Hannibal Buress Discusses His New Sobriety, Comedy Critics, Making Music and JFL42
Published Sep 20, 2018The last time Hannibal Buress headlined a JFL42 set at the Sony Centre in Toronto, we loved the show so much, we gave it a perfect score.
When Buress shared the exuberant review with his followers, at least one mentioned that perhaps too many bits and punch lines were given away (and spoiled) by the writer (i.e. me). In favouriting the comment, Buress seemed to implicitly agree with the observation. In fact, during his current North American tour, which brings him back to Toronto's Sony Centre for a JFL42 headlining spot on September 27, Buress has done a few interviews for local press, and whenever he's been asked about his new show, he tends to respond vaguely.
"I'll talk topics a little bit, but me personally, I don't know if that's a driver for audience members sitting on the fence, reading that and saying, 'Oh, he's talking about this — I'll go now,'" Buress tells Exclaim! from a tour bus on its way to St. Louis. "If people wanna go, whether they like me or not, it's not a subject matter thing. A phone convo won't explore that like seeing the show can."
Buress is one of the most prolific and distinctive comedic voices of our time. Over the past 15 years, he's earned a reputation for his writing work on shows like Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, acting roles in films and TV shows like TAG, Neighbours, Louie and Broad City, not to mention a slew of voice acting roles in animated productions like Bob's Burgers and The Secret Life of Pets, plus a recurring role as the sidekick on The Eric Andre Show. He has released acclaimed standup albums and his most recent special, 2016's Comedy Camisado, is available on Netflix. He is also the host and producer of the successful and unique conversation podcast, Hannibal Buress: Handsome Rambler.
So yeah, Buress keeps busy. His hunger to do high quality work has contributed, in some ways, to his recent decision to quit drinking completely.
"For one, I had a lot; I put up some big numbers over the years and it was time to retire," Buress says, joking about his past alcohol consumption. "It's just an easy way to try and get healthy. I remember before some specials, I'd stop drinking for a couple of weeks and, just from that, I'd see my body and face change completely. So, that was it.
"But then what happened was, I stopped but I wasn't working out, so I had crazy sugar cravings. When you stop drinking, your body starts craving sugar, so I was just crushing Reese's cups. So I had to start working out, but it started as a lazy man's way to get healthy. When you drinking, you give up that time you spend drinking and, if you drink heavily, you give up that time on the other side when you need to recover. So, just with that alone, you're getting back six hours of optimal brain time."
With his creative juices flowing, Buress suggests that the musical interludes fans love on his podcast, plus the sporadic feature he's done, such as appearing on "Ohsh" for a verse between Quelle Chris and Jean Grae (on 2018's Everything's Fine) might lead to something bigger.
"Yeah, I'm gonna put out a project eventually man," Buress says. "Before I started doing comedy, in college I'd make goofy songs with my friend Dave. He had a beat machine and I'd rap over his beats and freestyle. I've enjoyed music since the beginning and it's a big part of my life."
Buress goes on to cite Michael Jackson, MC Hammer and Boogie Down Productions as huge early influences. In terms of this reveal about making his own record, Buress is initially stymied about who he'd most want to collaborate with.
"Maybe just me and Usher," he says finally. "No, actually [rapper] Phonte. Phonte is great man. We were working on something a few years ago, but didn't end up putting it out. He is a great lyricist and such a quick writer and a funny dude. I love his music, but he's a hilarious guy. He'd be a great collaborator."
Aside from music and comedy and acting, Buress (who implies he may try slowing down in terms of output and effort within the entertainment realm over the next while) is hard at work, as the founder and programmer of Melvina Masterminds, a non-profit art and tech centre in his Chicago hometown.
"On the charity side, I was just doing a lot of cheque writing without a lot of action on my part," Buress explains, when asked what prompted him to take this project on. "I just thought it'd be cool. It's in my old neighbourhood and there's nothing like it close to where I grew up and I thought it'd be good for kids to have different options and levels of engagement. To have a spot where they can sign up for coding classes or music programs. Just create a different type of space where people can grow and learn new things."
When it comes to comedy, Buress says he's excited about his new set and feels it getting stronger as he gets in rhythm, performing the material every night. He should be in peak form when he returns to JFL42 in Toronto but critics, let's all take care to cover his standup without ruining it, ok?
"I don't like it when bits are quoted in full," Buress says, after I admit that I may have done this in a written review at some point. "Sometimes they are, but I don't think that ruins the show for people the way we think it does. But when you see the whole bit, word for word, it's like, 'Oh man, why'd they do that?' In a profession that's based on surprise, you just said what I was gonna say.
"I think not a huge amount of the audience is reading it and getting it spoiled," Buress adds, before pausing and contemplating this comedy journalism conundrum.
"But, I dunno. I don't have any notes for you guys, I don't have any notes."
See Hannibal Buress live at JFL42 in Toronto on September 27.
Listen to this interview with Hannibal Buress on Kreative Kontrol via Apple Podcasts or below: