If you were to ask your favorite comedian which new comedy star they’re into right now, they might just drop Hannibal Buress’s name. His delivery seems effortless and his subject matter ranges from outlandishly funny stories about everyday occurrences (like the time he spent “flicking pickle juice on [his] sandwiches for flavor”) to meta jokes about comedy as an art form.
If you haven’t heard of Buress yet, you will soon. The 31-year-old Chicago native, who previously did stints as an actor on NBC’s “30 Rock” and a writer “Saturday Night Live,” has been everywhere recently. His hour-long special, “Live from Chicago,” aired on Comedy Central in May; he plays a light-hearted pediatric dentist named Lincoln on the network’s series, “Broad City” and appeared in the 2014 Seth Rogen comedy “Neighbors.”
We chatted with Buress just ahead of his D.C. show (he’s performing two shows at the Lincoln Theatre this Friday, Oct. 17), discussing how he got his start in comedy, his most popular bits and what we can look forward to in “Broad City,” season two.
You started out at open mics, do you remember what your first one was like?
It was in a college town with just a few other comedians. It was pretty chill – not high-pressure or high stakes. No one was getting booed off stage, or anything. It was maybe 15 people, if that. I tried it out and it went well. I just enjoyed the energy a lot, and I had a lot of fun.
Was that what made you want to pursue comedy professionally?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it, but at that time, I knew I wanted to keep on doing standup and try to get other shows and keep performing.
Some of your tweets, like your post about running into former President Jimmy Carter on an airplane, eventually become a part of your sets. How you decide which tweets to expand upon and do you ever worry that you’ll use up too much material on Twitter?
I really don’t decide. Sometimes you know it can work. I don’t remember what the tweet was, but I probably said something like “I just saw Jimmy Carter shaking everybody’s hands on a plane,” and that was just that to me. A tweet is limited to 140 characters, but I can make that into a story that’s a few minutes long.
As far as running out of material, I don’t really worry about it for a couple of reasons. One is that everybody’s not on Twitter. It might seem like everyone is on Twitter, but the world is not on Twitter. Secondly, is that even if people saw a joke on Twitter, it doesn’t have the tone and inflection of a performance and there’s no feel for where it would be in the context of the entire set.
But I have had some times that I’ve tweeted something and thought, “Oh, that’s good. I can use that for the set” or “I’ll just delete that and keep it for myself.”
Do you improvise much on stage, and if so, what’s been your most successful improvised joke, so far?
A lot of my jokes themselves have come from ideas and stories, but the development of the rhythm and different lines have just happened on stage. It’s not written on the page and then I just record it. It happens through performing it over and over and just finding what works on stage, just finding the rhythm with the audience, finding the wording in the moment with the crowd, so I would say a lot of my material is developed that way.
You’ve joked in the past about trolling student reporters during interviews. Are you still doing that or do you shy away from that because you know the interviews may be read by a wider audience?
It really depends on my mood. If I have five or six interviews in a day and some of them have different questions it can get a little mind-numbing. Some days I handle it better than others. It’s not even me getting angry or annoyed with the person. It’s just the process — they’re just doing their jobs– but for my own sanity I’ll just make up a weird answer just to say something different, so that’s all that is. I’ve got to sell tickets, you know what I’m saying? Sometimes the straight answer doesn’t sell tickets.
Can you give an example?
Like, when people ask how I started in comedy. Sometimes I give the straight answer, which is that I went to an open mic, did it and fell in love with it. Sometimes I’ll say that my family got kidnapped by ninjas that said I had to do a five-minute set to get my family released, and so I started doing comedy. I did a five-minute set, the ninjas approved of it, and I still liked doing comedy so I kept doing it after that.
Which one of your jokes do fans quote back to you the most often? Is it “Pickle Juice?”
Yeah, it’s “Pickle Juice.” People weirdly connect with that joke. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve done it on a few things – I did it on Letterman and on Canadian TV – but that one is the one people enjoy a lot. I don’t think it’s my best joke, but maybe it is. I don’t know. People like what they like and if they like it, I’m going to give it to them.
I did a bit about getting your own parade in New Orleans and I’ve had a lot of people write to me and say they’ve gotten their own parades because of that and I’ve had people in New Orleans tell me that the amount of parade permits has gone up a lot, so it’s kind of fun to have that effect. Even if it’s just in a playful way, to have an influence on people’s lives through comedy is exciting. People are trying new experiences because of a joke and that’s pretty cool.
Canadian fans aren’t upset at all that you don’t think their jail is real jail, or that you make fun of their colorful money?
No, that was light-hearted, but the jaywalking situation – I hear about it so much, but any time anyone brings it up, I can put myself in that place and see the situation and still get angry about it. It was really ridiculous. It was my fault, too, because if I’d dealt with it, it could have been quick and easy. I just couldn’t believe it. I was having a good day up until that point. I’d just bought some nice shirts and I was feeling good, and then they stopped me.
I think they were hoping that I had some warrants or something like that, that’s why they were being so adamant about it. I don’t even think I had to give them my ID. I did after a while, but I don’t think I had to. I remember the cop saying something like “The way they got Al Capone was through taxes.” He made that analogy to me, so it was definitely some [nonsense] going on. Thank God I was able to get out and get something out of it.
That sounds like a bit of stretch. He didn’t even know you but suddenly you’re some sort of king pin?
Yeah, I don’t know. It was pretty interesting. Maybe the French aren’t that good with analogies.
Are you ever glad when something ridiculous happens to you? Just because it can give you more material?
I’m never glad at the moment. It was infuriating, so I was really upset. I went back to the hotel and went to the gym, and I never go to the gym. I had to go elliptical that [expletive] off. I try to experience stuff, in general, to have life to talk about. So I take trips, go to concerts and put myself in different situations just to observe life and get my mind going in a different way; to be around different people and have different kinds of conversations in order to help myself be more creative.
Can you tell me anything about the upcoming season of “Broad City”?
I don’t know what I can tell you, actually. I’m still in it. Do I have sex in this one? I don’t think I have sex. I’m still a dentist. Did not leave the dentistry profession. The girls are still on the show. It’s still their show and it will still be on Comedy Central. It’s premiering in January and that’s all I’ve got. It’s fun being on the second season of something. It should be a fun one. It’s fun doing a second season of something because everybody is kind of comfortable, everybody knows what they’re doing a little better, so it should be fun.
And about Chance the Rapper’s “Nana” video [Warning: the video is very expletive-heavy], how did you come to direct it and do you have any plans to direct more music videos in the future?
I’d definitely like to do more directing. My friend Jensen worked at Jash, the company that financed the video, and he linked us up because we’re both from Chicago and I was a fan of Chance, and so he linked us up. It was pretty loose video and it was a lot of fun. He’s popped off since then. I liked to say it was because of my video, which put him in a great light. He wasn’t a huge star, yet, but now, he’s touring the world with sold-out shows. I’ve got the golden touch, you know?
I would like to direct more music videos, but I don’t know if I’m that good at it yet. That one was very loose. Jensen came up with the idea of us just spending the money, which has before, but it was fun. We went to Hollywood Blvd. in LA and saw the costumed characters, and said “What do you want to do with them?” Then we saw a double-decker bus and decided to hop on, then we saw the Laugh Factory and I was like, “I can get into the Laugh Factory. Let’s go in there and shoot,” so it was that kind of shoot situation. It was really fun.
What can D.C. fans expect from the Lincoln Theatre show?
It’s just going to be a lot of Barack jokes, a lot of jokes about politics, and a lot of jokes about who our Republican president is going to be in 2016. Different things like that. Romney jokes, Hillary Clinton jokes, Washington Wizards jokes, Gilbert Arenas jokes – I’m taking shots at everybody. No pun intended, at all. D.C. is going to be awesome. I’m going to have fun.