This Sunday, May 20th, is going to be big for Hannibal Buress. At 11:00pm, his hour special, Hannibal Buress: Animal Furnace, premieres on Comedy Central and then 30 minutes after it finishes, at 12:30am, The Eric Andre Show, for which he is the co-host, premieres on Adult Swim. After years of being the most buzzed about comedian by everyone from Chris Rock to Eugene Mirman to many powerful people in show business to any fan of comedy, the buzz is finally going to reach an unavoidable volume. I don’t know Hannibal personally but my first reaction is pride.
That’s because with one off-hand joke, Hannibal changed my life. I always really enjoyed watching stand-up as a kid but the interest waned after I graduated college. I was trying to work in music so if I was going to a venue, it wasn’t to see someone crack jokes. But then a friend invited me to Comedy Death Ray (now Comedy Bang! Bang! Stand-up) at the UCB LA. Hannibal was the first act and after a chunk about the film Paranormal Activity, he started to talk about ordering fish at a restaurant and being served a whole fish. The punchline, as I remember it, went something like “Why are there bones in this? I am not Heathcliff. This is not a trashcan.” It destroyed me. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. Yeah, it’s a simple reference but it was, as I’ve since learned, just so incredibly Hannibal: trenchant, irreverent without losing focus, hilarious. It sounds cheesy to write, and feel, but that one joke renewed my interest in comedy. For that, I’ve felt connected to Hannibal ever since.
And in that time since all he’s done is evoke similar reactions in people. He got jobs writing for SNL and 30 Rock because very funny people saw him perform and realized how very funny he was. It’s the same reason Jonah Hill wanted to work with him to develop a pilot for Fox and why he won the Best Club Comic award at this year’s Comedy Awards.
For Hannibal, it all just goes back to stand-up. Every break he gets or milestone he has, he appreciates insomuch as it helps people see his stand-up. Because when he’s on stage something special happens, as more people will see on Sunday than ever have before.
I got to speak to the ever humble Hannibal about stand-up and how he feels during the calm before his career’s ensuing storm.
First things first, congrats on winning the Comedy Award for Best Club Comic. How did it feel to win that?
It was cool. I mean it was awesome to win that award but I don’t think I’m the best club comic at all. But it draws more attention to my comedy and I’m happy to be recognized. Ultimately, I just want more people to see my comedy and the award does that.
You’ve been touring a lot this year, spending almost eight months straight working the clubs. How would you say that much time on the road has influenced your stand up?
You just get better when you’re performing on the road. It’s just like anything, you’re doing it a lot and you’re doing it better. Performing for all types of crowds all around the country and all around the world, you get better. You learn and your act just gets tighter. That’s how you grow as a performer, doing hour-long sets everywhere. I love doing comedy in New York too but I’d rather be able to stretch out my hour. When I’m in New York it’s just like I’m bumming around doing sets and hanging out.
Before this year, you came from a season working on 30 Rock and a season working on SNL, would you say that there’s anything that you learned on those shows that you apply to your stand up now?
I mean, when you’re working on a show and when you’re a writer, it helps with joke writing. Learning how to churn out jokes and learning how to be able to write better. It made me a better writer.
You were featured pretty recently on a 30 Rock episode, how was that? Did you enjoy having a bigger role on in it?
I hated that shit, it was awful. [Laughs] Naw, it was pretty cool man. I didn’t expect it. They just called me in and were like, we wrote you in a few scenes, and that was nice. It’s fun working on that show. It’s nice acting and just coming in and having stuff written for you already. Like, “Hey, you say this.” All right. So, yeah it was fun to do those scenes and I’m glad people liked it. Only people who liked it reached out to me. Nobody reached out to me and told me they hated it. I’m glad that the people that did hate it didn’t saying anything to me. So thank you to them also.
You’re working on a pilot for Fox now with Jonah Hill. Can you tell me anything about it? Do you have an idea of when you’re going to shoot it? The fall?
I think so; we wanna try and get it in midseason. All that stuff is not concrete right now. I don’t want to talk about the idea too much because it’s not done.
Something that is done. You’re the co-host on The Eric Andre Show, premiering this weekend on Adult Swim. How would you kind of describe your role on the show?
I’m the co-host and I basically shit on him and tell him he’s horrible and I’m the voice of reason. Sometimes we go back and forth. It’s a weird show, man. It’s a weird, wild show. He’s a maniac and I just comment on the weird stuff happening around me.
How much creative influence did you have on the show or did Eric just come to you with this idea of what this role would be?
Eric came to me with the idea already formed but I improvised most of my stuff. Probably 80 or 90% of it, unless it was a written bit for me. I also wrote little bits on the show. I wrote bits that I didn’t even appear in. So yeah I had a big hand in it. It should be a lot of fun.
And that premieres the same night that your one-hour special does. I had always heard that you had been approached to do a half hour special and turned it down because you wanted to have an hour, what was the main reasoning behind that?
Well, it’s not like I didn’t have anything and turned it down. I had a bunch of stuff that was on Comedy Central already that I felt was equal to a half hour. I had done Live at Gotham, Awkward Comedy Show, two episodes of John Oliver’s show, and Comedy Central Mash-Up. That was a lot of material that was already on Comedy Central so I felt like the half hour was a step that I could skip. And if not, I would just wait until something else happened. I felt like I had put enough on Comedy Central – that those five or six things were my half hour. I was like, look I’ve done all of this already, let’s just chalk that up.
Yeah, definitely. But was it partly that you really wanted to have the hour out there because a half hour couldn’t best exemplify you?
Yeah, I mean an hour is just a longer amount of time. [Laughs] You get to talk for longer so that was the move that I wanted to do. I’m already doing an hour out on the road so I just wanted to do an hour special. That’s what I really wanted so I was willing to work on it and wait for it.
So what does having a one-hour special represent to you? What does it represent for where you are in your career?
It’s an hour special and as a comedian that’s a big thing. All of the top comedians have done a special so it’s a milestone. You want to do several hour specials, if you have the opportunity to. It’s just a snapshot of where you were comedically at that time. And you get to show an extended set of yours to the world, which is something I haven’t been able to do yet. I have been able to tour and I’ve done ten or fifteen minutes and some of the late night sets or the extended sets, but never something like this. It’s really exciting.
I was actually at one of the tapings. I’ve seen you perform for a while and I was kind of surprised how much your act has evolved. Like you act things out more, you raise your voice a little bit, you tell more personal stories. Did you notice your personal style evolving? And what would you credit that to?
Well, I think it’s from performing a lot. In the special, instead of just trying to write jokes, I’m just talking about things that actually happened to me and what I think about them. I think my first CD was more jokey, in the sense of just going into weird scenarios. It’s being a more seasoned performer and touring constantly. From touring you really learn how to sell a joke. Some jokes require more energy. It’s just about different things. Like you tell a one-liner differently than you tell a story, differently than you talk about drinking.
So this is a big month for you, with The Eric Andre Show and your special and your comedy award. Have you had time to reflect on where you are and how far you’ve come?
It’s an exciting time. For the special and for The Eric Andre Show to premiere on the same night is really crazy. And so I’m having fun, I’m having a party on Sunday and sort of screening both of them. It’s an exciting time. The goal is just to draw more people to my stand-up. So now the main thing is, because my special will be out, I have to write more new material. I’m headlining clubs and spots so I have to get another show together. I’m going to Edinburgh this year, I’m doing an hour there, so I’m just going to get my stuff together and sort it the fuck out. Hopefully, I’ll record another special late next year, which would be two years in between recording them. I’m really excited about everything.