Because He Says So: Hannibal Buress on His New Show Why?

Comedy Features Hannibal Buress
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Stand-up champ Hannibal Buress has been a steady presence inside your television set for years, with regular appearances on Broad City and The Eric Andre Show and guest appearances on 30 Rock, Louie and the deeply missed Delocated. Tonight he puts his name in the title and launches his own half-hour program on Comedy Central. Why? With Hannibal Buress will be holding down the 10:30 PM ET slot on Wednesday nights, right behind new episodes of Key & Peele and before The Daily Show. Recently we talked to Hannibal about Why? and the direct impact a strong work ethic can have upon a bank account.

Paste: So your new show is premiering, and your other show is taping a new season this year, and your other other show is also filming again this year. Why do you work so hard?

Hannibal Buress: To make a lot of money, man.

To make a lot of money in a short amount of time. Wouldn’t you? It’s not really that hard work. I’m not digging ditches, dude. TV shows are a bit harder because that’s more stuff, more responsibilities, but the other stuff is not hard work. It’s just showing up and talking and getting a lot of money for it.

And it’s fun! Sometimes it’s an early call time, and that’s rough. That’s the toughest part. That’s the work, when it’s early. When they’re like “we’re starting at 7 in the morning.” “Oh shit, this feels like a job.” And I get there and it’s fine. As long as I get there I’m okay, and once I wake up a bit. Takes about 30 minutes and then it’s back to “alright, this feels pretty good. I’ll go talk on camera.”

Paste: What are the differences between the three shows and how they’re shot, from your perspective?

HB: Broad City has somewhat of a narrative and a storyline. It’s a sitcom, so it’s shot like that. Eric Andre is the easiest shoot. Broad City can be pretty easy too. Different directors have different styles. Some directors on Broad City, we’ll do that shit twice and they’re like “alright, we got it, let’s go.” “Wow! That’s amazing.” Eric Andre Show, as far as the studio stuff, it’s simple because the cameras are static. I think three or four cameras in studio? I play to one of them and I don’t have to even interact with the guest, necessarily. I do but I could play the camera for my moments and get laughs off of that. My show, I don’t have anything, because our first shoot is today, actually.

Paste: Wow, the premiere’s like in two weeks. You haven’t even made it yet?

HB: Nah, man, the fucking late night shows that will be on that week haven’t made it yet. The Conan that airs that day, if a new Conan is airing that day, they haven’t made that yet. Or whatever the fuck Bill O’Reilly does, he hasn’t made his yet. He hasn’t made whatever that is, whatever he’ll have a weird, obtuse, made-up opinion about yet.

Paste: He’s still waiting to get the Koch brothers email about what to talk about that show.

HB: You think the Koch brothers paid him off?

Paste: They pretty much own Fox News, right?

HB: I know they own a lot of stuff. I know that I talked about them on stage one time and I said the “Kotch brothers” and somebody was like “it’s the Koch brothers dude” and I was like “thank you, thank you that was great.”

Paste: So you’re doing the first episode of Why today. What can we expect from your show?

HB: I don’t know. What if the sketches don’t work and I just do 21 minutes of stand-up? That’d be weird, wouldn’t it? One sketch and 15 minutes of stand-up. I don’t know, man. It’s going to be some sketches, some stand-up, some man on the street stuff. Expect a funny show.

Paste: Do you feel more pressure with this one, being the star of the show?

HB: Yeah. It’s only natural, like getting a promotion. More responsibilities, more stuff to do. It’s some pressure but it’s just more stuff to do. That’s the thing. I’ve got a writing staff and they’re constantly writing stuff and submitting, I’m getting emails with their sketches. And I’m getting emails about casting and emails about the theme music and you’ve got to deal with lighting designers and look at another rendering of the set design, so it’s just more stuff. I wouldn’t say it’s pressure but oh man it’s a lot of shit. It’s just kind of dealing with that. It can be a bit much at times but it’s fine.

Paste: So as the boss of the show how do you tell a writer when something they give you isn’t funny?

HB: If you pitch something and nobody really reacts to it, or tags it, then that’s how you know it’s not funny. You want to just keep everybody feeling good and creative, so that’s the nature of pitching stuff for a show. If you’re a writer pitching six ideas, all those ideas aren’t going to make it for various reasons. It might be a good idea, but it’s not a good idea for me. It might be funny for somebody else, but it’s something I don’t want to do. Or we already have sketches about that already. Just because I don’t want to use an idea doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not funny.

Paste: You were a writer on SNL and 30 Rock for a while. What did you learn from being in those writers’ rooms that you’ve taken into the Why writers’ room?

HB: I just learned how to pitch, man, and just how to make an idea better. That’s the one thing, I can hear an idea that’s pitched and hear something in it, it may not be totally right, but knowing how to make it for me and make something that I want to do. In the 30 Rock writers’ room we were pitching lines, pitching punch-up, I’d pitch something sometimes and one of the other writers would say it in a different way, more in the voice of the show. It’s just learning how to pitch, and be fast, and generate ideas is the main thing. And just try to keep an upbeat writers’ room.

Paste: Your stand-up is not usually that political. Comedy Central has a lot of shows with a political edge—Inside Amy Schumer, Daily Show, Key & Peele. Can we expect more political material on your show?

HB: A little bit. I do a little bit in my stand-up, so expect that much in my show. I cover different subjects in my stand-up but I don’t cover them heavily, so that’s the plan for my show. I’ll talk about some issues but it won’t be the theme of the show.

Paste: What do you prefer, stand-up, writing or acting?

HB: Stand-up. It’s more fun. The other things help you get better at stand-up. If you’re good at writing it helps you write material, and acting helps you on stage. All of them feed each other, but I enjoy doing stand-up more just because of the rush of it and putting out the material right there. Having people react to it is really fun.

Paste: You’ve hit that level of stand-up where people just call you by your first name. Louie, Aziz, Hannibal, etc. Part of it’s probably that it’s a distinctive name, but also pretty much everybody into comedy knows who you are now. How does it feel to have strangers think they’re on a first-name basis with you?

HB: It’s interesting. People say my full name a lot though. It’s just part of, if you’ve got to accept jobs that put you on television, you have to accept people knowing who you are without you knowing them. I can’t go on TV and then later be like “what the fuck, why are these people looking at me? Why is this person speaking to me?” I’m fucking on TV. That’s why I’m able to do the shows and people show up and it’s exciting to have that, to have a fan base that supports and wants to see my work. That comes out and shares my work with their friends. I worked a while to get that and I didn’t have that for a while so it’s nice to have it.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. Find him on Twitter @grmartin.

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