Interview: Hannibal Buress

January 07, 2011

Rolling Stone just called Hannibal Buress one of the "10 Funniest People Videos and Things of the Coming Year." With a straight face and ease he's a lot funnier than us, but we'll keep trying to tell his joke about apple juice no matter how many times we bomb. You can watch Hannibal on Letterman tonight, but he was there already:

Buress' comedy record My Name is Hannibal is out now. We talked to him about the trash on our streets, feeling funny and writing for TV.

Where did you grow up? When did you get to New York?
I grew up in Chicago, I moved to New York two years ago to do standup comedy.

When did you start doing standup?
Almost nine years ago. At first I was doing it as an amateur and really trying to be a professional comedian. Now it’s my job and people pay me to do it, so I keep that in mind and approach it like that. I wasn’t super into comedy when I was young. My interest in comedy really happened right before I started. I guess when I was young I watched “The Cosby Show,” so Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy and those guys. I wasn’t a big comedy fan as a kid; I didn’t really study it like that.

But people must have let you know you were funny—
I think Seinfeld said this: “When you’re a kid, everybody’s funny.” Who had a friend that never said anything funny? I was funny with my friends and in class sometimes, but it wasn’t anything I decided to pursue until college. I saw that some people weren’t that good at it so I tried it.

And your move to New York worked out well.
It’s going pretty well, I write at “30 Rock,” and I used to write at “Saturday Night Live.”

What’s the difference between the two?
It’s two different formats, a sketch and a sitcom. I put a lot more work into the writing of a 30 minute show. SNL is written the week of the show with some pieces even being written on Friday, so it’s more of an against the clock type of thing, whereas at “30 Rock” you’re working on it for a while, and it’s rewritten and written.

You organize Comedy At The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn every Sunday. What’s that show? Did you want your own to avoid being a part of bad shows?
It’s a comedy show in Williamsburg, there’s nothing too deep about it. Chris Rock, Louis C.K., Judah Friedlander from “30 Rock,” Jeffrey Ross, Jim Gaffigan, Jay Pharoah from SNL have performed. I mean, we get some big names in there, a lot of up and comers that are doing great also. Every week is a different lineup. It’s a fun time. I just really did my own show because it’s close to my house. At a good comedy show the venue is good, the sound isn’t horrible, the comics are good and there’s a good crowd there specifically for comedy.

What venues are good for good comedy shows in New York?
The Knitting Factory. I enjoy the Comedy Cellar. Union Hall has another Sunday show that Eugene Mirman and I did. UCB is great. There are so many shows. Kabin with a K. Best city for comedy in America.

What did you do for the holidays?
I went back home to Chicago and saw family and did some shows. I miss Chicago, that that we don’t have our garbage on the street like New York. I guess you could say that for every city but New York. In Chicago there’s a lot more space, it’s way cheaper, a little bit laid back. I like driving in Chicago. It’s just a fun spot. It’s home. It was good to be there for the holidays, but New York is my home.

Outside what you do at “30 Rock” and performing, who makes you feel funny now?
Myself? I can say the weirdest shit when I’m by myself. I don’t have to filter myself around myself. You show different versions of yourself depending on who you’re around. You’re somebody around your family or friends or at work or at a party, you know. There’s different levels of comfort you have with different people.

What are you getting into this year? What are you listening to?
Keep doing standup, building an audience, generating material and see what goes from there. I listen to Jay-Z and Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa, Little Brother, Kanye. I like Wiz because he talks about smokin weed and fuckin chicks on every song but it doesn’t get tiresome.

Interview: Hannibal Buress