Hannibal Buress isn’t resting on his laurels
In January,Rolling Stone named him one of the 10 funniest “people, videos, and things of the coming year”. Last year, Variety named him one of the top 10 comics to watch. Chris Rock calls him “the funniest young comic I’ve seen in years”. He’s been featured in Esquire and New York magazines, and he’s been a staff writer on both Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. But Hannibal Buress isn’t resting on his laurels.
The 28-year-old Chicago native is already nine years into his life calling, but standup comedy is a tough game. It often takes a decade for a comic to find a unique voice. To his credit, the humble Buress just wants to get better at his craft.
“I’m still not where I want to be,” he says on the phone from the road in Minneapolis. “I’m not there yet, but I’ve had some good things happen and some nice press. But I’m still focused on the work. I’m still developing and still getting better and figuring out what I want to talk about. I’m able to do well on-stage now, but I’m not as good as I’m gonna be or as I wanna be yet so I’m still working on it.”
To say he’s able to do well on-stage now is as understated as his laid-back delivery. He killed it on The Late Show With David Letterman and his CD, My Name is Hannibal, where his absurdities included a personification of syphilis and herpes, has garnered raves from all over the comedy blogosphere.
As for that name, it’s proven problematic in this age of pop culture where history doesn’t extend past one’s birth year. Buress’s dad was a big fan of the ancient military commander, not the fictional serial killer.
“People always say ”˜Hannibal Lecter’s the first thought that I had!’ Well, you should keep that to yourself,” he laughs. “I’ve had the same conversations with people all the time about it, and it’s kind of mind-numbing at this point and I kind of shut down.”
It’s a distinctive moniker, to be sure. Maybe a bit too distinctive. In his first year or two of comedy, Buress decided to go with something simpler.
“I had a stage name early on,” he says. “My middle name is Amir. And I thought I was a natural. So my stage name for a little while was Amir Natural. It was very corny.”
Now, as the title of his CD attests, he’s comfortable with his given name. With it, Buress has become a fan favourite in the alternative-comedy arena. But he doesn’t define or align himself with any particular scene. He claims lots of different audiences respond well to his act. There’s one common denominator, though, that he’d like to change.
“A lot of my fan base is white,” he says. “I’m starting to see more black people come out to my shows as of late, but still the majority is white. I do a bit where I say I’m like the Lenny Kravitz of comedy. So I’ve got to do kind of a reverse crossover.”
His buddy Louis CK has influenced Buress’s work ethic. CK set the standard for turning over new material yearly and Buress wants to follow suit, as difficult as it may be for someone whose jokes tend to be shorter.
“I can come up with three or four new bits but that might only be two minutes,” he says. “I’m like, ”˜Aw, man, I should talk slower.’ Or ”˜Let me add a couple words to this. That’ll add a few seconds.’ ”
But he persists.
“Already I’m worried about new material for when I’m touring again. It’s kind of annoying.”