Slightly absurd style suits Buress
A typical Hannibal Buress joke is so deceptively simple that you don’t realize its complexity until later, long after it comes together in a weird, hilarious ending.
“Whenever people are going through something in life, they get really cliché,” starts one joke. “They say stuff like, ‘I’m takin’ it one day at a time.’ You know who else is? Everybody. Because that’s how time works. That’s the only way you can take time. Were you taking it one week at a time before? Who are you?” At this point, Buress is exasperated, having taken the hypothetical example very personally. By the time he closes by bragging about how he also takes things “one day at a time” but without any personal issues, one joke has turned into three or four.
That skewed, slightly absurd style has served Buress well over the course of his short but full career. In addition to touring with his stand-up — which he will perform at the Wilbur Theatre on Saturday — the New York-based comic appears regularly on the Comedy Central sitcom “Broad City” and the faux talk show “The Eric Andre Show” on Adult Swim. He’s also a frequent guest on late-night talk shows, a recurring panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!” and a former writer for “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.”
Buress, 31, says all of this experience has informed his stand-up.
“When I started doing those [writing] jobs,” he says, “it put me in a situation where I was around a bunch of people who were always about making the joke better and vivid, and hit quickly. During that time when I was working at ‘SNL’ and ‘30 Rock,’ it did help being able to come up with more material.”
Adapting his voice for another person, however, took some time.
“It took a little while before I was able to get out of my own head and vibe, and really write for different characters and get into their head. There were times when I was pitching a joke for [‘30 Rock’ character] Jack Donaghy, but it was really something I would say in that situation.”
On “Broad City,” Buress plays Lincoln, boyfriend to Ilana, one of the show’s main characters. He says much of the show is improvised, and Buress’s unique voice certainly comes through. (On seeing the perpetually broke Ilana sitting on a curb, sobbing, eating out of a garbage bag: “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Nobody’s perfect. I’m not a perfect dentist. I eat candy all the time. I got, like, six cavities.”)
Buress appeared in the show’s earlier incarnation as a Web series, and when he was asked to appear on the TV version, the decision was a no-brainer.
“It’s just a funny show,” he says. “The characters have a good chemistry. It’s fun to watch them play these low-stakes situations.”
Ever since his style evolved from the one-liners of his 2010 debut record “My Name Is Hannibal” to the storytelling approach of his 2012 Comedy Central special and album “Animal Furnace,” Buress’s stand-up has also centered on seemingly low-stakes situations blown out of proportion.
“From my end, it is easier if something true or weird happened,” he says. “As I’ve gotten more comfortable performing, it’s just more fun to tell a story and share true experiences.”
The masterfully goofy “Animal Furnace” includes tales from his romantic life, as well as stories about getting a ticket for jaywalking and having someone steal his debit card.
In Buress’s hands, these everyday occurrences take on a surreal bent (“First charge, $30 at Chuck E. Cheese’s, are you serious? ‘Hey, I just found this debit card. Who’s up for some flat Pepsi and air hockey? Let’s get it while we can, time is of the essence!’ ”). Fans can expect more of the same from his upcoming special, “Hannibal Buress: Live From Chicago,” premiering March 29 on Comedy Central.
Abbi Jacobson, a “Broad City” star and co-creator, appreciates Buress’s unique qualities. “Hannibal has always been one of my favorite New York stand-ups. He is so detailed and thoughtful in his act — his point of view is so clear and strong that we thought he’d be great alongside Ilana in a romantic relationship.”
Richard Sloven, talent buyer at the Knitting Factory, says Buress’s ability to reinvent himself has made his show a regularly sold-out affair. “He’s always able to stay fresh. There’s some jokes I’ve heard 10 times, but they sound different every time,” says Sloven.
When asked whether the sheer number of outlets available to comedians today — Twitter, YouTube, podcasts — has made it easier or harder to gain visibility, Buress says it’s something of a tossup.
“It’s always gonna be hard to be heard. The thing about anybody being able to do a Web series or a podcast is that it’s open to everybody for a very low price. You don’t really have to wait for your own opportunities. You don’t have to wait for people to hand you something. When you control the script, who you cast, and what you want to talk about, anybody can show their voice and do their thing.”
He adds, with a sense of gratitude, “It’s a real good time for comedy.”
It’s also, it seems, a real good time for Hannibal Buress.