Hannibal Buress has had an extremely busy year: He’s worked as a touring standup, drummer, golf cart driver, local restaurant reviewer, sports reporter, and regular on Broad City and The Eric Andre Show. Tonight, things are about to get even busier for Buress with the debut of his new Comedy Central series Why? with Hannibal Buress, so I recently spoke with the man himself about his latest TV role, how he leads a writers’ room, whether or not he’d consider a career as a dramatic movie star someday, and more.
The last time we spoke was a little over a year ago, so first off, how’s your year been?
It’s been fun. The tour was great. It was my first theater tour, so it was cool to travel to different venues than I’m used to, and I think I definitely grew as a comic because of it and my comedy has changed and adapted to performing in bigger rooms successfully. And it’s been a fun time being on Broad City and other comedy shows and my show coming out too. It’s been good to work consistently.
I think no other comedian has been a bigger YouTube hit than you this year. Seems like every video you’ve put out has been a success.
Yeah, I mean it’s good to have different kinds of content. And yes, a couple videos have gotten a decent amount of views, but I think it’s just cool to be able to show myself in different settings and hanging out and just engaging different people in a fun way. I don’t do a podcast, so I just try to put out videos. Not on a regular basis – I think we had a four-month gap in between putting out videos, but it’s just fun to put out different things like that. It kind of gives me a little bit of training in producing and figuring out what works, and also it helps me think of what kind of stuff I wanna do on my TV show.
Before I ask about the new show, I have to ask about the pilot last year and what happened after you said Comedy Central picked it up when they hadn’t. What communication was there between you and Comedy Central after that?
Uhh, not much. They just didn’t want me to have that show, which is fine. That’s totally fine. So that was pretty much it. I mean, it’s just business, so that all gets filtered through my representatives, that’s why they get paid. So it’s not like I got yelled at or something by them because I’m talent – you don’t really yell at talent, you yell at the manager. [laughs] But yeah, it was funny for me: They didn’t pick it up, but I got a show now. And I don’t know many people who said they had a show and they didn’t and then they still get a show at the network, so I’ll take that.
What’s the process been like figuring out the format for the new show?
We’re figuring it out as we go along. I mean, we’ve got a bunch of stuff filmed, and I know the first episode could be good. I feel real good about a piece we put into that. We have field pieces where I go out to different events and things like that, but they really just have given me free range to do what I think is funny. It’s been pretty cool to do that and form a show and pick the sketches and figure out what I wanna do, because it’s a position I haven’t been in before. I feel like my sketch writing has definitely improved over the past few years. We filmed a couple of my sketches already, and I think they’re really solid and will come together well, so it’s nice to write something and have it made, as opposed to other jobs I’ve had. [laughs] I know I’m speaking pretty vaguely right now, but I’m feeling really good about the show.
How’d you come up with the title? I guess I’m asking, why Why?
Why Why? One of our showrunners came up with it, and I like it because it’s nice, it’s easy, and it makes for easy interviews. We can just do a bunch of “why” questions instead of how some interviewers say “Okay, a lot of our readers don’t know you. Just tell me how you started doing standup comedy!” and I gotta explain how I started doing standup comedy over the phone while I have a fake gun fingers pointed to my head. So yeah, I think it’s a good title. We got good music, and I’m excited. Hiatus Kaiyote did our theme music. This is an exclusive. I didn’t tell anybody this yet.
You’ve brought in musical elements to your standup before – will there be a musical component to the show?
We might bring in musical guests on some shows when we’re short on material. [laughs] Maybe there will be times where we only have 18 minutes of material and need to fill another four – musical guest! Yeah, I think I’ll definitely have some musical guests and musical elements and explore music in the comedy a little bit. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t.
You’ve had a deal with Comedy Central for a while, so now that it’s culminated with this series, what have you learned from working with them?
Yeah, I mean – and I’m not saying this to dismiss them – but I don’t know if I learned much. [laughs] They’ve been good to work with, but I guess the learning is what comes with the experience of running a show, you know? There are different aspects to that I never really had to deal with, like what’s the setting of it? How do you want the office to look? Okay, you want a couple extras? What race do you want the extras to be? Do you want a white guy? An Asian lady? Even when writers are pitching me something, they’ll pitch it how they’ll write it but then in my head I’m able to shift it to where it works for me. Now that I’ve got a show, certain things that would just be a standup bit, now I try to visualize it and make the beats in my head of how it’ll work as a full piece and if there’s a way to cover that topic by interviewing people or by sketch.
It’s just a lot more tasks going on at once than I’d ever had to deal with as an actor or a writer. There’s casting, there’s picking the music, there’s the opening graphics, there’s set design, there’s picking bits, there’s writing, there’s field pieces, there’s promoting the show…so it’s kind of like this medium-sized business that I’ve got to work at for a while.
Do you enjoy it?
I do! I mean, it took some getting used to – just the workload and stuff. And I’m having fun, it’s not like I’m like “What the fuck?!” I just have to be a bit more organized, but I do enjoy it because it’s a new experience and now it’s happening pretty fast with the production schedule going into actual air. It’s very different and it’s cool to see.
Can you tell me a bit about your writers, and what a Hannibal Buress-led writers room is like?
There’s Frank Sebastiano, Jeff Stilson, Andy Blitz, Steve O’Donnell, Prescott Tolk, Charla Lauriston, Chuck Sklar, Hugh Moore. It’s pretty loose. We have a pitch meeting once or twice a week, and people pitch and we’ll talk about the pitches. If people like a pitch they pipe up and tag onto it, and then we got the writers jotting down all the pitches. Then afterwards me and Jeff meet and then we pick all of the pitches we like, and then we decide. That’s pretty much it. People might pitch stuff during the week or run something by me, and if I wanna do it I’ll say let’s go with it. But I kind of keep it chill and let everybody do their own thing. We work 10-7 and yeah, people come up with funny stuff. Before one pitch meeting I recorded voice memos on my phone with each person’s name and I had a bluetooth speaker so I played their name like “Next up, Prescott!” Maybe for today’s pitch meeting I might play intro music for everybody like a baseball game or something and everybody will have their own music before they go up.
Actually, you know what we did? We loosened up the pitch. Instead of going around and having each person pitch all their ideas, it’s kind of loose now and people just pitch throughout. I think that works better and opens up a conversation where we start talking about something else and then that might lead to a bit. And sometimes we just meet up in the writers’ room and talk and see if something comes up from that, so it’s pretty loose. Jeff handles the structural part of it as far as going and saying “Hey write this” and then we both pick the sketches and different bits.
Last year we talked about your first big movie role in Neighbors, so I wanted to ask you about how you prepped for your role in Daddy’s Home, since last year you gave me a beautiful story about how you shadowed Chinese police offers to get into character.
Oh, I’m sorry I lied to you.
Oh no, it was great. So what’s the new character?
My character is a handyman who thinks that Will Ferrell’s character is racist. That’s pretty much it, you know?
Are you interested in getting more movie roles? And would you ever want to give drama a try?
I’d have to take some classes to play drama. I was watching a piece we did just for editing, and it was me and an actor and there’s like 20 minutes of it we gotta cut down, and I was like “Man, I need to emote more.” [laughs] It was wild. I was looking real dead in the eyes right there. I’ve gotten different serious role auditions, and I’d think “This looks like something I would watch, but I don’t know if I wanna go to New Mexico and do this for three months. This looks like a great project, but do I wanna dedicate three months of my life to saying serious shit over and over again when I could be doing standup on the road and be going to concerts and shit?” I don’t know. I do like acting and I did another indie last year that just came out in the LA Film Festival called Band of Robbers. That was directed by Adam and Aaron Nee, and I did it last year probably in seven or eight days staggered over a few weeks, and it was cool to see the finished project. They did a good job editing and felt good, and that’s the thing with movies: It takes some time – at least a year. If it comes together well it’s cool to see, but the immediacy of standup is something you can’t really beat.
Why? with Hannibal Buress premieres on Comedy Central tomorrow night at 10:30pm.