It was MLK’s birthday, and a sold-out show for Hannibal Buress at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia. When the doors opened at 8 pm, two ticket lines (A-M, N-Z) stretched around both sides of the corner. The 40 Watt is ninety-six years old with the size and feel of a high school gymnasium (? 9,000 square feet). Inside, strands of multicolored Christmas lights radiate from a giant disco ball. By 8:15, all four rows of plastic chairs were filled with diehard fans and pregnant couples. At prom, you could slide across a sweat-soaked linoleum floor, but could not sip from a 24-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, or from a plastic cup of bourbon and ginger.
On stage DJ Tony Trimm spun hip hop, old school and new. The bass was too much by the front speakers, but in the middle of the room your body was filled with 808 blessings. Jannelle James was the perfect opener, gorgeous in black jeans, black shirt and blowout afro—sassy, bold, and, at times, vulnerable. Her best bit involved “a superhero who goes around raping dudes—stay with me. I think the only way that men will understand the fucking fear that women walk around with all the goddamn time, is if they had to guard their asshole with the same vigilance that we have to guard our various holes, you know what I’m saying . . . He’d be an accountant by day, and Ass Man by night. He’d have a sidekick, Frat Boy.”
At 10:00 pm Hannibal Buress appeared on stage in t-shirt, jeans and blazer. Buress is dark and handsome with white teeth, a fresh fade, and the beginnings of a beer belly. His body holds much swagger but contains little movement. With calm demeanor, he’s the anti-Mitch Hedberg to whom his observation humor is often compared. His publicist said there would be no questions on Bill Cosby.
“I see y’all motherfuckers with your cellphone, put that shit down, I’m not trying to be in the news again. I noticed you motherfuckers trying to get you a $750 TMZ check . . . your grainy ass footage making my career weird. Comedian Hannibal Buress calls Bill Cosby a rapist! No I didn’t. A bunch of women did . . . The weirdest thing about getting a death threat from a male bodybuilder/stripper on Facebook is when you click on his profile it says you have one mutual friend.”
The previous night, 1/14/15, saw the premiere of the second season of Broad City on Comedy Central. In what may be the best new show on television, Buress is perfectly cast as Lincoln Rice, a successful pediatric dentist and part-time lover of party-girl Ilana Wexler. For eighteen months, Ilana has resisted overtures to be his girlfriend. In the show’s first episode, she FaceTimes her best friend Abby with Lincoln inside of her. “Ilana, what are we doing?” Are we having sex? Hooking up? Are we dating? What is this?”
“It’s very dicey territory,” Buress said of Cosby, his voice low and somber in the 40 Watt. “It’s weird, it’s fucked up. You don’t expect that a bit would do that but . . . if motherfuckers said you did something twenty times, you did it at least four.
“I have feminists writing me: thank you so much, thank you so much, thank you so much for what you did.
“You’re welcome, but let’s not forget that I’m a huge misogynist and I have some very old school views on male and female relationships.
“I’m trying to figure out the meaning of life. I’m 31, around the age people start having kids when they don’t want to be weird old dads. I don’t have a girlfriend, but me and my ex still fuck when we see each other. What does that mean?
“We still love each other. I like . . . I actively try to get her pregnant. She is so beautiful and she’s the best person I know so far and, she’s great! She’s on the pill, but the other night I emptied it out, I was like . . . maybe a little bit more will get me a kid.
“We’ll be back officially one day, but now it’s empty sex with girls I don’t like that much.”
“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas together in the mind at the same time without losing the ability to function.” Buress happily straddles the generational divide between settled Xs and restless Millennials. Lincoln Rice will not kiss dogs; white people do that. Born in 1983, on the generational cusp, Buress also makes us wonder if Millennial angst has roots in white privilege.
Before The Cosby Show, Dick Gregory says that much of America had never seen a successful black doctor or lawyer. The show’s appeal, however, stemmed less from its portrayal of upward black mobility than from its concern with universal family matters. “It was the war between parents and their kids,” says director Jay Sandrich, “how to raise kids, and the interesting thing was, there was no yelling, parents didn’t yell at the kids, parents did it with humor or reason.”
As Cosby became older, he stopped treating his comedic descendants with the same light touches. Sometimes, in his in dealings with rappers, Buress too can sound like an old curmudgeon. Youth is wasted on the young, and the sins of the father are often passed onto the son.
Enter Tony Trimm, Buress’s secret weapon. In this new millennium of comedy, the DJ’s scratching on the wheels of steel has replaced the drummer’s rimshot. For the last thirty minutes, Buress and Tony Trimm played “Follow the Leader” like Eric B and Rakim as they skewered hip hop culture.
We learned that 1) T.I is not only a great rapper, but also an accomplished felon, who will
always break more than three laws at a time and brag about it, 2) rappers love to open songs with mention of morning wood, and 3) one day when there is Black “old money,” we will see arrogance unsurpassed in Waka Flocka III.
Riff Raff’s lip-synching at concerts allowed Buress to vibe with some of his better one-liners: “I want to jizz on my hand and go to a palm reader and say what is this about? What do you see in my future.”
My good friend and professional mediator Michael Ziegler did wonder: “But why’s Hannibal gotta hate on Iggy Azalea? He’s an NBA fan. Doesn’t he know that a dis to Iggy Azalea is a dis to Swaggy P—and by further extension—a dis to Kendrick Lamar? Unacceptable.”
In Buress’s defense, he never mentioned Iggy by name. Besides, I think Iggy is more concerned with the 400 million views on YouTube than a twenty-second bit from Hannibal Buress.
“Pu$$y Weed,” the second episode of Broad City, is famous for many things, including Ilana breaking her tooth on a giant jawbreaker. In Lincoln’s dentist chair, she is giddy with nitrous oxide while Lincoln seriously woos her. “Did you ever think what it would be like to be in a real relationship, boyfriend-girlfriend? It could be great.” Illana has slipped out of consciousness, but there is no threat when Lincoln makes her his ventriloquist doll, using her limp hand to pat his square-jawed face. “Oh yeah Lincoln, I do. I do want to date you seriously and not get bleeped out by random dudes. I want stability. I want to hang out with a guy with a six-figure income and a good job. Suck his D, all the time.”
All vulgarity aside, Lincoln is someone you would trust your wife or your kid with—just like you would have with Bill Cosby.
Last summer, Buress had Lasik surgery and no longer wears his small, stylish glasses. “There’s no downside to Lasik except without my glasses I feel like I’m Milhouse from The Simpsons. I got real beady, shady-ass eyes.”
He returned from surgery more perceptive and combative.
In the safari of Richard Pryor the animals speak in jive: lions, water buffalo, buzzards, cheetahs and lions. In red suit and gold shoes, Pryor reenacts the hunt in his seminal stand-up Live on the Sunset Strip, 1982. The cheetahs will come running, and “the motherfucker who can’t hear is in trouble.”
Pryor makes no mention of the old lion’s death, the new lion’s climb, or of the cubs fatherless.
Spenser Simrill, Jr. teaches English and film at the University of Georgia.