Warning: Audio and video contains profanity and coarse humor.
The last time Paste spoke with Hannibal Buress, he had just started writing for 30 Rock, making good on years of stand-up work, not to mention the Best of What’s Next title he’d earned shortly before the announcement that he was leaving Saturday Night Live. But in the past year and a half, Buress’ profile has only continued to grow. When we called him recently, he discussed performing in sold-out theaters with Aziz Ansari, his upcoming special, Animal Furnace (Comedy Central, May 20), the two television shows he’s now working on, and the difficulties that come with portraying a homeless man.
Paste: Why did you stop writing for 30 Rock?
Buress: I wanted to focus on standup. They kept me on and put me in a few episodes as an actor, which has been fun, but I didn’t want to write for another year.
Paste: How did you end up playing a homeless man on the show?
Buress: When we do a read-through of the script [without the cast], the writers will read, and so there was this one line, I think it was, “Get a room! Whatever that is!” I did it at the read and we went back and we were going to cast it and the other writers were like, “How about have Hannibal do it?” and I was like, “All right, I’ll do it.” I just did it once and then people kept writing it in and so I did it four times last season and three times this season so far.
Paste: Your tweet about the catering people (“The shitty thing about being a homeless dude for 30 rock is that if catering peeps don’t know me, they treat me like a homeless dude.”) was great. Did that really happen?
Buress: Yeah! They were like, “No, we can’t give you anything,” and I’m working on the show. So I said, “I’ll just send somebody else to go get it for me and I’ll be fine.” A [production assistant] had to go get it for me. I couldn’t go in costume.
Paste: That’s awesome.
Buress: Uh, no, it’s not. I’d rather get it the first time then have to say, “Hey, can you go get me a sandwich, please? They wouldn’t give me a sandwich.”
Paste: Speaking of Twitter, it’s obviously a great place to hone comedy, but do you find it more useful or annoying? It seems like you have to deal with a lot of dummies on there.
Buress: I mean, it’s both. I’m learning now you don’t have to respond to everybody, and you can’t, because it takes so long. It’s just fun. It’s a good place to put out comedy and promote projects and videos and also, communicate with friends. But it’s a public thing, so people are going to say dumb stuff or uninformed things. But it’s low on my list of concerns.
Paste: I imagine your Comedy Central special is a little higher on the list. Can you walk me through the process for that?
Buress: You just do comedy for a while and get it somewhat good and then you say, “Hey, can I do this special?” I don’t know. I don’t do the inner workings of the stuff. I just knew I wanted to do a special and Comedy Central would be a good place to do it.
Paste: How did you settle on the title?
Buress: You know what, somebody sent it to me on Twitter and I said, “You know what, that’s kind of goofy and dumb. I’ll use that.” It doesn’t relate to anything at all, it just rhymes—and not even a solid rhyme.
Paste: You’re co-hosting The Eric Andre Show, which kicks off June 24 on Adult Swim. How did that come about?
Buress: I knew Eric from just doing stand up and we were on the The Awkward Comedy Show together and he had this idea for a talk show. He brought me on as a sidekick and recorded a pilot in 2008 or 2009 in an abandoned bodega in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was this weird thing and it didn’t seem like it would go anywhere, but he ended up getting it shown to Adult Swim and they liked the idea. So we went and shot a real pilot with money behind it last year and I had a good feeling that it would get picked up because they seemed really into the show. They were on set and had a lot of input, and it got picked up for 10 episodes. But yeah, he’s a really funny, crazy dude. I’m happy to see that his project has come alive and it’s going to be really weird.
Paste: It sounds really weird. What’s the dynamic like? Are you the Ed McMahon to his Johnny Carson?
Buress: Yeah, I’m the sidekick chiming in. I’m the Ed McMahon in the general sense of that format—the other guy in the chair. He’s a high-energy dude and I’m a low-energy dude and we have guests. A lot of my stuff is improv and it’s a fun time.
Paste: Adult Swim promises “interviews with an unpredictable mix of actual celebrities, fake celebrities and extreme real-life weirdos.”
Buress: We had this one guy who plays fake Russell Brand. He plays him in the pilot and in another episode and it’s just a crazy, weird character. It’s really hard to describe. We have some real guests. We had Sinbad on the show. There’s some crazy musical guests we had. It’s just all types of insanity, and it works really well in that formant because it’s only 12 minutes long.
Paste: What’s happening with the Fox sitcom with Jonah Hill?
Buress: We’re working on it right now. It’s still in the early stages—just a pilot situation.
Paste: Two years ago you told me, “I’m still not where I want to be but I’m fortunate enough to be in the spot that I’m in.” I’m curious how you feel now.
Buress: Still the same situation. You’re constantly working, I’m 29 and you can’t plateau when you’re 29. Who does that? So yeah, I’m happy to be working, but you still gotta work. There’s more stuff to do. You got to keep working.
Paste: It seems like things are coming around for you with the two shows, opening for Aziz, the special…
Buress: Yeah, but you just said opening, though. [laughs] I mean, I’ve been been doing shows with Aziz for years. That’s great and that’s helped me build my audience, but I want to be, you know, [headlining] those venues, and that won’t be for another couple years. There’s a lot more work to do. Even if I have a show on, there’s still way more work to do.