigleyville, the neighborhood where the park is. The city would go pretty crazy for the Cubs winning the World Series, it would be wild. It was something that I didn’t think would happen. It was always, “Maybe next year.” And I remember, people were even saying this year, “Next year, next year is really going to be the year.” And I’m just a casual baseball fan, so I can’t speak to it really well. I know, I forget his name, but someone who was really good got injured at the beginning of the year got injured for the entire season.
Yeah, Schwarber. Joe Schwarber?
HB: Kyle, Joe, same vibe. He was a .300-something batter and got injured at the beginning of the season and they still won 101 games so far. So that’s pretty crazy. So I’m excited to see it. I’m a bandwagon fan, when we start winning, I’ll support them.
TPN: As a rap aficionado and Chicagoan, who’s your favorite Chicago rapper at this point in time?
HB: This weekend I got to be a part of Chance The Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring event, we performed at U.S. Cellular Field [in Chicago]. I got to do stand-up there. I performed in front of my biggest crowd ever. That was great. Vic Mensa is amazing. Noname just put out a great project called “Telefone.” Mick Jenkins is outstanding. Tree is great. Saba. There’s a lot of great Chicago music. I mean those, are the newer people. Obviously, Kanye [West], Common, Twista. You know, Chicago hip-hop, I’m super biased.
TPN: Last Chicago question: Over/under 50 wins for the Bulls this season?
HB: That’s funny, did you listen to my other interviews about this? In other interviews, I’ve talked about this, and I’ve placed them in the 48-52 range. So yeah, I would even call for the push. It’s gonna be in that 48-50-ish range.