If Hannibal Buress has one thing on his side right now, it's an irrefutable swell of momentum.
Aside from stealing scenes in the recently renewed Broad City, currently Buress voices a character in FX's Chozen, he co-hosts Adult Swim's notoriously underrated The Eric Andre Show, and will also appear in Neighbors, the upcoming Seth Rogen/Zac Efron film. And on top of all that, the 31-year-old's brand new Comedy Central special, Live From Chicago, premieres this Saturday night.
When talking with the Windy City native, his drive is almost palpable. Buress didn't become the top Google search for his name, besting the time-honored fictional cannibal, Lecter, on accident. His rise to stardom isn't a fluke, nor is it a case of "right place, right time." Buress' tale is that of a grinder—a relentlessly ambitious, naturally funny dude with a knack for makin' shit happen. In following his career, it doesn't seem like the comedian has it in him to be lazy. Lazy doesn't land you on Rolling Stone's list of the 50 Funniest People of 2013. Lazy doesn't lead to a sold-out national theater tour. Lazy doesn’t get paid.
Five years ago, Buress migrated to New York with comedic manifest destiny in mind. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his favorite all-time comics, names like Dave Chappelle and the late Patrice O'Neal. But doing set after set after set wasn't enough. In an effort to make his own luck, Buress took advantage of the Big Apple's comedy curriculum. While the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater famously produced talent currently killing it on Parks & Rec, The League, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and House of Lies, Buress decided to take classes at the less talked about People's Improv Theater, or as it's commonly referred to, the P.I.T.
I love stand-up. I look at it as a way to always stay productive. I couldn't imagine only being an actor or a writer. Because what the hell do I do when I'm not working? Mope?
"I took a sketch writing class", Buress recalls. "I was trying to land a writing gig, maybe a monologue job with Fallon or something like that. But what happened was I wound up getting hired at SNL."
Yes, in 2009, Buress defied the odds and cracked New York City's hardest comedy nut right out of the gate. His first paid writing job after becoming a full-time NYC resident was to write for Lorne Michaels. And while he openly admits to not getting much on the air during his stint at the comedy institution, the comic wouldn't trade his time their for the world. "Writing for Saturday Night Live changed my life," Hannibal says without hesitation. "I would have liked to get on the air at some point, maybe do something on Update. But just being a part of that show—watching it live, being in that building, the parties—it was just a great experience. All of it."
And one great experience led to another. The comedian parlayed his SNL gig into his next high-profile writing job, extending his stay at 30 Rock in the process—literally. In 2010, Tina Fey drafted Buress to 30 Rock, where he both wrote and also occasionally appeared on air. But contributing to arguably the best written comedy of the modern era wasn't enough for Buress. "I loved 30 Rock. Tina [Fey] was cool, man. But the goal was always stand-up," says Buress. "I was using writing to progress that goal. Even with SNL, with the flexibility of that schedule—a few weeks on, a few weeks off—whenever I was off, I was out on the road, playing festivals. Stand-up always came first."
Even now, while he's been acting more than ever before, Buress, a true comic's comic, still tirelessly takes stages. In the television industry, often 15 different opinionated execs have to agree on something before any decision can be made. It's one of the business' more maddening qualities. But when it comes to stand-up, to quote Nas, all you need is one mic.
"I love stand-up", says Buress. "I look at it as a way to always stay productive. I couldn't imagine only being an actor or a writer. Because what the hell do I do when I'm not working? Mope? Do I get into music? What do you do with the time? Touring. Working on new material. Making old material better. I love that shit. I came to New York to be a stand-up."
And it's looking like Buress' relationship with Comedy Central may not end with Live From Chicago and Broad City. The network seems firmly seated on the Hannibal Buress bandwagon. Of all his current projects, the comedian seems the most fired up about his own potential series, something that's currently in the pilot stage. "It's me, out on the road, doing other jobs," Buress says. "It's not picked up yet, but I'm feeling really good about it. It's reality, but with stand-up. Kind of like a comedian's version of Dirty Jobs. I have a bunch of projects right now—Eric Andre, Broad City—and I'm playing a big role on them, but this, this will be my own show. I'm psyched about that."
If it's picked up, Buress' show would be the first reality-based Comedy Central series featuring a stand-up to air since the awesome Insomniac with Dave Attell, which sadly ended it's run almost a decade ago.
Given Buress is an inherently goal-oriented performer, when it comes to a starring vehicle, you get the sense that if it's not this show he's developing now, it'll be another, and soon. The comedian has always craved the spotlight, it's just lately that he's found himself almost exclusively standing under one. And that fact isn't lost on him. Buress is humble but appreciative when discussing his rise to comedic prominence.
"Stuff is good, man. It's been a nice progression. Things have steadily progressed," Buress says with a smile. "I'm able to work nice-sized theaters now. I played Boston last week. My last time there I played Great Scott, and it was for like 200 fans. This time I played the Wilbur. It was two shows, about 1,100 seats, both sold out. So seeing that progression, it does feel good. It absolutely feels good."
Hannibal Buress is living proof that when you team talent with a tenacious work ethic, there is a pay off. Slow and steady can, in fact, win the race. And it's not only rewarding, but also fucking hilarious.
Written by Peter Hoare (@PeterHoare)