In many ways, Hannibal Buress is just a regular guy. He goes to NBA games. He likes sitting around playing Xbox in his apartment. And, like many about-to-turn-30-year-olds, he thinks about things like eating healthier and investing his money. But he’s also a prolific standup comedian with two albums under his belt (2010’s My Name Is Hannibal, 2012’s Hannibal Buress: Animal Furnace), as well as credits on several TV shows, both behind the camera (writing for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock) and in front of it (Louie, 30 Rock again, Adult Swim’s The Eric André Show).
Buress performs at the Hamilton this Friday; we caught up with him by phone a couple of days before Super Bowl weekend—and his 30th birthday—to talk about writing for TV versus for standup, getting older, and why he doesn’t like the national anthem.
So what do you have going on this weekend?
Today I’m going to the Brooklyn Nets versus Bulls game, then I might go watch hip-hop karaoke, and tomorrow I gotta clean my place. I live in squalor. I had a cleaning lady, but she quit. She got out of the business; I don’t know if it was because of me. She would clean [my place] while I was on the road, but I don’t trust other people. I don’t have a place that looks really bad, but I got an Xbox and that’s way more fun than cleaning. So I gotta give away a bunch of clothes, do a purge of stuff, and then I’m hosting a Super Bowl party on Sunday and doing a show after the party. And then Monday I turn 30.
How do you feel about that?
It’s fine—I’ve been taking vitamins leading up to this, just to ease myself into healthiness. I’m eating more salads, chicken Caesar salads, and trying to increase my Naked juice intake, stuff like that. All the other stuff I’m fine with, but it is weird—that’s a grown-up age. I remember when I wasn’t.
When you were 15, did you think this is where you’d be in your life at 30?
I don’t know. I don’t know how much I thought about being 30 when I was 15; I was just focused on trying to smoke weed or just trying to be cool in high school. I think I wanted to be rich when I was that age—“By the time I’m 23 I’m gonna be rich.” That was my goal.
Anything you haven’t done that you wish you had?
There’s not much else I can do. I’m happy with where I’m at; I’m just trying to get healthier, invest, and find another business, a side business, to try to grow.
What kind of side business?
Eyebrow threading. I’m seeing a lot of those shops pop up.
Would you thread eyebrows yourself or just oversee the place?
I don’t have time for that; I’d just oversee it, kinda just run the joint, host it, be a presence. Also maybe a children’s book or clothing—people are always going to have sex or have kids, so if you could make a solid kids’ product, that seems like a way to go in life.
You used to write for 30 Rock, which recently had its series finale. Did you watch it?
I haven’t watched the whole season, but I did watch the finale. It was really funny. You could tell they put a lot into the scripts—it was really dense, lots of crazy jokes, a real fun episode, and a great sendoff for the show and characters.
Between writing for that show and SNL, which did you prefer?
I think 30 Rock was a little more fun. I already had experience writing. SNL was kind of nerve-racking since it was my first job; 30 Rock is more stable. It’s steady hours for the most part; sometimes you have to stay late, but it was mostly 10 to 6. And it was very collaborative. SNL was really fun, too, but on 30 Rock I got the opportunity to be on camera.
Do you like writing or performing more?
I like doing both. I like to perform—I’m a standup, so I perform my own ideas, and when I’m acting or performing that builds my standup. If I’m acting on a show, that kind of brings people to see standup more than writing.
Who do you think is the funniest person working today?
The funniest person working isn’t even in comedy—it’s probably just a person that works a regular job who’s hilarious all the time . . . probably some dude working at Jimmy John’s and nobody knows it except for him and his coworkers and people in their college town. Rick at Jimmy John’s in Ames, Iowa, is the funniest person working right now.
Well, how about among comedians?
I like Louis CK—he’s killing it. Kevin Hart; I saw Kevin Hart at [Madison Square] Garden. Aziz Ansari is doing great work. I could name names all the time.
You’re from Chicago, but you live in New York. Do you consider yourself a New Yorker now?
I live in New York, I work for New York, but I’m not a New Yorker. I get to go back [to Chicago] a decent amount.
What do you miss most about Chicago?
I miss that it’s fairly reasonably priced place to live—you can get a nice-size place for your money in most areas in Chicago, compared with New York. I miss my family and friends. But New York is a great city, too.
When was the last time you were in DC?
I was in DC in July. We did The Eric André Show live there, I forget what venue we were at, but it was a fun show. I didn’t have time to do the touristy stuff; I’ve never really done that when I’ve been there. I did a little bit of it, but it was kinda boring.
Beyoncé lip-syncing the national anthem at inauguration was a big deal here. Do you think it matters?
I don’t really. We’ve heard the national anthem enough. . . . I thinks we need to do it less. I feel bad for athletes; I go to NBA games a lot, and I know they’re tired of the f***ing national anthem. They gotta act interested 82 times a year, plus preseason, plus playoffs? Man, that’s enough. I think they should just say, “Think of the national anthem in your head,” or do a sped-up version of it. Who cares if [Beyoncé] lip syncs it? That’s not real life; that’s not a real issue. I guess it’s something to talk about for a little bit.
I read that you’re in talks to develop a cop sitcom for ABC that you would write and costar in. Can you tell me about that?
We submitted the script for our pilot, and we’re waiting to see if they’re going to order it to shoot it.
How do you approach writing something like that versus writing jokes for standup?
It’s different because you’re creating a show and a world with a bunch of different characters. Usually a sitcom is based on relationships between characters, and the main character and how he reacts to things would be influenced by my standup. I have to figure out how other characters are funny and how they interact. Standup is just me trying to entertain the audience; doing my own television show is figuring out how to fit what I do onstage into a show format.
How much overlap is there?
There’s some overlap—there’re ways to try to incorporate the standup into a sitcom script, and you try to figure it out, but you don’t want to overdo it. You want to figure out how to fit it into a story without being real ham-handed.
People often describe your onstage presence as relaxed. Would you agree with that?
I’m relaxed at points onstage, but I have my moments when I get excited. [My stage presence is] an extension of how I am offstage—you have to perform, there’s a craft to it, but I don’t think it’s that far off from who I am.
Do you get nervous?
I get nervous depending on the show. I’ve done it so many times. It usually goes well; if it doesn’t, you can’t really dwell on it. I don’t let a bad show bother me for more than a couple of hours.
You’ve described yourself in interviews as a “medium deal” in your hometown. Is there one experience that would make you feel like you’ve really hit it big?
It’s a progression. You always want to work toward something—at least I do. If you do something, you wanna try to figure out what the next move is. I want to do more comedy specials, do theaters and have a good TV show, do more acting. You always want to do more. Maybe when I’m 50 or something I’ll want to relax more.
And finally, what’s the funniest word you can think of?
Um . . . funniest word? Octopus hunter. No reason.
Hannibal Buress performs at the Hamilton Friday, February 22, at 8:30 PM. Tickets are sold out.