Hannibal Buress on Broad City, Working with Will Ferrell, and Avoiding Octopus Humor

Hannibal Buress is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, December 23, at Stand Up Live.EXPAND
Hannibal Buress is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, December 23, at Stand Up Live.
Courtesy of Comedy Central

Hannibal Buress had a very busy 2015 — and the comedian isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon.

He’s been on numerous episodes of Broad City, of course, where he plays the laidback Lincoln Rice (a.k.a. the on-again/off-again paramour of main character Ilana Glazer), and starred in his own Comedy Central show, Why? with Hannibal Buress. Plus, he also ripped into Justin Bieber during the network’s roast of the execrable pop star, showed up in a few different movies (including the soon-to-be-release Daddy’s Home with Will Ferrell), guest-starred in an episode of Jim Gaffigan’s TV Land sitcom, and performed stand-up at clubs and venues across the country.

Next year is shaping up to be a busy one as well, as Buress has a Netflix special due out in February, a new season of Broad City on the horizon, and roles in several movies, including the cinematic adaptation of Angry Birds and a flick based on schlock filmmaker Tommy Wiseau.

And we’re willing to bet that Buress will be funny as hell in each. He’s the sort of comedian who’s funny in pretty much everything he does, whether it’s playing Eric Andre’s sidekick on television, comparing presidential candidates to rap artists on YouTube, or showing off his sharp wit during his stand-up shows. And on Wednesday, December 23, he’ll be at Stand Up Live doing the latter during two performances at the comedy club.

New Times got a chance to speak with Buress via telephone recently about his many projects and roles, including his Broad City character. And just like Lincoln, Buress is a pretty laidback cat, which is in contrast to his high-energy vibe and often loud persona on stage.

"There's a lot of people that pay money so I can yell at them," Buress jokes.

After I first heard your pickle juice bit, I went home and tried it and it was great. Do you have any other culinary tips like that?
Well, one thing that's an upgrade on the pickle juice is just to use a spray bottle. Um...other culinary tips? I don't know, man. Do I have some stuff? I wasn't prepped. If I knew this was going to be a goddamned food interview, I would've prepped for that mentally. Oh! If you're going to make scrambled eggs, heat the pan before you use your butter on there or whatever, and then the eggs won't stick. That's all I got.

It's all good. This isn't going to be a food interview or anything. That bit was my first introduction to your comedy.
I'm fucking with you, man. [laughs]

When you've appeared on Broad City, do you go 100 percent on the script or do you have a chance to ad-lib at all?
Yeah, there's some ad-lib. A lot of times I stick to the script, but they will, you know, let me if I have suggestions or I have a different take on it or a different way to word it. Sometimes it just, especially with me, because I act but I'm not an actor by trade, sometimes some words don't feel [like] they don't flow when I say them, so I'll say them the way they flow better for me. So, yeah, I'm definitely mostly on script, I would say its like 75/25 or 80/20 for scripted things [versus] things I ad-lib.

Anything memorable from your appearances on Broad City that was an ad-lib, like making the kid in the chair high-five you?
Yeah, making the kid high-five me, that was an ad-lib and the "two-for-two, all-day." A lot of the dentist stuff was ad-libbed.

How come most dentists aren't as cool as Lincoln?
Uh, 'cause I'm not a real dentist and you can't be that cool, at least...well, my dentist is actually kind of cool, but you don't happen to be cool when you're looking in people's mouths all the time, man, and you're seeing awful things. You see cavities and you're shooting people up. I don't know, man, it's just not that cool of a profession. It's a good profession, it's a respected profession, but I mean I think that's time that you're spending in dental school, you're losing that time you could be spending being cool and going to concerts.

If dentists were as cool as Lincoln, people probably wouldn't have such a fear of going to the dentist.
I know, but you gotta go to the dentist. People do avoid it, but you gotta do it.

How close is your own personality to that of the character?
I don't know, man. Lincoln's probably nicer than me and more of a warm person overall. Less cynical then me, I'm a bit harsh. So it's some aspects...but as far as how he handles situations, he's not as abrasive as me.

You both seem like pretty chill cats.
Yeah. I mean, I can turn it up, though. Lincoln doesn't seem like he has a turner, I can turn it up a notch, if needed.

You're way more high-energy when you're on stage, right?
Yeah, I gotta yell at people. There's a lot of people that pay money so I can yell at them.

Ever think about being a life coach if the comedy thing doesn't work out?
Uh, no. Life coach doesn't pay as well.

Any chance you could give a tease or a preview of season three of Broad City?
Um, you think somebody's going to read a plotline in this article and go, "Ooooooh!" [laughs]

You never know, they might. Depends on how well you can sell it.
"Ooooooh! I'm excited for season three!" Oh, I can give you this: Hillary Clinton's going to be in an episode. That's exciting?

With you?
Nah, I'm not in that. I'm not in the scene with her. I don't know which episode she'll be in, so maybe I am in the episode, but I definitely didn't shoot with her. So that's exciting. Hillary Clinton, stumping for votes.

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Have you picked a presidential candidate you're backing? I think I saw something online about how you like the Democrats and stuff.
Where online did I say that?

Uh....on your Twitter, maybe? I probably should've wrote it down.
You making up stuff?

Nope. I was pretty sure I saw it somewhere. Guess I didn't. My bad.
Where I explicitly said I liked the Democrats.

Something like that. Like I said, I probably should've made better note of it.
I'm starting to feel like that's a journalistic trick, like "I saw on your Twitter that asparagus beats everything." "Oh yeah, I did tweet that. I did, yeah. My latest tour is about asparagus..." [laughs]

All right, I guess I bombed on that question.
I'm just fucking with you, man. But I will say that there's this the group [Western Illinois University] and they've correctly predicted several of the last few presidents and they say that Bernie Sanders is going to do it. So...yeah. It will be interesting to see. I think they predicted every president since Carter or something, they say it's going to be Bernie. So we'll see.

Is there anything that's too controversial to tackle in your act?
No. Uh...octopuses. I don't really do much octopus humor. It just kind of gets people the wrong way, because this is the thing, man. Everybody has their own feelings about octopuses, whether it's pro or con, so I don't want to take a position either way. Because if I'm taking a position, I'm alienating people on the other side of the issue. So that's kind of what I choose not to do. I don't really address octopuses, because if you're talking about octopuses it's just money out of the bank because that's more fans I could've had and I just don't want to lose it.

At the same time, you get into some topical humor. When you're crafting a joke do you think, "Nah, I can't say that, it's too much" or whatever?
Nah, I try stuff out and just see how it works, man. And it's about making shit funny, so you try it onstage and see how it flies and if it works, you keep it and try to make it better.

What's your ultimate dream gig? Your own sitcom or your own movie?
Um, I don't know how to describe it. That stuff is not that far out of reach, you know what I mean? It would be cool, it would be exciting, but it would be more to have a production company or something to that extent on an exec level moreso than things on a talent level. Because the stuff on the talent level, you kind of really create on your own. I mean, it has to be good, it has to be the right thing, but it's not that far-fetched [for me]. You know what I'm saying?

Like I could be writing up something or working with somebody and self-financing my own independent movie or my own sitcom and trying to sell it, you see, but the ultimate thing would be to start developing other talent and producing on a bigger scale. But that's more 10 to 15 years down the line than right now.

So will Why come back for a second season?
No.

That's a bummer. I dug what I saw of it.
Thank you, man. Yeah, there were some parts of it that were great...but if I did do it again it would've needed a revamping and I'm just thinking about the next thing that I do that will capture my voice a bit better.

Any firm plans or do you mean something more nebulous that's in the future?
No firm plans. I mean, there's ships coming in and there's ideas, so we'll see. I'm not in a big rush. I still got stand-up so try to figure out the next hour after the [Netflix] special comes out and got some other movie stuff happening. So I'm waiting for the right thing or for something really strikes me. So we'll see.

Do you have any scenes with Will Ferrell in Daddy's Home?
Yeah, now that I think about it, all of my scenes have him in it, pretty much, except like one. Yeah, I worked with him a bunch on that.

Was it cool to jibe with him and see where it went?
Yeah, it was cool. He's a huge comedy movie star and somebody that I watched and laughed at over the years, so it was fun being in a scene with him and going back and forth. Yeah, it was crazy. It was fun to go back and forth and toe-to-toe, not toe-to-toe in a boxing way but do a scene with him and one of us playing off of each other and holding my own was a really cool thing to do with somebody that you've watched for a while.

Is it hard to keep a straight face working around him?
Nah. I mean, he's super funny but I know how to keep a straight face. so I think I'm pretty good at keeping it in. I break on the Eric Andre Show sometimes, but we cut it out most of the time. Just from being around Eric with him doing crazy shit, I've developed kind of a good kind of straight man shit where I'm able to not break. Even if something's really funny, I know I got tricks I do to not laugh.

Are your stand-up gigs a way for you to work out material or ideas and concepts for the future?
When I'm working out stuff I'll do smaller shows in New York, L.A., or Chicago or at just an open mic somewhere, but when I'm the road and doing a show where people pay money I'm not trying stuff like that.

A lot of your comedy is about deconstructing and analyzing comedy itself and the art of the joke. Do you ever get over-analytical at times and take a step back?
Sure. There's times where I'll catch myself onstage, going "Oh man, I'm going too deep into that," or analyzing and over analyzing the things we say.

Is it hard to be a comedian these days because sometimes it seems like some jokes have all been done before? Or as an artist you have remix or provide a new spin on subjects that have come before you?
Nah, it's not hard. It's just that you have to enjoy it and want to create and try to come up with new stuff. I mean, it can be tougher but you just have to work at it, man. The thing is that everybody gets a relationship, everybody travels, everybody does all these different things, so it's about your stories with your experience and your perspective.

So you hope to develop in a way where people want to hear what you think about this thing. "All right, what do think about sports?" Somebody else has talked about sports definitely, but what do you think about it? So, it's about developing your unique thing and figuring out how to filter it to make it funny. For me, I'm trying to come up with the new hour now after these four has been tougher writing than the other ones but it will come together eventually. So yeah, it can get harder to develop new material but it's not tough to be a comedian in general, it's just the creative process itself is work.

Hannibal Buress is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, December 23, at Stand Up Live. Set times are 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., and tickets are $30.50.

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