Comedian Hannibal Buress—who comes to Raleigh this Friday to perform his new act “The Hannibal Montanabal Experience”—has run the gamut of the comedic experience. Only 33, he’s acted in movies written for acclaimed sitcoms and sketch shows, dazzled on TV in supporting roles and has hosted his own shows and even lent his voice and likeness to popular video games.
But when you ask Buress which part of his career he’s enjoyed the most, he’ll tell you it’s all about stand-up.
“I like doing stand-up the most because I can do it at any time, I have the most control over it, I can travel with it, I can use it as a reason to travel,” he said. “If I want to go to Hawaii, I don’t want to pay out of my pocket to go to Hawaii.”
For the better part of a decade, Buress has been one of comedy’s most prolific touring acts, playing cities almost constantly despite his busy filming and writing schedule. He’s navigated his act around writing gigs at "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock" and recurring acting roles in beloved series such as "Broad City" and "The Eric Andre Show."
Buress seems most comfortable in the controlled spotlight of the stand-up stage. He hasn’t seen the final edit of his own fascinatingly introspective Netflix documentary, “Hannibal Takes Edinburgh,” because he doesn’t like to watch himself offstage. He says there have been rare occasions in which the chaos of the Eric Andre Show, now in its fourth season, has made him uneasy. When he does a podcast or radio interview, he never listens after the fact.
Buress’s onstage contentment gets at a fundamental truth about the comedian: he just wants to tell jokes. In 2014, when Hannibal publicly mused about the until-then not-as-talked-about alleged sexual misconduct of Bill Cosby, the world memorably exploded. Buress’s joke created a media maelstrom that resulted in allegations from dozens of women against the sitcom star, who now stands trial for aggravated indecent assault in Pennsylvania.
To Buress, his Cosby joke was just that: a jest rather than a vigilante grab at the spotlight.
“[I was] just talking about what I thought was the hypocrisy,” Buress told a nationally syndicated radio host in August. “It was a still a joke, that was just the angle.”
When I asked him Thursday about how prominent performers such as Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr had canceled tour dates in North Carolina this year after the passage of House Bill 2, a controversial anti-LGBT state bill, Buress called the law “stupid” and “goofy.” But he also said doesn’t think punishing his fans would do much good.
“The people that are coming for my show for the most part weren’t involved in that,” he said.
This is not to say Hannibal Buress offers a sanitized, cushy comedy experience. His stand-up is mostly incisive, sometimes comically harsh observations about the world around him. He’s not afraid to ruffle feathers if those feathers could use a good ruffle.
In 2010, in his stand-up album, “My Name Is Hannibal,” Buress, a native of Chicago, has some fun at the expense of another midwestern city. He recounts written criticism from an audience member at one of his shows, who claims Fort Wayne, Ind. has a remarkable comedy venue, “Snickers.”
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“I wrote her back,” Buress says on the album. “‘You may have a good comedy venue there, but after you leave that show, you still live in Fort Wayne, Ind.”
Last Friday, Buress played a show in Fort Wayne, Ind. When I told him Thursday I thought that was rather courageous given his comments, he responded in the classic down-to-earth, dry Hannibal cadence.
“There are cities that aren’t great cities, man,” he said. “I’m not saying that Fort Wayne sucks, but I will say that there are some people that live there that think it sucks without a doubt. And you could say that about anywhere.”
Buress is a realist when it comes to the state of his craft, too. Even though he’s found a home in comedy, he says he doesn’t think the world needs more comedians. Or rappers, for that matter.
“It probably could be dwindled down by at least 40 percent or so,” he said with a laugh. “There’s too many entertainers.”
If Buress’s insane comedic output is to believed, though, he thinks we could all use a little more Hannibal.