Hannibal Buress’ new stand-up hour Live from Chicago premieres on Comedy Central March 29. On the 24th, you can get for $5 through CC: Stand-Up Direct. If for some reason you’re not already a fan of Buress, check out his past two stand-up albums, his range of acting work (voice & live), his tour dates or his weekly live show at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. If you are already a fan, supplement your knowledge of Buress’ tremendously funny comedy with our handy breakdown of the tough times, tricky interactions and twisted balls that made him the Hannibal we know and love today.
Up through high school Buress had no performing experience beyond the debate team and, sort of, the football team (“I had no stats: no tackles, no catches, no rushing yards”). Then after a few open mics at Southern Illinois University, Buress dropped out of school, dropped in on his sister in New York and found himself sleeping on the subway:
“Well it’s just ‘cause I popped up. I didn’t even hit her up — ‘Hey, can I stay?’ I just popped up, ‘Hey, whassup, I’m here. I got $200 and dreams, let’s do this thing.’ Nothing else to offer, no job set up. ... My niece, she was about to turn 1. So I was just poppin’ in on this family without even asking. Know what I mean? It was obnoxious. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was one of the most obnoxious things I’ve ever done. … there were some nights when I wouldn’t have the money for a hostel, or a friend wasn’t able to let me stay, so I would crash out on the train.”
On his last album Animal Furnace, Buress opens with a little bit of perspective on how huge-yet-unknown he’d become, then reveals that his very first regular gig forced him to introduce a certain Tia Johnson from his past.
Everybody starts small, and Buress’ worst bombing experience led to a manhandling:
Since then Hannibal’s had so many odd/weird/terrible shows that he can toss off a comedy war story in one line without really thinking much of it:
One of the early and terrifying highlights of Buress’ upbringing came in 2005, when testicular torsion almost cost him what any medical professional would call his “left nut”:
Buress spent a year writing for SNL, but Lorne found most of his ideas [hilarious euphemism]:
Hannibal got all of one sketch on the show and it was about Charles Barkley’s weak golf game. He left after a year to write on 30 Rock even though, beyond the creative frustration, the SNL gig was generally tolerable, as he told TimeOut:
“I mean, yeah, it can be some late hours. But the late hours are usually only one or two nights out of the week. You might have a crazy six-day week, but you’ll work three weeks and then you get a week off work. I’d take most jobs if it was hard work and then I got a week off.”
And SNL got Buress his first-ever Emmy nomination…sort of:
30 Rock turned out to be a better fit for Buress’ writing (and portrayal of a homeless person), letting him contribute jokes throughout a lot of entire episodes instead of in single sketches. It also left him unable to not think of 30 Rock whenever he thinks about running out of toilet paper, which he explained in an interview with Pitchfork:
“I remember that actually happened when I was working [as a writer] at 30 Rock—my stall was out of toilet paper, but I could hear that my boss was in there, so I had to be like, ‘Hey, Robert, it’s Hannibal. Can I get some toilet paper, man?’”
Buress’ stand-up doesn’t touch on ethnicity all that often, but one of his closer-quality bits breaks down an apple juice purchase that he tells NPR happened “pretty much verbatim”:
Buress also once opened for Chance the Rapper at a show in their shared hometown of Chicago and got heckled off of the stage with a chant of “KEVIN HART.” And beyond indefensible heckling, Buress gets mistaken for everyone from commercial actors to NBA coaches:
Every comic has to do it, and Buress has found a sweet spot of having fun with local press without being an overt dick:
As he later told Splitsider:
“I still do sit-down bits, but when I do those shows, I do it half weird and half [normal]. You wanna be funny and also be memorable and sell tickets too, man. I sell tickets. It’s my job.”
Of course that doesn’t mean he likes doing local press, or always hides how crappy it can get:
The caption: “My face when morning tv hosts wanna talk about Bieber for 6 minutes.”
Buress’ gig at Eastern Illinois University might have gone fine. We’ll never know, though, because the write-up afterwards was so beyond frustrating it became one of Hannibal’s best routines (even though his material’s usually about “the streets”). Watch here.
Buress met Eric Andre in 2006 and worked with him on The Awkward Comedy Show, which led to Hannibal co-hosting The Eric Andre Show on Adult Swim. Beyond his main role of standing around behind every Eric Andre Show interview guest (there’s only one chair), Buress does everything from feeding Mel B sensual Funyuns to making The Once And Future Hulk legitimately, humorlessly angry.
...And there’s a mini-documentary about it:
Buress later told The A.V. Club he got the gig because he and Rob Schneider have the same live booking agent and Schneider turned it down.