The comedian on 30 Rock, juggalos, and Scottie Pippen’s stand-up career
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When The A.V. Club last spoke with Hannibal Buress, he was writing for Saturday Night Live, and having a pretty difficult time getting sketches on the air. Since then, he jumped back two days on NBC’s schedule to write for (and appear on) 30 Rock, and released his first comedy record, My Name Is Hannibal. He’s booked a seemingly endless string of road dates set up for the foreseeable future and is getting more and more (much deserved) recognition from the press, including the Chicago Tribune and Penthouse. Buress is returning to Chicago to headline a ridiculous number of shows at Zanies before going international for a few festivals. The A.V. Club caught up with Hannibal before his Zanies reign to talk about 30 Rock, juggalos, and Scottie Pippen’s new career.
The A.V. Club: Rather than playing a larger room for one or two nights, you’re playing 16 shows over two weeks at Zanies. Was that something you came up with?
Hannibal Buress: That was their idea, now I feel swindled! When you put it like that, I feel swindled into two weeks of work. [Laughs.] It’s going to be exciting; it should be fun to hang out at home for two weeks.
I’ve been working on a new set, so to be able to have that many shows and try out stuff in a situation where I won’t get fired will be fun.
AVC: So when you’re playing such a long string of dates in one area like this, you try to mix up your set and keep it fresh for yourself?
HB: I’m trying a few new things, but I’ll also do some stuff that works. I’ve got some new stuff that I haven’t done in Chicago yet that’s pretty solid and works, but I’ll also try a few new things. I’ll still be sure to keep it a good show.
AVC: Did you get to pick whom you’ll be performing with during your run in Chicago?
HB: I got to pick the openers. I’ve got Adam Burke opening one week, and Will Miles opening the other week. They’re a couple of Chicago guys.
HB: Well, both. It’s not either/or, sometimes, man. [Laughs.] I got those jobs because of the people that I knew, but I also want to do more acting, so I guess I’ve got to meet new people.
AVC: You don’t see yourself as an exclusively writing and stand-up guy? If a solid acting gig comes around, you’d be interested?
HB: Yeah, I mean, if it’s something that seems fun, I’m down with doing it. I want to take more acting classes, and maybe go to L.A. for pilot season and do some auditioning. Acting is fun; it’s easier than writing, and if you get on a [TV] show, it draws people to your stand-up. That’s ultimately what I’d like to do.
AVC: You’ve mentioned your difficulties writing for Saturday Night Live in the past. Did you find that 30 Rock better fit your style as a writer?
HB: I wouldn’t say it fit my style more; there are just more opportunities to get jokes in 30 Rock because everybody’s working on the script together in a room. There are so many opportunities to pitch jokes and storylines over the course of 23 episodes, whereas with sketch, you write a couple and then one of them gets on, maybe you can help with some people’s rewrites…. There are just more opportunities to get jokes in at a place like 30 Rock.
AVC: Has writing for 30 Rock influenced your writing process as a stand-up?
HB: Yeah, it has helped my act. We always figured out the perfect wording of the joke, working on the word economy. So that’s helped me tighten up stuff and figure out how to shorten things by cutting out words and linking things together. So writing there has definitely helped my stand-up a lot.
AVC: Are you planning on writing for 30 Rock next season?
HB: I’m not going to be writing on the show next season, but maybe I’ll be back as the homeless dude.
AVC: You played The Gathering Of The Juggalos last summer. How did you end up on that bill?
HB: My agency also reps Rob Schneider’s live booking, and they reached out to him. I guess he turned it down and they pitched it to me, so I went and did it.
AVC: From the looks of the mini-documentary, it was a pretty good time.
HB: It was a crazy place. The show went better than I thought it would. It was all right. I’m glad I got out of there before they started throwing shit at me.
AVC: Would you ever go back again?
HB: Yeah, I’d go back. It was good money. [Laughs.]
AVC: It’s pretty clear that you’re open to playing in all sorts of environments, from festivals like The Gathering or Bonnaroo, to smaller and straightforward comedy clubs like Zanies. Do you find yourself shaping your act around the setting?
HB: I don’t really change my act. I might change the order of things or do something specific for the crowd at the very beginning; I might do a couple bits about where I’m at. I’m in Indianapolis now, so I might talk about Indiana for a little bit, but beyond that—I mean, I do that to engage the crowd, to give them the idea that it’s not just the same show everywhere. At a music festival, I’ll talk a little bit more about music; I have a bunch of jokes about rappers. But I’ll also talk about rappers in my club set. I might lead with the rapper stuff in my music festival set.
AVC: You host Comedy At The Knitting Factory, a weekly stand-up show in New York. How involved are you in that production?
HB: I book every week. That show happened after I did opening night at the Knitting Factory in September 2009. They asked me if I wanted to have a comedy show there, and I said “sure,” because I live two blocks away and it’d be nice to have a show once a week where I don’t have to take the train anywhere. I could just walk over and try new material and have people that I want to see on the show. Since then it’s built up. It’s a free show, and it’s the only show in the neighborhood on Sundays. It’s got a reputation as a good show; it’s a fun time. People show up, and I really enjoy doing it.
When I was doing the last season of 30 Rock, I was doing it so much that I started getting tired of doing the show every week. I’m missing about half of them now with the road work I’m doing, so now when I get back it’s even more exciting for me to host the show.
AVC: Now that you’ve lived in New York for a few years, do you see yourself fitting in more with the New York comedy scene? Or is there still an allegiance to your hometown?
HB: Stylistically, or…
AVC: Well, where do you feel like you fit in more?
HB: As a human being? [Laughs.] What are we talking about, man?
AVC: Where do you feel most comfortable playing? What crowds do you feel you can best mesh with?
HB: I mean, I can play anywhere, but I’ll always have an affection for Chicago because that’s where I’m from. At this point, when I come back home to Chicago there’s going to be a crowd that’ll show me a lot of love. Any city can be fun; I love playing at home and I live in New York, and it’s fun to do shows where you live so…that’s your answer, man.
AVC: Who are some of your favorite Chicago-based stand-ups?
HB: Adam Burke, Will Miles, Oprah—I think Oprah’s going to hit it big. Scottie Pippen: He’s got some strong comedy. Did you hear that LeBron James/Michael Jordan bit he did? That was a good bit.
AVC: Any plans for a new record anytime soon?
HB: Yeah, I have plans to release a new CD and to record an hour special.
AVC: Is that going to be through Comedy Central, or would it be a standalone, independent release?
HB: It’s not confirmed yet, but it’ll be with someone, maybe Comedy Central. Maybe I’ll put it on the Biography Channel—I don’t know how their deals are. If the Biography Channel’s got a good deal, I might do it.
I might see if ESPN U would pick it up; I heard they’re buying stuff…. There’s your headline: “Check out Hannibal Buress’ new comedy special, maybe on ESPN U.”
AVC: What are your plans for the rest of 2011? According to your website you’ll be doing a ton of touring.
HB: You’ve seen my plans. [Laughs.] I’m just touring, man, trying to get a set together. I’m going to be auditioning for a lot of stuff and just doing shows. Doing shows and sitting in hotel rooms, eating some food, doing shows. Sitting in hotel rooms, eating food, hating TSA agents, renting cars, and, uh, repeat.