Buress delivers some strong jokes, but the debut's material needs a bit of fine-tuning.
Credit: Comedy Central

Why? with Hannibal Buress

Why? With Hannibal Buress, the latest addition to the Comedy Central stable, isn’t shy about trying its best to fit in with the rest of the crowd. It has traces of The Daily Show or The Nightly Show’s desire to touch on topical events along with the set-up of Key & Peele’s early years or Chappelle’s Show, cutting between Buress before a crowd and pre-recorded segments.

The premiere’s apparent DNA blended with Buress’ unique style leads to a disjointed but occasionally funny premiere. But even despite some of its success, I came away unsure of what exactly Why? wants to be going forward. When it works, it’s a reminder of why Buress earned his own show in the first place. When it doesn’t, it makes you wonder if you’re watching the same comedian from a few moments earlier.

After a Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter cameo, Why? opens with Buress in stand-up mode, poking fun at the show’s name. “Part of me really likes the name of my show and part of me thinks they did it because it would make it really easy to replace me and slap somebody else’s name on it,” he quips.

He moves on to do a quickfire round of stand-up jokes, moving from Caitlyn Jenner to Donald Trump to Greece in a couple of minutes. Buress blasts through jokes rather than allows the salient observations to land. It feels less like a stand-up bit and more like the introduction for more extended jokes that never come. Instead, he segues into a surprisingly long joke about staying in hotels. Even if it ends in a Bill Cosby joke, the idea feels like a cut idea from his tour rather than one that fits with the other topical humor.

Now, Buress doesn’t need to build Last Week Tonight-length segments about the present-day topics he wants to discuss. But if the show does want to offer some commentary on current events, it needs to do so in a way that leaves an impact.

The episode picks up when Buress moves onto discussing internet trolls, including one whose house he visited. But that troll is actually Amy Schumer trying to protect her Comedy Central domain. I laughed the most at this segment, which highlighted one of Buress’ strengths. Paired with the right personalities, he can develop an incredible rhythm, as he does when he confronts Schumer.

The Schumer sketch is later followed by Buress’ fake audition tape to replace Jon Stewart. While its reveal online prior to the show airing robs some enjoyment for those who have seen it, the sketch does offer a few of the night’s few laughs.

But any goodwill the middle portion of the episode builds dissipates as it winds to a close. Another concept for social commentary seems to work when Buress first introduces the next idea. He screens footage of a man who, whenever pulled over by cops, simply says “I don’t answer questions,” and the cops often let him go. So Buress tries it himself, only to be shot at by a gun-happy (fake) cop. It’s a funny way of making his point, but the joke is needlessly repeated in a variation that doesn’t add much to the concept or to the humor.

The final bit doesn’t improve things. Because he missed the July 4th celebrations for the show, Buress decided to hold his own July 8th celebration. The bit includes his independence from not having a TV show, a Ben Franklin impersonator who thinks John F. Kennedy quotes were said by Franklin, and an opera singer. It feels half-baked, a few ideas cobbled together that includes too little humor and the show’s main attraction—Hannibal himself. For what seems to be a personality-driven show, it feels odd.

And perhaps that’s Why?’s greatest challenge—I don’t yet know what it exactly wants to be or accomplish. Yes, the host has said the show doesn’t have a set format, but it needs to better establish its identity in the coming weeks, and remember to bring the jokes along the way. Buress can be funny, and even though the show had several disappointing segments, I have enough faith in Buress himself that I intend to keep watching. But it’s with the hope that the show and Buress can work out what doesn’t, and quickly sweep aside what doesn’t.

Why? with Hannibal Buress
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