Hannibal Buress: "Bombing Can Be Good"

Categories: Comedy

Photo: Juile Seabaugh
By Julie Seabaugh

In his second special, Hannibal Buress: Live in Chicago, the laid-back comic relates the story of throwing a bachelor party in New Orleans. "One of my friends said, 'Hannibal, you should hire a second line band to follow you through the streets,'" he recalls. "Basically in New Orleans, for $300 you can have your own parade on a day's notice!" Soon alcoholic beverages and the police become involved, and Buress decides to throw himself a parade every week.

Not that the 31-year-old Williamsburg resident suffers from a lack of attention. Chicago debuts on Comedy Central Sunday, March 29, and the former Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock writer currently co-stars on Adult Swim's The Eric André Show and pops up regularly in Comedy Central's Broad City. He'll also appear in May's Seth Rogen/Zach Effron-starring film Neighbors.

The evening before he offered SXSW audiences a sneak peek, Buress sat down to discuss the special, the benefits of bombing and his love for the New York comedy scene. Then the following night he concluded his post-film Q&A by leading a six-piece band around the theater, out through the Alamo Drafthouse lobby and onto the chaos of 6th Street. As Buress confesses in Chicago, "Don't worry, you're just watching a man living out his dream."

See also: AUDIO: Andrew W.K. and Wu Tang Clan's Masta Killa Tell Road Stories

Watching your comedy evolve, I've noticed more complete storytelling. It's not something that a lot of comics are doing in such a visible capacity. It's more often done on storytelling shows, podcasts, or Ari Shaffir's Comedy Central web series, for example.
Doing a good story for me is just real, especially figuring it out. It's figuring out how to put in extra parts and finding how to put as many jokes in as possible, and then have the ending also be satisfying and a good close to the story. It's a real fun way of working. It feels good, especially if it's something people can kind of connect to, or even relate to. Even if they can't relate to it, I'm hoping people will enjoy it. But I think if people have been on a timeshare presentation or different things like that, it's a lot funnier.

As opposed to just joke, joke, joke, you're letting audiences remember the whole set piece. Like in the New Orleans story; it makes the narration come more alive.
Even "Jaywalking" was one from my last special that people would yell out: "Do 'Jaywalking!'" I don't know how to do that anymore. It would be tough to recreate it. A good thing about a story is you're putting yourself right there again. That's what I try to do just so I don't go dead eyes/autopilot during the set.

I always liked that jaywalking story, because the same thing happened to me in Montreal.
I was legit baffled. Obviously I made it structured for comedy, but the actual thing, you're talking maybe an hour, hour 10 minutes of me going back and forth 'cause I didn't want to give them my ID. I thought if I didn't give them my ID they would just leave me alone, but they started to go, "We'll come with you to your hotel!" And I starting thinking, like, do I want to be walked into the fucking Hyatt with the police at the comedy festival? It wasn't even a close jaywalk; it wasn't one where I had to jog or anything. I haven't paid that ticket out of spite yet, either. It's funny, 'cause now with Twitter and social media, if I post a Canada tour date online: "Can you still go back into Canada with your jaywalking ticket?"

Of course it's nice that people know your material so well.
It is fun when people do that. Especially when somebody else gets written up about jaywalking, they're like, "Look at my jaywalking ticket!" or "Look what I'm doing with pickle juice!" Or rental cars: "I'm on a shuttle bus!" It's interesting. A lot of comedians do stuff that sticks with you, especially situational stuff. "This reminds me of the bit he said that..."

You mentioned the pickle juice bit, and that's definitely a notable thing about your special: you have sound and musical cues.
I did a lot more stuff with the DJ that we couldn't put on, a couple songs, some song lyrics. It's just a fun element to bring into the comedy. We tried it, and it worked. And now it's funny, because of the sound cue part of it or whatever, it gets a bigger reaction than when I was doing that joke onstage originally. [Laughs]

How often do you like to experiment with those different aspects at your Sunday show in Brooklyn?
I have a DJ all the time in Brooklyn; that's the way I test out stuff, too, just because it's low stakes. I'll try a new bit, and if it works there then I'll take it and try it at the Comedy Cellar, and kind of develop it. I like that space at the Knitting Factory. It's an audience that's familiar with me and like my stuff, but if I'm not bringing it, they'll just stare at me. [Laughs] Sometimes they'll give me more than I should get on a solid bit, but on a bad bit, they won't give it up. I have to work for it.

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