It wasn't all brass bands and pickle juice en route to prominence as a stand-up comedian for Hannibal Buress. The dry, eccentric Chicago native dropped out of college to pursue his dream in New York City, only to find himself sleeping in subway cars shortly after.
Today, with two comedy albums and two Comedy Central specials behind him, Buress, 31, is one of the industry's biggest tickets. He spoke with the Chronicle in advance of his Moontower Comedy Festival performance on Wednesday, April 23, at the Paramount Theatre.
Austin Chronicle: It's been said that your style onstage seems "effortless." In general, are you really as comfortable as you appear?
Hannibal Buress: If the material is polished and good, then I'm very comfortable, but that just comes through repetition and doing stand-up over and over. You know, I've been doing it 12 years, so, it took 12 years to get kind of comfortable – so I appreciate that people think it looks like that.
AC: What bits of yours are you most impressed with, where you're like, "Wow, hats off to me for coming up with that"?
HB: I get more excited about how people connect with certain material after the fact. I don't really know how it's gonna hit, initially; but then, you know, just the feedback for stuff, like, from my new special, the New Orleans story about having a parade (for yourself) and all of that. A lot of people didn't know you could do that. I didn't know you could do that. It's the kind of things that affects people's lifestyle: They say, "I wanna go to New Orleans and do that."
Or even the "pickle juice" bit, where people go, "I tried the pickle juice at work, it definitely makes stuff better!" So, you know, I'm happy that I have things that hit in a different way and make people want to do different things, as opposed to just having bits where I'm just making fun of something or talking shit. But yeah, I would say those two because of how they resonated with people.
AC: What kinks or flaws in your early days as a stand-up did you have to smooth out in order to thrive as a writer and performer of comedy?
HB: I didn't have kinks or flaws, it's just you grow as a comedian, you know what I mean? You just get better at telling stories and just being comfortable onstage. So I wouldn't say there were flaws, it's just the stuff that comes with being new. I definitely am a better performer overall, just knowing how to work and play different venues. So now I know how to work a bigger venue and how to use my voice in different ways and move around and work the stage. It's just about things that you learn just through doing it.
AC: As a Chicago native and Bulls fan, how did it strike you when you first saw Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform?
HB: It was definitely weird. What year was that – 2000 or something? Yeah, so I was 17. I would say I'm way more into sports now than when I was a kid. I was a kid during the championship years, you know? I was into it, but I wasn't obsessive. I imagine if I were a grownup, or even 19-20 around the first championship, it would've hit me in a different way – it would've been crazy. Obviously, that was a great era, but I always imagined what it would've been like to be an adult when the Bulls were winning championships; just being in the bars, just hanging out, it would've been a great time. But, you know, stuff happens: He just played for the Wizards for a little bit (laughs), but he's still revered in Chicago.
AC: Has fame changed you in any way?
HB: I wouldn't describe myself as famous, but it's changed other people more than me. It's just being recognizable. It's changed my access to certain things. I don't think it's changed my core as a person, but it's definitely changed the type of situations that I'm in and just how people react to me.
Hannibal Buress performs Wednesday, April 23, 9:30pm, at the Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress. For more information, visit www.moontowercomedyfestival.com.
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