The Couch Sessions Interview – Hannibal Buress
by Winston "Stone" Ford
In today’s fractured media world you can’t just do one thing well. In order to make paper you have to have you have your name in the spotlight at all times. You have to be a triple-threat. In the comedy world, there are numerous multi-sport athletes, but the one that everyone is looking at to come up is Chicago’s Hannibal Burress.
You may have seen Burress popping up on the edges lately. From his role on the Eric Andre show, to showing up as the hilarious Lincoln on the new show Broad City, or from his numerous standup appearances throughout the years. (Check YouTube). But what you didn’t know is that Burress actually wrote on the celebrated TV show 30 Rock.
So with all this under his belt, it wasn’t surprising that Comedy Central gave Hannibal his own full-length standup special, Live From Chicago, which premiered at SXSW in Austin this month and premieres on cable this week. We spoke to him at the raucous Kegs and Eggs party during the festival.
What’s good man?
I’m chillin, chillin man.
We’re sitting here in Austin and I’m kinda tipsy. How has SXSW been treating you?
I like South By man, I’ve been coming through since around ’08, and the festival has progressed in the last few years. I’ve progressed. I’m getting to see different artists, and I presented at the [MTVu] Woodies, and I introduced Donald Glover, Chidish Gambino. That was a fun moment because we used to do standup shows together in New York, so to do a big event like that where he was the musical act and I doing we’ll as a comedian. So it was fun to see him and do that type of thing as a friend.
Well that leads into my next question, I was going to ask you about Donald [Glover]. I admire the hell out of you guys because you both were writing for network television in a time where there still aren’t a lot of Black writers in the game on that level. What motivated you to get into writing?
I looked as writing early as a way to get into show business as it’s tough to break into standup right away. And honestly the way I got on SNL…I wasn’t even trying to get on SNL at the time because I didn’t think I was that type of writer. But it was an amazing way at both SNL and 30 Rock to learn television. I got to work on both shows and watch the business. That gave me a work ethic and taught me to work on a deadline so it was a really cool experience.
People don’t bring you guys up when they talk about the lack of diversity
You that type of stuff is like….I hate to say it is what it is, but it is what it is. Sasheer [Zamata] is doing her thing, [writer] Michael Che is doing his thing, and they added some new writers recently.
Getting back to what you’re doing right now. You’re hustling man. You recently started on Broad City and I think your character is a small role, but very impactful.
Well thank you man.
Tell me how you crafted that character. The dude is so deadpan and you would think he’s slow or dumb, but he’s actually the smartest and most professional character on the show.
I mean they wrote it but I’m just not a stretch as an actor. [Laughs]. It’s not like I went “man I gotta get into the zone…” [Laughs]. I just told everybody [on set], “address me as Lincoln. I’m in the zone right now…”
But I did that web series and I had that character in the scene where me and Alana have sex and they ended up bringing me on for the pilot. It’s me as a dentist but its pretty much me in real life. The writers put me in these situations where I’m able to do well comedically and it’s been crazy to see how people connect with it. Just walking out and about, people know that show so I’m happy with how fast that it’s been able to do. And it’s a very fun show to do. It’s a lot of improv, a lot of fun on set.
And it’s a good looking show! You know when you’re doing something and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. The Director of Photography is slick, the music is slick and it’s just a very fast paced show.
And Eric Andre show just got picked up for a third season. Congratulations. What got you into that show?
That’s basically his baby. He was doing versions of it for a long time back i n 2008. He was dong live, versions of it on his own and when he wanted to start pitching it, we shot the pilot in a bodega. He was pitching it but he had to film a pilot to get it [on air]. The thing about that show is that you know if you’re sitting in an executive’s office with a bottled water and pitching a talk show saying “I’m weird, I break everything, I run around, the guest are fake,” [the executive] would say “Get the fuck outta here, what are you talking about?”
That was a thing where he had to make it on his own to see what his idea was. And he brought me on as kind of a balance out the weird.
That thing with Doc Chicken man…
Doc Chicken is weird! We got to live shows and he pops out and people are screaming “Doc Chicken, Doc Chicken!”
The show is not for everyone…
It’s on Adult Swim and it’s on late but there is an audience man, and the people that watch it are so into it, so when we do live shows that energy is crazy.
What do you like better? Standing, writing, or acting?
Stand-up is my first love. All of these things fuel each other, you know what I mean? I was able to get so many opportunities because I was a stand-up comedian. But the stand-up kind of fuels my writing, and the things I write [for television] make me a better writer for standup. And I do acting because of my stand-up and my acting makes me a better stand-up comedian. So stand-up is my first love but everything kind of works together.
What was it like to go back to your hometown and tape your Comedy Central special?
It was awesome man. The Vic is a amazing Chicago theatre, 1,000 seats. I started out doing open mics in Chicago at small venues, but I had two shows sell out in a couple of days, so to be able to pack it out like that is awesome.
Live From Chicago is airing on Comedy Central now. You can also buy the standup special from their website.