Comedian Hannibal Buress Talks Comedy, Writing for Television and his Sorta Celebrity | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Comedian Hannibal Buress Talks Comedy, Writing for Television and his Sorta Celebrity

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Comedian Hannibal Buress likes to have a little fun with rap music in his act. A couple of years back, he joked about a Young Jeezy song, "Lose My Mind," in which the rapper states, "House stupid dumb big, my rooms got rooms."

"No, Jeezy," quipped Buress. "Those are closets."

Most comics would never get a response to a joke about a famous person from said famous person. But Buress did. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jeezy was asked about Buress' joke.

"He said that about me?" said Jeezy. "Nah, his crib probably ain't as big as mine, that's all."

"That was pretty funny," concedes Buress of Jeezy's response in a recent interview with Seven Days.

Given his increasing success, the New York City-based comic may need to choose his words carefully when joking about rappers. Buress is currently the cohost of "The Eric Andre Show" on Adult Swim, as well as a series regular on the animated FX series "Chozen" and the Comedy Central series "Broad City." Previously, he worked as a writer on the NBC shows "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock." His new standup special, "Hannibal Buress: Live From Chicago," will premiere on Comedy Central on March 29. In short, Buress is a comedian on the brink of stardom — though, as we discovered, he'd likely be the last to admit it.

In advance of his show at the Higher Ground Ballroom in South Burlington this Sunday, March 9, we spoke with Buress by phone the morning after his appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."

SEVEN DAYS: I caught you on "The Tonight Show" last night. What's the Jimmy Fallon experience like?

HANNIBAL BURESS: It was cool, man. It was cool to be the first non-billionaire comedian on the show.

SD: Is doing a late-night show as big a deal for a comedian as it used to be? Once upon a time, doing Carson or Letterman could essentially break a comic. Now it seems like you already have to have a name to be on.

HB: It depends. I mean, I just did a set on a new show with high ratings. So that's a big deal for me. A lot of it's timing. I got a job writing on "Saturday Night Live" from my set on Fallon four years ago. So it doesn't have that automatic cachet where people will come out to your set the next night. But it lives online and people will decide whether to come see you based on that. So it might not be an immediate career changer. But it shows what you're able to do and, for someone like me who is a touring comedian, it can help.

SD: I've heard the "SNL" writing experience can be really cutthroat. Did you enjoy it?

HB: I did enjoy it. It was a different experience from just doing standup. It was tough, and I didn't get many sketches on. But it was a good experience. I learned a lot about writing and working in TV. And I got on "30 Rock" from that.

SD: Do you enjoy working collaboratively like that, or do you prefer to do your own thing?

HB: I like both. Writing with other people is kind of a flow. You say something and somebody else adds something to it, changes a word or takes it in a different direction. Working in a group, you're trying to make each other laugh. So that's fun and it's different from working solo, where you have to only trust your own instincts.

SD: You've had a pretty great year. Has that success changed your life in any specific ways?

HB: Maybe a little bit. I wouldn't say I'm famous. But the energy people have towards me is a little different, like when I'm out and about and someone recognizes me, and they're drunk. That can be a little bit weird. But for the most part it's fine, man. And I'm just happy to be working.

SD: So you don't have to put on a disguise to go grocery shopping.

HB: Nah, man. That's what it is. I'm not street famous. I'm bar famous. Drunks know me.

SD: Do they ask you to do bits from your act?

HB: Nobody wants bits, really. They want pics on their phone to put on Facebook or whatever. It can be a little bit annoying. But it means something to them, which is pretty cool.

SD: You recently toured with Dave Chapelle.

HB: That was really cool. I've been a fan of his since I was young. He's one of the best standups ever. Actually, in 2004 in Chicago, at the height of "The Chapelle Show," I snuck into the Congress Theater to see him. So to go from sneaking into a show to see him to doing shows with him ... that was really awesome.

SD: You have a pretty unique style. Is that something you consciously work on, or is it more simply a product of who you are?

HB: It's mostly just me. But sometimes I'll do something like, I'll be telling a joke and all of a sudden might just say one word really LOUD, like that. That's because, early on I was doing bar shows, and maybe over here somebody is talking. I don't want to break the rhythm of my joke, so instead I'll get really loud in the middle of my joke. That's a teacher move. But that's part of my style now.

SD: Hip-hop is a big part of your act.

HB: I started out doing comedy at music open mics. And sometimes I would freestyle. I've always really loved hip-hop and it's something I like to talk about — lyrics, what the fuck they're saying. I'll rewind a crazy lyric and listen to it 20 times. So it's what I'm interested in, which is what I talk about in my comedy: rap lyrics, partying and doing my thing.

SD: You made a joke about Young Jeezy and he actually responded. Does knowing rappers might actually hear your jokes now give you any hesitation in doing jokes about them?

HB: No. I'm not doing jokes out of a mean place. The songs I usually talk about are songs I like, artists I enjoy. So I'm having fun. But who knows? If people get mad, let people get mad.

— Hannibal Buress, Sunday, March 9, 9 p.m., at the Higher Ground Ballroom in South Burlington. $25/27.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Almost Famous"

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