Hannibal Buress may not have ever led any war elephants into battle, but he’s as much a conqueror as his namesake. The sardonic, softly spoken Chicago comedian has become a ubiquitous presence on the comedy landscape over the last decade. Stand-up comedy, TV shows, film, rap album skits, even Adventure Time — the man is everywhere.
Born and raised in Chicago, Buress is instantly recognizable to absurdist comedy fans as the chill, bemused sidekick to Eric Andre on the latter's deranged late-night Adult Swim talk show. Watch just a few minutes of The Eric Andre Show and you can see what makes Buress so appealing. His delivery is understated, voice low but full of warmth, as he effortlessly tosses off one brilliant burn or non sequitur after another.
In addition to his stint on Andre’s show, Buress has also done time in the SNL and 30 Rock writing rooms. He’s done Comedy Central specials, released comedy albums, started a podcast (The Handsome Rambler), and even shown off his range as a credible romantic interest and straight man foil on Broad City. And he also has a side gig in investing in real estate. Buress recently helped bankroll and found a community arts center in Chicago called Melvina Masterminds.
We got a chance to catch up with Hannibal before his tour passes through the Valley on Monday, April 15, and Tuesday, April 16, to pick his brain about Broad City, doing voice-over work, and which wrestler he'd fight if he had the chance.
Phoenix New Times: I was reading some of your older interviews where you’ve talked about wrestling. I was wondering what your thoughts were on this year’s WrestleMania?
Hannibal Burress: I don’t follow it that closely; I watched wrestling a lot as a kid during the '90s, you know? The nWO, DX era, the Attitude Era. I was a big fan of that time — Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels, Hollywood, all that stuff. I kind of fell off with it as I went into college, but I know who the main people are. So I’m aware when John Cena’s the top person or, you know, New Day, Roman Reigns, but I don’t know why they mad at each other. I went last year to WrestleMania. Last year was in New Orleans, right?
HB: WrestleMania’s long, man. I went to WrestleMania sober — woooooo. The year before I went to the one in Orlando and I was getting drunk. Wrestling drunk — you gotta lot to say. But it’s long when you’re sober.
NT: I couldn’t imagine seeing it live. It’s like seven hours long at this point.
HB: John Oliver – he lit them up.
NT: I know! It’s crazy. … Since we’re on the subject of wrestling: If you could fight any wrestler in the ring, who would you want to go up against?
HB: Who would I want to wrestle against? Like, what’s the goals for the match? Because every match has a different, uh ...
NT: ... stipulation?
HB: ... not even a stipulation. More like, what kind of match is it? Is it a Raw match, a pay-per-view? Is this a passing of the torch retirement match? Is this a friends/enemies that used to be friends match? Former tag team partners against each other, or a David and Goliath type personality clash or a face but everybody treats him like a heel? It’s all these different dynamics, you know what I mean?
NT: What type of match? All right, let’s go with passing of the torch.
HB: Am I the old person, or am I the young upstart?
NT: You’re the young, scrappy upstart.
HB: If I’m the young upstart, then I would want Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, AJ Styles. AJ Styles would make me look better than I am, or worse, he’s a real fun wrestler to watch.
NT: So, switching gears: How's the Melvina Masterminds project going?
HB: It’s going well. We had our first event a couple weeks ago. It was a pop-up event to get some folks out. We had Sugar Gamers help us out with bringing in some people from the VR and AR world to do some talks. And people were able to use some of that equipment and play some games. We’re getting some feelers on what the community is connected to and use that to guide us when we start programming for our space. Overall, I’m excited, man. It felt good to get this idea on its feet. It’s always good to get it going so you have something to work from.
NT: Broad City just aired its series finale last month. What was your favorite experience that you had while working on that show?
HB: I’d say my favorite experience was shooting on location in New York, in general. If we’re out and about and it’s a nice day. I think we shot Madison Square Park once or twice, Washington Square Park — whenever we were out there in decent weather, I enjoyed that way more than being on set. And the trapeze episode — where I try out trapeze — that was great because I’d never done that. And I haven’t done that since then. It was fun, but I didn’t feel the desire to go forward with it again. So that’s an experience that I was able to have because of this show.
But yeah, a lot times of it didn’t feel like work. When it doesn’t feel like acting, when you’re outside and talking, it feels more like hanging out than shooting a TV show. So whenever it feels natural it’s just more fun. And seeing the show progress — it was dope, man. It was really dope.
NT: You also do a fair amount of voice-over work. Do you find that to be harder, because it’s more isolated and you don’t have that same hangout atmosphere?
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HB: I wouldn’t say it’s isolated. It’s just quick, you know what I mean. In all the times I’ve done voice-over, you can knock it out in maybe two hours in a day. If you’re just doing your lines, you can knock out so much in an hour. You don’t have to worry about the camera or the light or any of these other variables that affect television. So it’s nice to be able to work without these other factors. And the thing is you forget the stuff that you said, cause it’s been a year since you did it and it takes a long time to animate, so when you finally see it’s kinda crazy to hear yourself and see this other world that’s created around the voices.
NT: When you’re touring stand-up, are you mostly focusing on presenting material that you’ve crafted and honed, or do you try out new material and workshop stuff while you’re out on the road?
HB: I mix it up. Most of the show will be stuff that works, and then there might be a couple of things that are fresher and that I haven’t really tried that much that I’ll put it in the show. But for the most part, the show has been tried and tested.
Hannibal Buress is performing at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 15, and Tuesday, April 16, at Copper Blues Live, 21001 North Tatum Boulevard. Tickets are still available via Copper Blues Live.