Comedian Hannibal Buress on the business of being funny

Hannibal Buress is a comedian, actor, writer, and “Handsome Rambler” podcast host. He brings his stand-up act to the Jefferson on Friday.
Image: Marcus Price Hannibal Buress is a comedian, actor, writer, and “Handsome Rambler” podcast host. He brings his stand-up act to the Jefferson on Friday. Image: Marcus Price

Since Hannibal Buress began his comedy career in 2002, he has hit screens in a variety of ways—from the series “Broad City” to the films The Secret Life of Pets, Tag, Blockers, Baywatch, and Daddy’s Home.

Though Buress is booking big gigs and taking his stand-up tour nationwide, he’s unsure about fame. Even his bio jokes about his “mild” popularity.

In his Netflix special “Comedy Camisado,” Buress berates the media, police, and a hotel receptionist who doesn’t believe his identity. Last summer, he hired a double who arguably looks nothing like him to stand in during the Spider-Man: Homecoming premiere. Though the lights have been bright on Buress recently, his comedy is down-to-earth and celebrates the mundane, absurd, and everyday life stuff to which we all can relate.

C-VILLE: What was your first stand-up performance like?

HB: It was an open mic in Carbondale, Illinois. I went to one and watched a friend perform and kind of saw the open mic stage demystified. Anybody could get up. It made it so I could at least try it in a low stakes environment. I tried it out, had fun with it, and kept going from there.

You mentioned that a lot of your stand-up material is based on your life. Anything that’s happened recently that you’ve been noodling over?

Parking garages. The ones that make you get a ticket and then say, “Hey, before you go back to your car, please pay at machine.” You can pay at exit, too, when you’re driving out. [Laughing.] They make it seem like you can’t, but you always can.

That bothers me. [Laughs.] You always can. I guess it’s for speed purposes. They don’t even have it in small print. “We also make it very easy for you to pay at exit.” They say you must pay at machine before you go back to your car. It’s like, “You know I don’t have to!”

In “Comedy Camisado,” you talk about a police officer “fangirling” over you. Have you ever had a fangirl moment?

That bit was about my conflict in thinking about police brutality and what energy you put on that job. You don’t know if someone is a good person if you meet them on the street. Depending on where the job is, I get uncomfortable if a cashier asks me to take a picture. [Laughing.]

The other day I was voting and was in the booth for a while. A bunch of different judges in Chicago are up for re-election, so I was Googling them. I was in the booth for a half hour. I wasn’t in my normal mental state when I stepped out.[A woman taking my ballot asked] “Can I get picture?” I said “No.” In that moment that was the last thing I was thinking about. I was researching judges! …Anywhere else I would have been fine with it. I felt bad about the way I said it. I was just there doing my civic duty like everybody else.

If you were that lady at Lovett School in Chicago, and you so happen to be angry Googling me since that moment, I apologize for my tone. But I don’t apologize for not taking a photo with you.

A recent New York Times article discussed your “prickly” relationship with the press. Is that how you’d describe the relationship?

No. I don’t know if it’s prickly. I’m just in several years of doing a lot of media. A lot of it isn’t rocket science. You know there are patterns, techniques, and strategies. Sometimes people lead you to a certain subject. …Make certain things be the headline to get more traffic, even if that was a small part of the interview. After doing hundreds of interviews I’ve been misquoted before. That’s part of the job. I don’t begrudge anybody.

Tell me about your body double at the Spider-Man: Homecoming premiere.

[Laughs, a lot.] I thought you were going to ask me about my body. I was about to say I’ve been working out. I’ll tell you about my body. I went to Thailand and got in the best shape of my life. I won’t say it all fell apart. I went out there to reset after a bunch of press in May and June.

But I can talk about the body double. I was filming Tag in Atlanta when the Spider-Man premiere happened. Everybody thought I didn’t want to go. I was on set in Atlanta.

There was a lot of downtime that day, so I was able to put this together. [Laughs] That’s how boring movie sets can be sometimes. You have enough time to put out an ad, respond, book the person, and get the info. Yeah, movie sets can be slow motion.

It was so fun because I remember watching him on Instagram live. It was really exciting, like Avatar or something. …I was laughing really hard. It was gratifying seeing fun ideas come together, really dope. I have to figure out more fun stuff like that.