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Comedian Hannibal Buress on His New Day Job Writing for SNL

Back in March, Hannibal Buress was one of ten comedians New York told you to watch. Since then, he’s proven us prophetic, becoming one of the scene’s best with his minimalist delivery and a series of finely constructed staple jokes. (We won't butcher them for you, but check out his racism-and-apple-juice joke here and his surplus-of-pickle-juice joke here.) He starts a weekly Sunday residency at Knitting Factory’s new Brooklyn location November 15, which may be the only place you can catch him for a while — otherwise, he’ll be keeping busy as a member of Saturday Night Live's writing staff this season. Vulture talked with Buress about performing in the city, landing the SNL gig, and after-after-parties.

How long have you been doing comedy? When were you able to quit your day job?
I’ve been performing for like seven years, since when I was in college at Southern Illinois University. I really didn’t have a regular job — I would do promo stuff, passing out samples. Temp gigs. Promoting a product and stuff like that at different events; giving out free Coca-Cola, free energy drinks. You get to see the worst in people. People become just like savages. Can I have more?! Try to rip the bag off you and stuff.

You moved to New York from Chicago a year ago. How difficult was it to work your way into the scene?
I don’t really perform at comedy clubs. I perform at Comix a little bit, but for the most part I’m just doing shows at bars and music venues that are mostly produced by other comedians. So with those you just have to know people. But doing stuff in the comedy clubs, it’s a whole different thing — you have to hang out there forever, and a bunch of other stuff.

You already have some well-known jokes — are you worried about overexposing those?
I kind of just write a bunch. I write a bunch of stuff here at the job, and a lot of it doesn’t end up getting used! A lot of the topical stuff doesn’t end up getting used. It is a couple bits that I’m tired of doing. There about three jokes that people really respond to a lot. I feel like I’m overdoing them. Every comic has that, but sometimes you feel like you have to.

A lot of your jokes are structured as personal stories. Did most of them really happen?
The apple-juice joke is true except I didn’t yell at the old guy about having Hormel chili. And the pickle juice, also true, but I didn’t threaten my roommate’s lizards.

On to SNL — I read that you were hired immediately after doing the Jimmy Fallon show in August. Is that how it actually went down?
Yes, that’s how it happened. The producer for Fallon was a producer for SNL. Also, one of the announcers for Fallon is a producer at SNL. So everything is in the same building, they’re all in contact with each other, and they recommended me for the job. They just offered me the job based on my stand-up.

What’s your schedule like now?
It depends on the day, but usually you can get in when you want. Everybody gets in around three or so, though. Tuesday is the writing night; you might stay overnight. It’s not necessary, but if you wanna get a lot of stuff in … I ended up staying overnight last week just because it was taking me a while to write. Sometimes it’s hard to get motivated. And then it’s like, “Oh shit, it's two in the morning.” The schedule is okay with me. It’s not many good jobs where you can be up till 6 a.m. and still make it to work, and have a good night’s sleep.

Were you a big SNL fan growing up? Was this one of your career goals?
It wasn’t one of my goals. I was interested in writing for a show, but I didn’t think I’d get a job for this show. It was really surprising. I just was taking a class at the PIT — I took the sketch-intensive there ... they’ll appreciate that plug. That’s what really makes it … two months ago I was in a sketch-writing class. And so to have that jump from being in a sketch-writing class to writing for SNL is really crazy. I’m still learning the format, but everyone is really helpful. If I write up a script I can give it to one of the more experienced writers and they’ll give me notes. Everybody wants everybody else to do well.

Were you nervous before your first day? Couldn’t sleep, or anything like that?
It was about nine or ten days between me finding out and going to work, and I was excited to go to work just so I could find out whether they were fucking with me about the job.

How are the parties?
Nice parties. You know, they have the after-after party. It was at this one place in the East Village. It was like, five thirty in the morning. I was like, I need to go home. I do not need to be out this late.

Photo: Mindy Tucker