On The Couch With Hannibal Buress

Arielle Gordon

Hannibal Buress

All photos by Rafe Baron.

The patient speaks with a slow, careful cadence. It’s clear that he’s not going to sit idly by while I question his inner psyche, instead pushing his own ideas and witty insights on comedy and life on me. For what I’m sure will not be the last time on the couch, I found myself learning more from the patient than he learned from me. The subject is not too serious about his career to joke around during our time together, and his observations on comedy and television in general are as hilarious as they are enlightening. For someone who is primarily known for being the deadpan sidekick to the absurd host on The Eric Andre Show, Hannibal Buress, try as I might, refuses to be forced into one comedic corner.

I noticed you wore a jumpsuit with your face on it on Late Night With Seth Meyers. That’s a pretty narcissistic move. Do you consider yourself a narcissist?

I think it’s just a goofy move. There are some elements of narcissism to it; I think there are elements on narcissism in being in entertainment in general. Being a performer, being a singer, actor, there are elements of narcissism to that. I was just having fun with it and just being a goofball, because it’s fun to wear something like that. It puts me in a fun mood, and it’s something that I think other people enjoy. So it’s basically doing comedy, but with clothes.

Right. Like prop comedy. Do you think in general that comedians are narcissists, and are they bad coworkers because of it?

It just depends on the person. Every human has some elements of narcissism. I think comedians are varied as people are; you have to be in your own head a lot as a comedian and you have to value your own thoughts a lot to say, “I want to say these in front of other people, I need to be heard, my thoughts are important enough to be on a microphone.”

When you write jokes, do you tend to turn inward and observe your own behavior, or turn outward and observe everyday life?

Both. I have jokes about both. A lot of it is outward and what I think about what’s happening around me, and how I feel about that, but I also just talk about my feelings about certain things that are going on, so it’s both.

Because I’m doing comedy, I’m able to turn things that frustrate me into work and make money from it. That’s a cool thing to be able to do.

Some of your acting roles, such as your roles on The Eric Andre Show and Broad City, are a bit risqué. How do your parents and your family feel as your job as an actor. Have they seen the things you’ve been on?

You think it’s risqué? How so?

How so? The opening scene of Broad City, for example, is Ilana Glazer’s character having sex with you. And on The Eric Andre Show, it gets a little crazy at times. Do you not show your family the more inappropriate stuff? Do they care?

No, we’re all grown ups, and it’s okay, because me and Ilana weren’t having sex. It wasn’t a porno. They’re grown up, and they enjoy stuff, and I’ve done crazy stuff before, and it just happens to be that I’m working in it, and I’m just trying to do stuff that I think is funny. So they’re okay with it.

So have your parents heard your stand up? Do they like it?

Yeah they’ve heard it. They love it; I’m really good at it.

That’s true. How have your jokes changed as you’ve gotten older?

Well, a lot of it is just what’s going on in my life, and traveling, and more experience. With age you gain perspective, and I’m able to look back on something from five years ago, and say, “Wow, I was being an idiot then.” So that’s what comes with it, is more knowledge and knowing people better, and knowing myself better. That’s what comes with it.

Hannibal Buress

Do you think you’ve gotten to know yourself better through stand up?

I think so. I mean I’ve only really done stand up for the past twelve years, so honestly, that’s my lens that I see the world in, analyze the world through, analyze myself through. So I think that thinking of bits, and what I think about things, and my perspective, that’s changed over time, and I’m able to explore that through stand up.

Do you think anything from your childhood foretold you career as a stand up comedian? Were you a class clown or a performer as a kid?

In some classes I was a class clown. I skipped a grade in elementary school, so early on I was the smart kid and just wanted to know the answer and be the smart aleck, and now, looking back, I didn’t know that I would do stand up until right before I started doing stand up, but a lot of the seeds were there early on.

You wrote for SNL for one season, but only one of your sketches aired. Are you at all bitter about your time there because of that?

No, not at all. Just because only one sketch aired, but all of the checks cleared. I learned a lot there, I wrote a lot of sketches, and I met a lot of people there that I’m still cool with. I’m still connected in that world, so it’s definitely something that helped me. It was the job that put me in show business, in the television business, as opposed to just being a stand up. From SNL, I got to write for 30 Rock, and I started acting on 30 Rock, so even if I wasn’t super successful, it helped me become successful.

Only one sketch aired, but all of the checks cleared.

Eric Andre seems like a volatile character on his show. Is it stressful working with him in real life?

No, because he’s playing a character. He’s very calculated and works hard on that show. That’s obviously a character. Nobody would want to work with that person, and that person can’t run a television show. He’s easy to work with and it’s a lot of fun.

How has comedy affected your mental health?

[laughs] Is this part of a series? I think I was healthy before, but I think that if you have something that’s bothering you, it’s good to be able to change it into humor and take it to the stage and just let it out. I remember when I got caught for jaywalking in Canada, I was furious. I was so furious about that, and I did a show that night where I did a bit, and it was about twelve or fifteen minutes long in its rawest form. It was something that really bothered me, and I thought that I would get it out, and it eventually became a bit that people really liked, because if somebody else gets pulled over for jaywalking, they might be able to tell their friends the story or be really angry about it, but because I’m doing comedy, I’m able to turn things that frustrate me into work and make money from it. That’s a cool thing to be able to do, to take your frustrations and anger and share them around the world. I’m happy that comedy has given me that outlet.

Hannibal Buress is currently on tour throughout the U.S., you can see a full list of upcoming dates on his website.

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