Just thirty minutes into our interview and Hannibal Buress has not only turned the tables on who’s questioning whom, but has me questioning the very nature of my existence, both digital and corporeal. It’s this sleight of hand ease that ensures that the 32-year old comedian will have no problem tackling “life’s biggish questions” on his new Comedy Central show,Why? With Hannibal Buress.
This isn’t Buress’ first foray into television—he was on the writing staff of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, before becoming a regular fixture on The Eric Andre Show and Broad City—but it is the first time he’s been in the driver’s seat for a full series. Maxim spoke with Buress about his new show, why he returned to television development, and how a little more blending and a little less tweeting might just be the advice that saves us all.
You didn't plan on filming an episode of Why? until a week before it airs. The press release says it’s a weekly live show that has Hannibal Buress answering the questions that make him ask “why.” Can you describe the show in a way that isn’t me copying a press release?
I don’t know, I’d really prefer if you just copy the Comedy Central press release...It’s going to be some sketches, some in studio stuff, some man on the street. We’ll shoot a bunch of stuff for the first episode and cut it down, and we’ll know from there. I know it sounds vague, but we’re figuring it out.
In terms of the in studio pieces, are things going to get as bonkers as they did when you co-hosted The Eric Andre Show?
I wouldn’t say bonkers like Eric [Andre]. My humor has a weird bent to it, but it doesn’t get that weird and extreme. And, I’m on at a different time, ya know what I mean? It’s not going to get super out there...it might though! If we think we’re getting canceled, those last two episodes might get reaaaal crazy.
You once talked about your comedy evolving over the years and said, “Like basketball. There’s a lot of different ways to get to the basket…I want to be able to score in as many ways as possible.” Indeed your sets have evolved from young Mitch Hedberg comparisons to more produced shows with DJs and live music. Are you going to bring that production aspect to Why? or find a new lane to the hoop?
It’ll be a close extension to my standup. Before it was always about standup: I’d have an idea and say “Oh that could work as standup.” Now I’ll think of a joke, that I maybe even tried and it worked in standup, and I’ll realize there’s a visual element to it and that it could be a fleshed out scene if we added a few beats to it.
It wasn’t that long ago that you left the writing staff of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, both after just one season, for almost the opposite reason: you wanted to focus on standup, and not television writing at that time. What brought you back?
The situations are just different. I was staff writing on those shows, new to writing and developing my voice, while writing for something that was already established. Saturday Night Live had been on 35 years at that point, 30 Rock was in its fifth season, so I was submitting away just to try and get my pieces off. Now I’m able to use those experiences, because our show isn’t formed yet. It’s pretty new and we haven’t done anything. It’s my ideas and the ideas that my writers come up with together and it’s just cool and fun to say “This is going up.”
When you’re writing for someone else, especially for Saturday Night Live, I couldn’t write as freely. I was writing and wondering if each piece would be good enough for the show. It’s a more fun situation to be in when I can get out the ideas I want to creatively and do my own thing.
How has it been working with Comedy Central? They’re going through a rather transitory time with their late night hosts right now.
The last time I developed with them, they gave us money and said “Go do your thing,” and they didn’t really like it. So this next time, they liked the idea and they said, “Okay we’ll give you eight episodes and see how it goes.” They’ve given us notes on the scripts, but they haven’t rejected anything out right.
The entire process of running a show is in and of itself different from being an actor on a show, or a writer on a show. There’s so much beyond the on-camera and writing tasks I’m doing. Casting, producing, and a lot of different moving parts that I sort of knew about but are interesting when you have to do them every day.
Are your showrunner responsibilities taking away from the comedy?
Not taking away, per se. There are certainly times I wish I was writing away, but being the showrunner hasn’t taken away. It’s tough to not get distracted. This is the most email I’ve gotten in my life. You get a bit overwhelmed. I had this software before and I just got it on my new computer, it’s called Freedom, and you can block yourself from internet access for eight hours, or you can turn your computer on and off to get back on, but you feel like a failure. And ten bucks for this app is such a great price! I think what you produce in two hours of stream of consciousness productivity is easily worth ten bucks.
And as an added benefit to all that creative energy, your side job of app salesman is going fantastically.
See? It’s amazing. If you make a good app or good software, that’s the greatest shit ever! It’s not like if you make shirts. If you make shirts and you have a popular shirt, you have to keep making shirts. If you have an app or software, it’s just there, and people will pay the same thing. It’s great, you just get some servers and a few employees, and it’s all low-maintenance.
Are you ever pissed off that just as you’re about to have your own TV show, NBC’s drama Hannibal has taken your name? I know you refuse to watch The Silence of the Lambs on principle.
I’ve reconciled, finally, that Dr. Lecter may be the more famous Hannibal. He has the movies too, you know? I don’t watch them, but I was thinking about writing a bit where I confront them and go up to their NBC set and let them know there’s a new Hannibal in town.
Very tough. Did you know you’re a sex symbol on Twitter? This might be why.
What? How do you find this?
Oh if you just search “Hannibal Buress cute” or “Hannibal Buress hot,” not only do a bunch of women love you, but a very dedicated gay male fan base does as well. You had no idea?
No! People tweet things at me sometimes, but I didn’t know it went to that extent. Guys and girls, huh?
Oh yeah. And you have far more admiring tweets than some teen stars on CW shows.
You really researched this out! You took time to look this up and ran some data analysis. What if on your deathbed, there was a social media auditor who told you how much time you spent on various social media platforms, would that upset you? If he said “You spent seven hours searching ‘Hannibal Buress hot’ for an article” you’d be so mad!
Well now I’m upset about it.
See? Tweeting is the worst. It’s like drugs.
Speaking of which, I couldn’t help but notice you deleted the bulk of your tweets very recently. Was it to avoid running into any of the same backlash [new “Daily Show” host] Trevor Noah faced for old tweets?
Yup. I thought it would be funny to have a clean slate. I don’t think I have anything that bad, but I thought it would be clever to get ‘em gone. I delete a lot of tweets. Most interactions with people I delete right after, even positive ones.
Who are some of the artists you’re into right now? Comedians, musicians, people we may or may not see on the show?
I’ve been listening to an Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote a bunch. They’re awesome and they’re doing something with the show. The movie “Dope” was pretty good. My buddy Al Jackson, who tours with me sometimes, is great right now. Another standup, Byron Bowers, is a character. I’ll probably have them both on the show in different capacities.
Let’s see, what else am I into. In this place that I’m renting, there’s a blender. Blenders are underrated. A good blender is one of the most underrated kitchen appliances out there.
I didn’t realize you were blending on such a regular basis. What are you usually whipping up?
Oh you know, berries, fruits, other healthy stuff.
Any greens? You live in Los Angeles now, you have to throw in some kale.
I’m not that LA yet. I may just stick to fruit!
Photos by Jason Nocito