Hannibal Buress and the art of “why?” | Comedy | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Hannibal Buress and the art of “why?”

“I would ask weird stuff to kinda get people off balance.”

Hannibal Buress would make a hell of a journalist.

Example: In 2014, Buress was recruited by ESPN for one game of court-side NBA coverage. The results were hard-hitting: “Is Anthony Davis as good as they say? … He’s really good. This is a dumb piece.”

In his 2012 special, Animal Furnace, Buress took a college newspaper to task for printing an article that he perceived as alternately poorly written (“[Buress] stands out like an exclamation point”) and untrue (“Sometimes when I do phone interviews and the journalist is boring, I just start saying crazy stuff to make it fun for me”).

Hmm …

In a nutshell, Buress’ comedy asks why. Why don’t we eat penguins? Why do off-duty military officers wear full regalia to Applebee’s? Why do people act like olives taste good? Probably best known is a bit from 2014 where Buress asked why Bill Cosby’s rape allegations had gone unnoticed for so long. The fact that he asked that last one might be the reason you know him in the first place.

Or maybe it’s Broad City or The Eric Andre Show, or his Netflix standup specials, or his appearances in movies like Daddy’s Home, Neighbors and The Angry Birds Movie. He’s a busy dude. Currently, he’s on a four-month tour of North America and Australia called The Hannibal Montanabal Experience, which lands at the Byham Theater on Sept. 29. CP spoke to Buress by phone earlier this month.

You’ve been known to incorporate musical performances and DJs into your sets. Is there a musical component on this tour?

A little bit, not as much. Still talk about some songs and different things and talking about music and seeing different shows. It’s a big part of my life and a big part of what I do with my free time, so I like to stay true to that.

When did you first integrate music into your show?

Early, very early material. Reference music, talking about different rap lyrics, which a lot of comedians have done. “This person said this, why would they say that, that doesn’t make sense.” I found I just wanted to have it be more dynamic, and it’s easy. It just helps, versus saying, “Hey, this rapper said this” and you saying it, it’s just better to say, “Hey this rapper said this” and play what they said in the context and how they said it, and it just gives the show some more energy and people hear this clips.

I remember years back, it might have been 2006-2007, I wanted to do a whole show of just talking about different rap lyrics and I met up with my current touring DJ, Tony Trimm, and I wanted to do only a show about that, and luckily I just decided to make it a short portion of my set.

Why luckily?

Well, you don’t wanna talk about rap lyrics for an hour, there’s other things to talk about, in life.
It’s something that’s good to have a change of pace for the set when I’m talking about this for a few minutes, and switching the energy for a little bit, and also while I’m doing that it gives me time to kinda mentally prepare for the rest of the show and think about how I wanna approach that.

What’s your least favorite thing about a tour this long?

I don’t know. I haven’t done a tour this long, so we’ll see. Hopefully I book a movie and I’ll have to cancel some of these dates. [Laughs]

We’ll see man, especially with this amount a travel and this many cities, the key is just trying to keep good care of yourself. I’ve been toying with the idea of bringing a personal trainer on the road with me on this one, and try to work out once a day because you want to have your energy levels high and it’s work. Comedy isn’t tough work once you are pro at it, but keeping yourself mentally and physically in peak condition … that’s the tough work. Especially amidst all that travel and being out late at night, et cetera, that’s the main thing.

You’re on an upcoming Netflix show called Easy, in which you play a journalist in Chicago. Can you tell me about that project?

It was freezing, it was horribly freezing. It was so cold I wish I didn’t — there was moments I wish I didn’t do this. We were shooting outside, and I’m like, “You know what? I dunno, I don’t know if this is worth it. I’d rather be inside, not working, just being warm.”

Do you think you’d make a good journalist?

Yeah. I think so. I think I’d make a really good journalist.

I’ve interviewed people before. I’ve gotten interviewed a bunch, so I know the different techniques and angles that people use. Yeah, I think I’d be really good at it. Also, I would ask really tough questions, I would ask weird stuff to kinda get people off balance, so I’d be all over the place and I think I’d be good at it.

Yeah, well, there are two sides to it, right? This sort of thing and then the more investigative side, which I feel fits well with your style of comedy, looking at everyday things and questioning why they are the way they are.  

I do very journalistic things with my internet time, I just don’t report on it afterwards. I do lots of investigations online but I just don’t write about it.

Investigation was big on your Comedy Central show Why?, which you’ve said won’t be coming back for a second season. What was the most challenging part of creating Why?

The most challenging thing was just trying to figure out how to to get my voice across in a natural way and do stuff and put out stuff that was true to me, and honest. And we did that some of the time; I don’t think we did that as a whole with the series. Yeah, man, it was just a fun time, it’s just a different thing. Running a show, being the star, EP on the show, is a lot of different responsibilities, and you got a lot of stuff taking up your time, so it was a good exercise in time management and delegation and just having to be decisive about lots of situations and making sure it’s the right way. There’d have to be an episode of television locked in a few hours. Learned a lot, man, it was a cool time and I’m glad I had the experience.

Is there a part of you that’s relieved to be done with it and moving on to other projects?

I think right at the end, yeah. I mean it’s been a year now, so it’s not something that’s fresh in my mind, but yeah, at the end of it I was kinda ready to finish it up.

I heard you’re starting a podcast this fall. Can you tell me about that?

Yeah. I was thinking about making an on-the-road podcast since we have a lot of downtime on the road, traveling, traveling with a few people. That’s the rough idea. Pretty much everybody else got a podcast and it’s starting to kill radio — not kill radio, but people like specialized specific content. That’s what podcasts give people. I know if I listen to this, I know I’m gonna get this every day, or every week or whatever.

I started listening to this podcast, once I started getting interested in real estate, it’s this podcast called “Bigger Pockets Podcast.” And it’s a real-estate investment podcast, it’s basically the Marc Maron, it’s the “WTF” of real estate. You have these guys on with different real-estate investment stories, from people that have five properties to people that have acquired a hundred different investments over the course of a few years, to people that’s been doing it for a few years to people that’s been doing it for 50.

How did you find that one?

I just searched “best real estate podcast” and that’s the top one. Kinda got addicted to listening to that. I listened to “Drink Champs” with Noreaga, you listen to that at all?

I haven’t heard it.

That’s a new one. Noreaga the rapper interviews other rappers and they get drunk and they tell stories and different things to him, and [there] really hasn’t been anything like it that I can think of right now, just because he was a huge rapper. He’s a big rapper, so he’s talking to other rappers, they have a different type of comfort level with him, so he gives better stories. So those are the two I been listening to now, “Drink Champs” with Noreaga and “Bigger Pockets.”

So you’re going to be recording yours on this tour?

Yeah, that’s the idea, but also I’ve had lots of ideas that didn’t get executed, but I feel like we’ll execute this one.

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