Hannibal Buress talks Tag, heckles, and the comedy of his life
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With his off-kilter humor and deadpan one-liners, Chicago comedian Hannibal Buress, 35, has slowly been stealing the spotlight in films such as Baywatch, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and this year’s raunchy Blockers. Now, Buress is finally leading a film as one of the five stars of the action comedy Tag, alongside Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, and Jake Johnson, in a movie based on the true story of five adult men who have played the same game of tag each year for three decades.
“I have to be honest, I’ve just played myself in every movie,” Buress told EW. “I just try to make the takes funny, and if what’s on the page doesn’t feel right, I try to change it and say something else that feels right, and I try to be as funny as I can without taking away from other cast members.”
Starting in the world of stand-up, Buress landed a breakout recurring role on 30 Rock as a heckling homeless man, and then in 2014 as Lincoln, the long-suffering boyfriend to the hilariously eccentric Ilana on Comedy Central’s Broad City.
Amid Buress’ starry rise, he found himself thrust into the news when a 2014 stand-up set revived sexual misconduct allegations against Bill Cosby. The bit in question involved Buress criticizing Cosby for making patronizing remarks toward black people, and countering, “Well yeah, you’re a rapist.” Buress’ Cosby barb went viral and set in motion a sequence of events in which more than 50 women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against the veteran comedian, dating back decades. In April, Cosby, 80, was convicted by a jury of drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004. He is currently free on bail and awaiting sentencing.
“I don’t really like discussing that,” Buress said when asked about the impact his stand-up had on Cosby, but he did say he’s made peace with it being part of his career.
Instead, Buress discussed the real-life situations in his own life that he draws his comedy from, who inspires him, and why Donald Glover might have to watch his back.
THE COMEDY OF MY LIFE
The joke I’m asked about the most
“Sometimes pigeons are just casually on the sidewalk and it seems like they have no fear, and I did this whole thing about wanting to kick a pigeon. It was one of my earlier jokes, on my first comedy album. The bit caught on and I would hear stories from people talking about how they kicked the pigeon, and it was terrifying. I’m not really out here kicking birds, I was just joking around, but people get insane sometimes.”
The joke with the loudest heckles
“[If I ask], ‘Should I do this?,’ and obviously it’s just rhetorical in the context of the joke, I’m not genuinely asking the crowd, and somebody just goes ‘No.’ I did a pop-up set a few weeks ago in Chicago and that happened, where this lady, she just kept on answering questions. It was like, ‘Why do you think this is helpful right now, what’s wrong with you, ma’am? Please shut up. I’m not asking you individually. The rest of the crowd seems to be grasping this concept with ease, that I’m just talking in a set and not asking you directly.’ But she kept on doing it, so I ended up roasting her for a good 10 minutes or so.
“When somebody just keeps on interrupting, I try to do a service for them and for people who are performing at other shows that they may go to in the future. So hopefully after I tell them something, they won’t want to do that in a show setting anymore.”
The joke I’m most proud of
“When I talk about getting ticketed for jaywalking in Montreal or trying to check in to a [hotel] in California and not having my ID but having other stuff with my name on it, and them not letting me check in— because I remember how frustrating it was in real time. So to be able to channel small situations into something that connects and works as a solid comedy piece is fun. Also I get to make myself sound more clever in retrospect.”
The three comedians, living or dead, I’d invite to my dream dinner
“Patrice O’Neal. He would have barbecues on July 4, and I went to one several years ago before he passed, and he just knows how to hold court and tell stories. Tiffany Haddish, because she’s just lively — I’ve been to parties and dinners with her, and she has good energy and always has a story. My third comedian would be an unknown French open-mic comedian that doesn’t speak English well, and every time they say something, we’d say, ‘What the f— did you just say?’ And then we’d go back to talking.”
The comedy album that inspired my stand-up
“Dave Chappelle’s Killin’ Them Softly had a bit about his white friend Chip, talking about Chip’s white privilege. He’s talking about being in a car with Chip, and Chip was drunk, and Dave says they’re at a stoplight and someone else is stopped there. Chip says, ‘Dave, I’m going to race him.’ [Dave] says, ‘I knew it was a bad idea, but I was high.… All that came out was s—, n—, sometimes you gotta race, I don’t know,’ and the delivery and timing on that… it was just so perfect.”
The funniest word in the English language
“Loiter. It does sound like it’s around too long — that ‘oi’ sound is like, ‘Get outta here, loiterer.’ It sounds like what it is. A lot of people don’t like moist. Moist loiterer. Maybe I’ll name my special Moist Loiterer. Ugh.”
The joke I wish I had told
“I wish I had the skill that Katt Williams has with using a stool as a prop in his shows. Because he’s used a stool as a motorcycle, which you don’t really [see]. You see them use it as a person that they knock down, or you might see somebody even f— the stool, but you don’t really see people use it as a motorcycle. So I wish I used the stool as a motorcycle before Katt Williams did.”
The joke with the most impact
“The New Orleans parade joke where I tell people I had to get a parade and have a band in New Orleans and have a second line — a lot of people did that in New Orleans. I told the bit on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, just talking about my experience of putting together my cousin’s bachelor party and getting a band and having a second-line parade, it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in my life. Then it kind of went viral in New Orleans and a lot of other people saw it, and so people still hit me up with, “How do I do this?” and I recommend them to the musicians that they need to hit up to do it. It’s one of my few bits that’s really about having fun and not critiquing anybody, or trying to have a hot take on something, or it’s not political, it’s really a ‘Hey, I did this, this was fun, this was really fun, it was ridiculous and fun, and listen to me talk about it.’”
The TV comedy I wish I was a part of
“I told Donald Glover and his squad, ‘If y’all don’t put me in season 2 of Atlanta, then I have to fight whomever I see out of the crew first.’ They didn’t put me in season 2, so there has to be a fight.”