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Hannibal Buress Is Comedy's Next Everest - By zruskin - May 31, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Hannibal Buress Is Comedy’s Next Everest

(Photo by Marcus Price)

Wherever you look, there’s Hannibal Buress.

Turn on Comedy Central and you’ll see him stealing scenes in Broad City as dentist Lincoln Rice. Flip over to Adult Swim, and there’s Buress serving as Ed McMahon to Eric Andre’s deranged Johnny Carson on The Eric Andre Show. Check Netflix, and you’ll find four of his stand-up comedy specials. Hannibal Buress is everywhere these days — and he’s just getting started.

One reason for his rising stardom is his singular way of telling jokes. Watch Buress perform live, and you’ll immediately notice the way he conversationally weaves in punchlines and often indulges in extemporaneous sidebars when the mood strikes. His delivery itself is methodical and patient — never rushed, but always working towards a laugh.

In some cases, the show begins before Buress even hits the stage.

When he played The Nourse in San Francisco in October, Buress opened the performance by replaying the ninth inning of the Giants’ infamous NLDS Game 4 meltdown (which had occurred only two days prior). As the crowd was forced to relive the team’s heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Cubs, Buress’ resident DJ, Tony Trimm, added to the trauma by playing E-40’s “Captain Save a Hoe.”

“We thought it would be funny to use these visuals to antagonize local audiences,” Buress explains. “In Seattle, we showed the Bulls destroying the Supersonics in the ’90s. In Portland, we showed the Bulls destroying the Blazers, when Jordan had the shrug game. With San Francisco, we just happened to get lucky with the game being something so recent.”

Asked to elaborate on his motives for wanting to antagonize an audience he will then need to entertain for an hour, Buress compares his sports footage stunt to attending a Cirque du Soleil show.

“I’m just a big fan of great production and spectacle,” he says. “I don’t want my shit to be Cirque du Soleil exactly — but I’ve been to a couple of those shows, and when you get there early, they have characters there that are walking through the crowd and messing around with people. It’s engaging right away, even if you’re there 30 minutes early. That’s basically what I want to do.”

When Buress isn’t scheming new ways to needle his crowds, he’s fast becoming a popular casting choice in Hollywood. This summer alone, he’ll appear as Dave the Tech in a big screen reboot of Baywatch and as Coach Wilson in the highly-anticipated Marvel vehicle Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Given the specific nature of his vocal delivery, Buress confesses that he sometimes worries he’ll get called out.

“It’s kind of just me acting like me a little bit,” he says. I keep waiting for a director on-set to get mad and say, ‘Hey, switch it up a little bit!’

“I think if I’m challenged, I can show some emotional range,” he adds. “I would have to really work on it, but yeah, a lot of it is just me in a costume.”

Off-set, Buress can also often be found in the studio recording episodes of his new podcast, Handsome Rambler. The show delights in pushing the definition of what a free-flowing conversation can be, with Buress often welcoming guests from the world of hip-hop.

“I feel like a lot has been done with the comedian interviewing another comedian genre,” he says in regards to how Handsome Rambler took shape.

With recent episodes featuring artists like Flying Lotus, Killer Mike, and Chance the Rapper, Buress is less interested in having his guests bare their souls than simply having some fun.

“The thing with having musicians on is that there’s just a wider range of questions I can ask,” he says. “I like to be able to try out stuff and mess around. Lately, we’ve been bringing in a beat machine and a theremin and just kind of getting weird.”

The visual of Buress gleefully hitting a theremin more or less encapsulates his distinctive sense of humor. After clarifying that, for the podcast, he actually uses a synthesized “theremini,” he enthusiastically shares that he’s signed up for a class at Moogfest in North Carolina, where he’ll learn how to make his own synthesizer.

Before Buress visits Moogfest, he’ll take part in a number of events as part of San Francisco’s inaugural Colossal Clusterfest, an upcoming joint festival from Comedy Central and Superfly that offers laughs and music in equal measure. With a lineup including Jerry Seinfeld, Ice Cube, Sarah Silverman, and Vince Staples, Buress’s involvement feels like a foregone conclusion.

“I enjoy festivals in general,” he says, “just because it’s kind of sensory overload.”

While Buress says he isn’t exactly sure what he’ll do for his Clusterfest gigs yet, he does always have the option of turning to his emerging career as a DJ. He’s long been a fan of dabbling in the musical arts, like the day he jumped on stage at SXSW to play drums for Speedy Ortiz.

However, Buress is perhaps the most at home when he’s on the ones and twos.

“I DJ at a lot at our events,” he says. “I’m not great at it, but I can get it going a little bit, just based on the goodwill that people have for me from my comedy show.”

Buress recalls that his DJ skills were put to the test last fall during an after party in Oakland at the Starline Social Club following a gig at the Fox Theater.

“This particular time, I got high before I DJ’d,” he says. “I’m usually just a little buzzed or drunk DJ’ing, but high DJ’ing for me was not good, because I was just in my head, like, ‘Do they like this? Is this one going to be good?’ Then I just put on some Kamaiyah and that got the crowd back a little bit. “

Hannibal Buress performs Saturday, June 3 and Sunday, June 4 as part of Colossal Clusterfest at Bill Graham Civic Center. Three-day passes and single day tickets are available at clusterfest.com.