Hannibal Buress: The Element of Surprise

Comedy Features Hannibal Buress
Hannibal Buress: The Element of Surprise

Comedy Camisado, the new hour-long stand-up special from Hannibal Buress, is up on Netflix today. It is funny. He is good at comedy, a low-energy everyman whose personable exterior hides an incisive and perceptive wit. If you like his older specials you will probably like this one. If you only know him from his many TV and movie appearances (including Broad City, Daddy’s Home, The Eric Andre Show, Neighbors and more), but liked what you saw, you’ll probably dig his stand-up, too. Taped at Minneapolis’s Varsity Theater, Camisado is a new direction for Buress, at least when it comes to distribution: for the first time he’s going with a streaming service instead of a traditional network. We talked to the man about the new special and his decision to release it through Netflix, and touched a little bit on big issues like the conspiracy theory about Stevie Wonder not actually being blind. We also talked to him about wrestling, which you’ll be able to read next week on Paste.

Paste: I had to look up the word “camisado.” It’s an attack on a sleeping enemy—who’s the enemy that you’re attacking?

Hannibal Buress: Nobody. I like that word, man. There’s a buddy of mine, a comedian / writer named Haji Outlaw who helps me with stuff sometimes. I asked him, “I’m trying to think of different words, trying to think of a tour name, can you send me some words.” One of the tour names, I was going to call it Superfluous Pu Pu Platter. Didn’t go with that. I was thinking of calling it Twat Waffle Camisado. But I just decided Comedy Camisado just sounded—jokes sneak up on you. Comedy succeeds with the element of surprise. That’s it. And I like the sound of it. “Comedy Camisado.” It’s fun to say. So it was the name of the tour and I just thought it would be fitting to name the special the name of the tour.

Paste: I would think Twat Waffle Camisado would be harder to promote than Comedy Camisado.

HB: Yeah I’m kinda glad I didn’t go with Twat Waffle Camisado.

Paste: This is your first special for Netflix. Your last two were with Comedy Central. Why’d you wind up with Netflix this time?

HB: Netflix just… they offered a lot of money. It’s a different amount of money. [laughs] I like the idea of people just being able to get it when they want to get it, versus this premiere time. It’s awesome and I’m happy with my Comedy Central specials and they were cool to work with, but with streaming people can just get stuff whenever and watch it on their phones and it’s just there. It can be promoted whenever. It was between Netflix and HBO and I just like the idea of the ease of people just in various countries being able to get it when they want to and be able to just link to it on their own. Streaming is what it is now.

Paste: I know HBO traditionally has been like the pinnacle for a comedian. Has Netflix been cutting into HBO in terms of prestige within the industry?

HB: No. I think HBO still has prestige because they only do a few specials. I really was thinking about it. It was a lot of heavy thought. I had an opportunity to have my own HBO special. But it just came down to that ease, man. People have so many options and so many ways to get entertained, and for me where I am, still trying to grow my fan base and grow my touring, Netflix just makes it the easiest for people to get it. They have a huge subscriber base. They fucking email everybody that your special’s coming out. Your special gets suggested if they watch somebody else’s stuff, they say “you might like this” so people can just stumble upon it. It just for me made the most sense. I thought about, “man it would be awesome to have an HBO special.” A lot of prestige, a great company and a lot of people watch those. And you get on all the airplanes when you’re on an HBO special. Which is something to think about. But yeah just went with Netflix.

Paste: Netflix seems to have a new special every week now. Almost every Friday they have a new stand-up special. When I hear that somebody’s doing an hourlong I just assume it’s Netflix because they’ve so quickly become the major player. What I’m wondering, and I don’t know if you’d want to get this much into it, but like Comedy Central, I guess you get paid for the special and then residuals when they rerun it and then you put the DVD out eventually. Does Netflix give you regular payments based on how many people watch it? How does that work?

HB: No, it’s just straight-up negotiation before. Netflix doesn’t… it’s widely know that they don’t release stats to people.

Paste: Yeah, and not even to the people who make the shows.

HB: They don’t release the numbers but you can kind of gauge how you’re special or show is doing off of social media mentions, things like that. They don’t give you numbers.

Paste: So you can just assume 70 million people, or however many subscribe, watched your special then.

HB: Yeah you’re just like “yeah, everybody watched it!” [laughs] You just make up stuff. Whatever fits the conversation. If you need pity from somebody, tell them you don’t think anybody watched your special, they don’t tell you the numbers. Or if you’re trying to impress somebody, man, they said this is the first Netflix thing where everybody with Neflix watched. You think there’s one thing on Netflix everybody’s watched? Or even half?

Paste: Probably not. What’s their biggest show? Like House of Cards? I haven’t watched that thing. It looks awful.

HB: I don’t know, man.

Paste: Early in the special, you’re in Minneapolis, you say comedians love that city. What do comedians love about Minneapolis?

HB: Minneapolis… fucking Acme [Comedy Club] early on. Acme’s just a good club and they built that comedy scene, just a lot of real passionate comedy fans. I think a lot of musicians and rappers will say the same thing about Minneapolis, Minneapolis is one of those spots where you get a following there before other cities that you’ve already been to. You know what I mean? You come to Minneapolis, and I’d say it’s a little bit ahead of the curve and it’s a sharp, smart crowd and they get on board and support you. I was drawing in Minneapolis early on. They support—they buy merchandise. That club, especially, is just a good spot. I’ve returned to there a few times and made friends and had fun. It’s just a good spot, man. I’ve had lots of good shows in Minneapolis. And I like that venue, I perform at that venue in 2014, I did a couple shows there, and so I wanted to do it, I didn’t want to do a huge place. I wanted to do a nice-size place that holds like 500, 600 something like that. And it just feels good.

Paste: I guess, coming out of Chicago, Minneapolis was probably one of the first cities you traveled to when you were getting started?

HB: Yeah. Minneapolis was early on. I did Acme for the first time in I think maybe ’07, something like that, maybe ’08. Milwaukee was one of the cities I went to a lot because Milwaukee’s only an hour and a half from Chicago so you can get a Greyhound bus to Milwaukee for like $15 or something and do the clubs up there.

Paste: You talk about the Stevie Wonder not really being blind conspiracy theory. I first heard of that through I think Bomani Jones, Deadspin had a big article or even series of articles about Bomani Jones insisting that Stevie Wonder is not actually blind. What’s your favorite piece of evidence in support of the “not actually blind” theory?

HB: Just to make it clear, in the article, I think he’s blind. But, you know, the one where he grabs that mic stand is pretty… he grabs that mic stand! But maybe he’s just been around falling mic stands a lot? But he grabs the mic stand, that’s the main one. He just gets that shit.

Paste: You work with mic stands. You know they can topple over easily. Do you think you could catch one without being able to see it fall?

HB: The music ones topple over more easily because they have that extended part that will make it unbalanced. Without looking, with my eyes closed, would I be able to grab one? Depends. That one, in that particular video, I don’t know, man. He is a musical genius so maybe that’s why, he just felt the breeze from the falling mic stand. I don’t know man. I’ve seen him twice live, saw him at the Garden a few weeks ago, he put on like a 3 ½ hour show. He covered Fetty Wap briefly. He cracked some jokes. It was an awesome show.

Paste: Also in the new special you talk about potentially having kids. Do you ever talk to other comedians about how they balance that lifestyle with starting a family?

HB: A couple of people that I know who have kids, my buddy Al Jackson has a couple kids but he handles everything during the day while his wife is working, and at night he does shows and leaves on the weekend sometimes. It’s a tough thing but obviously a lot of people have been able to pull it off. Depends on how much time you want to spend with your kids. Some people will take a TV job or figure out a situation where they’re not traveling as much, just so they can go home at night. It just varies for the person and where their career is and what they want to do and how to organize the schedule to fit your family.

Paste: Do you think comedians ever have kids just for new material?

HB: New material? [Laughs] I’m sure it’s happened before. I actually joked about that the other day. “I want to have kids to get that new material, get that ‘my wife is pregnant’ material, get that ‘she eats weird stuff,’ get that childbirth material (‘fellas don’t look at it!’), get that newborn material. You get that second kid material, the boys are different from girls, the boy’s stupid and the girl’s smart material. So yeah. Maybe some guys do that. But what if a dude gets his girl pregnant for material and then he realizes he was a bad writer and he couldn’t come up with fresh takes on having kids? Hopefully he’s a good father. Hopefully he’s a better father than comedian.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections.

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