Hannibal Buress talks ‘comedic jokes,’ writing for television

An interview with Hannibal Buress is an intimidating prospect — after all, he eviscerated an article published by The Daily Eastern News in 2009 during a Comedy Central stand-up special in 2012. In the special, Buress mocked the piece for racist undertones and for describing his humor as “comedic jokes.”

Interviews with college newspapers are “a little mentally taxing” for Buress, who is stopping at the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall in Munhall, Pa., this Sunday on a tour spanning the U.S.

“But I try to remember that comedy is not real work, so I do what has to be done,” Buress said of the constant press coverage.

You might know Buress from his stand-up routines, which he started performing while attending Southern Illinois University Carbondale, his co-hosting gig on Adult Swim’s “The Eric Andre Show” or his role as the affable Lincoln on Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” in which he plays an easygoing pediatric dentist who has romantic feelings for Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer), one of the leading characters.

His involvement with television seems to be a product of keeping good friends — Buress said Glazer and co-creator Abbi Jacobson asked him to join the “Broad City” pilot after working with him in New York City comedy circles.

Buress spoke with The Pitt News over the phone about his joke styles, his work in New York City and stint as a homeless guy on NBC’s “30 Rock.”

The Pitt News: You started performing stand-up during college. Was that type of atmosphere encouraging?

Hannibal Buress: Starting in college was different from if I started right away in a big city. There were issues that I was able to touch on just from being a college student … dealing with professors, security, cafeteria food. I wouldn’t call it cheating, but it was easier stuff that I could go into starting out. What I knew was just being a college student. I didn’t have any life experiences beyond that.

TPN: How much of “The Eric Andre Show” is structured with scripts and how much is improvised? “Broad City?”

HB: The bits are structured and the segments are structured, and a lot of time we improvise within that structure. Sometimes we’ll riff for 30 minutes and pick stuff out. It’s only an 11-minute show, and a lot of stuff is edited, and some of it doesn’t see the light of day at all. [“Broad City”] is mostly scripted, and there are some improvised moments.

TPN: You wrote for both “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live.” When did these jobs come about for you?

HB: I moved to New York City in 2008. I moved there because there are more opportunities [there] in comedy. I wanted … to get better at comedy. I moved to New York for the chance to do those things. “SNL” popped up … I did a stand-up set on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and was hired by “SNL” after that. Then, I moved to write for “30 Rock.”

TPN: I loved your role on “30 Rock” (Buress played a recurring role as homeless man while he worked as a writer for the show). How’d that come about?

HB: During the table reads, you’d have your main roles and sometimes you’d have guest roles that weren’t cast yet, so when we had roles that weren’t cast yet, writers would read them out. So there was the homeless man who says, “Get a room! Whatever that is.” And they were deciding who should do it, and they were thinking about casting, so Robert Carlock (“30 Rock” producer) said, “have Hannibal do it.” I thought it was a one-time thing, but the writers included it again as a joke.

TPN: Sometimes, your jokes tend to lean on the meta side, like the one with the “power of threes.” Do you like doing that? What do you do to maintain a balance?

HB: I think it’s funny to joke about comedy sometimes, but I don’t lean on that much, but I make it quick. I like making those jokes, but it’s more like a joke for me. I do a lot of things in my set that’s more for me … I’ll add a few lines that get laughs, and even if they don’t, I’ll keep saying them.

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