Talking with Hannibal Buress About ‘Broad City,’ Preparing for Onscreen Roles, and His New Standup Special
Hannibal Buress has come a long way from being a writer for SNL and 30 Rock and sometimes a crazy homeless man, enjoying a steady rise to success as both a popular standup and hilarious supporting television player on The Eric Andre Show and more recently Comedy Central’s Broad City. His newest Comedy Central project, an hourlong standup special Hannibal Buress: Live From Chicago, airs on the network tomorrow night at midnight, so ahead of its premiere I talked to Buress about how his standup has evolved, his experience acting on Broad City and Seth Rogen’s Neighbors, his Comedy Central pilot, the power of “Hannibal’s Hands,” and how he thinks Scarlett Johansson will react to his joke about her.
Was it your decision to tape your Comedy Central special in Chicago?
Yeah. I think with a lot of people’s first specials, they shoot them in a block with other people — like my first special I shot here in New York at the Gramercy, and I think it was Pete Holmes, Todd Barry — but we all shot the same week at the same venue. And the latest batch Chris D’Elia and Neal Brennan, I think those all shot in New Orleans. And so I think with your second one you get to pick where you want to do it.
How do you think your standup has evolved over the past few years?
I think I’m telling more stories and talking about more true things that happened, and now if it’s something that I think is funny, I really want to try to make it work. So I’ll do a bit a bunch of times at shows to try to make it work — like even the joke about eating penguins, I kept doing it until I figured out the timing. So that’s all really just doing stuff that I enjoy and talking about things that have happened to me, and I’m doing bits that are a bit more — like when I was doing Animal Furnace there were more longform bits.
You use some musical cues in this new special. What gave you the idea to do that?
I talk about song lyrics a lot, so early in standup I always wanted to do a full show where it was just me talking about different dumb song lyrics with the songs cued up by a DJ and then commenting on them. But it’s just fun to have different elements in comedy and timed out stuff and bringing in different ways to get a laugh, and I just like doing it. So I tour with a DJ all the time and we do all types of stuff with music just because it brings a different energy to the audience and they’re sometimes not expecting it. It’s just fun cause I know I can do straight-up, bare bones standup, but what else can I bring to a show that gives people a different experience and makes them feel excited, like they’re getting their money’s worth? So I have dancers and sometimes costume characters and other people pop out before the set and things like that.
Is that kind of experimentation important to you, or is it more about just trying out different things?
Just having music and sound and stuff is not very revolutionary at all. When I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I got to see how a lot of different people approach their shows — a lot of people have sound systems that talk back to them or have prerecorded things, and it’s just about bringing in a different element of comedy. There is a limitation to just doing straight-up standup, so you can do a different type of bit if you just have a CD backing track or a sound cue — you can add an element to the joke that will enhance the joke.
Are there any up-and-coming comedians you’re a big fan of these days?
Well since we’re talking about the sound stuff, that reminded me of Sam Simmons, you know Sam Simmons? He’s out of Australia, and his show is just really crazy and trippy because he’s interacting with this track and there’s a narrative. He’s really cool and different. Michael Che is killing it right now, Jerrod Carmichael is really funny — we’re both in the Neighbors movie with Seth Rogen. There’s a lot of people killing it — Kyle Kinane is hilarious, Sean Patton, yeah. There’s a lot of people doing good shit out here.
Are you nervous and/or excited to see if Scarlett Johansson has any response to your joke about her?
I kinda was worried about that. I don’t know…that was the one thing I was worried about with the special, I was wondering if it was too name-droppy. But it was just a true story of what happened, so I hope she’s not offended by it.
I don’t think it was offensive.
[laughs] You don’t think it’s offensive? I come off like a creep though, right?
I think she’ll like it, but then again I don’t know Scarlett Johansson.
I hope so. I don’t know, we’ll see. I hope she does too, but if not, there’s lots of stuff to not like in life.
You’re awesome on Broad City. Is it assumed that you’ll continue to have a big role next season?
I think so, yeah.
What have you learned from playing a character in a show like Broad City?
You think I’m playing a character? [laughs]
I mean, you’re not a dentist.
I’m not a dentist, but I don’t have to do that much dental jargon, like I had to shadow a real dentist, like “How did you prep for the role?” “I went to dental school for a month, I really Daniel Day-Lewis’d that shit.” I mean it’s been fun, and they’ve given me a good opportunity with that character to come in and have some funny scenes. It’s not really a stretch with acting for me — the character walks in a similar way to me, I haven’t changed my walk or manner of speaking, but it’s been real fun and people seem to like that character a lot, just judging off of reactions when I’m out and about in the street, or even now when I’m doing standup shows, people are like “Dude you’re from Broad City!” like some people don’t even know that I do standup.
Do people call you Lincoln now?
I got that, people call me Lincoln and shit, which is crazy — for a show like that to connect that quickly — but it’s been fun and real cool that they got the second season order already, and I’m happy for them and happy to be a part of it.
So this special is part of a bigger deal you have with Comedy Central. Any updates on your pilot? You told us in October that you had a director attached.
Martin Scorsese. [laughs] Martin Scorsese is directing my pilot. His quote is pretty high — pretty insane quote after Wolf of Wall Street — but you gotta pay for the best. My pilot…we’re done, we finished it, edited it, did the sound and mix and all that. They’re doing a test screening tomorrow, and we’ll know in a couple of weeks or a month or I don’t know how long it usually takes, but we’ll find out if the show gets picked up.
What’s the pilot about?
My pilot is just me doing different jobs, a comedian version of Dirty Jobs. So it’s just me working at a goat farm, I worked at a diner, I worked as a fortune teller — just me doing different jobs and then we recorded standup with me talking about these jobs at the Knitting Factory. So there’s a reality portion and then the standup, and I narrate it too. It’s my first narrating gig.
When you made the pilot, what was the experience like being at the center of it rather than something like on 30 Rock —
— yeah, when I just come in and say some crazy shit then leave? It’s different — it’s just a different level of responsibility, because I’m involved in all these decisions with the show versus like on The Eric Andre Show where I just sit and am acting on these shows, whereas with my show I’m dealing with the editing and picking the music and what shots should we use, let’s cut this down, should we use this line, and even with the staffing of the show. We shot in New Orleans, and I had already contacted a local production there, so that type of thing — hiring people and dealing with the creative part too, then also being on camera. It’s way more involved than just acting; it’s fun but it’s a lot more responsibility.
When does the third season of The Eric Andre Show start taping?
May is the target. They’ve already been working in the writer’s room for a couple of weeks, but I think we’re shooting in May.
Before I ask another Eric Andre Show question, I just need to tell you that I love “Hannibal’s Hands.” It always cheers me up when I’m sad.
Oh yeah? I weirded out my girlfriend the other night cause she had never heard of it, and so she was laying down and I put on “Hannibal’s Hands” and then I started giving her a massage. [laughs] And she was like “What is happening right now?!”
That’s amazing. So now that The Eric Andre Show has become so popular, how do you think it can keep up with its very faux-amateurish, underdog style?
I really don’t know. I mean they’ll figure out a way, because it’s still a talk show but the way we do it is we’re not like Conan or Fallon where the people are being interviewed that day and then it goes on later that day. We’re doing this stuff in May, and I don’t think the show will air until probably August at the earliest. So we have that where we’re able to do a lot in editing and do weird stuff, and we edit so much so an interview might be an hour long and we only use a minute, and so if we got somebody for 45 minutes to an hour, we can definitely get some weird stuff going.
Has doing voiceover work on Chozen and China, IL helped your standup in any ways, in terms of delivery?
I don’t know. Maybe it has without me knowing it in the sense that when you do voiceover work, you go in and say something a bunch of different ways until they basically tell you to stop because they’ve got it, so you learn different ways of pacing and how to maybe hit this word hard on the first one, then maybe I’ll pause — so it has taught me you can say things and have it hit in different ways, and obviously delivery affects a joke. So it’s helped me learn how to experiment with words and phrasing and pausing and timing.
You appeared on Windy City Live back in January and ended up having to talk about Justin Bieber the whole time. Why do you put yourself through those daytime news show appearances?
Well you know, I didn’t know how that one was gonna be, I just do it cause it’s part of — I mean I don’t have to do it — but it’s part of the same reason I do interviews. I don’t go in expecting things to be horrible, I go in hoping legitimately for the best. I didn’t know it was going to be a panel, and I didn’t know they were all going to be condescending me like that. They called me hungover — I wasn’t hungover, but I definitely didn’t get a full eight, so I wasn’t sharp. If I was sharp, I would’ve lit they asses up for talking to me like that. That’s fine though — shit happens and it’s just whatever. I’ve learned from that, because the funny thing about it is they all come from their world and have their pace, like the guy asked me if I graduated high school after I already told him I went to college. And then they kept it moving, and so my first instinct in that situation — you know, when you’re a guest — is just politeness. But now I know next time that situation comes up with somebody slighting me like that, I would just shut everything down, like “Whoa whoa whoa, we’re not moving on yet” and just knowing you can take over. So I learned from it, and it’s funny. It just shows how weird people can be. And they went on and on about Bieber too, and I know he’s a big celebrity and he has to be addressed, but at least have some solid jokes about it or something structured and move along. But they just went on and on, and it’s like, Jesus Christ. I do wish I had went at them a little harder. It was weirder though just because that was my hometown too that they were that weird.
Neighbors is your first big movie role. Did you enjoy the process of acting in a film versus a TV show?
It was a lot of fun. It was a loose set, Seth Rogen was real cool, and Nicholas Stoller the director had a good style. You do stuff one or two times as scripted and then you can riff, and they might feed lines to you, and so it was a real fun process. I’m excited to see it, I think they already showed it at SXSW and it’s doing all right. Movies take a long time — we filmed that in May of last year and it’s premiering on May 9th, so the movie process takes a little while but it’s cool, and I’m just excited to see where that leads to as far as other work and if it boosts my standup and things like that. This is an opportunity for people to see my range — I play a cop, and I’m real serious about my job. I zoned in. I shadowed a cop for a month researching the role, I did ride-alongs — it was Shanghai Chinese police, actually — for the role. Out of my own pocket. I flew to China. Business class. And I followed around Chinese police just to learn for this role. I’m dedicated to this role.
Hannibal Buress: Live From Chicago premieres on Comedy Central tomorrow night at midnight.