Hannibal Buress: More Than Just That Cosby Joke

Ronda Racha Penrice
Hannibal Buress
Marcus Price

These days, comedian Hannibal Buress is probably most well-known to non-comedy fans for reminding everyone last year during a comedy routine that went viral about the allegations that Bill Cosby drugged women for sex. To date, more than 40 women have claimed that the onetime comedy icon sexually assaulted them, and this week, unsealed court documents revealed that Cosby admitted to getting drugs to give to women for sex.

In the comedy world, however, Buress’ star has long been rising. In addition to making memorable appearances on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in 2009 and, recently, on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the 32-year-old Chicago native has released two stand-up albums, is a successful stand-up comedian, and is known for his standout roles in Comedy Central’s Broad City and Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show. This Christmas he will appear in the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg film Daddy’s Home, and he does voice work in Angry Birds and The Secret Life of Pets, both coming in 2016. Now he’s added his own weekly Comedy Central series, Why? With Hannibal Buress, to the mix.


The Root caught up with Buress to discuss his career, his new show and, of course, Cosby.

The Root: How old were you when you thought you might be funny, and what made you get into comedy?


Hannibal Buress: I think most kids are funny. I was funny in high school, but I didn’t decide to try it until I was in college [at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale]. I went to an open mic and saw a friend do it.

TR: So how did you make it really professional?

HB: I just kept doing stuff down there in college and performing there and started putting together my own show, and whenever the touring acts would come perform at the university, I would try to get a spot on their shows opening up. I went back home to Chicago and started working around locally and moved to New York in 2008 after getting a couple of TV things. [In] 2009 I did a set on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and then I started writing for Saturday Night Live because of that set.


TR: What memorable sketches did you get on SNL?

HB: I got one sketch on Saturday Night Live with Charles Barkley. It’s called “Barkley Golf.”

TR: So what do you consider your biggest break?

HB: I would say writing for Saturday Night Live was a kind of big step because it took me from just doing stand-up to working in television and seeing the other side of it. I’m on a show on Comedy Central called Broad City, which is expanding my fan base a lot. This past year, I was touring the country and doing the biggest venues I’ve done, so that was real cool, to go on the road and do 1,000-seat, 2,000-seat venues and sell them out. So this past year has been good. It’s been fun.


TR: What has been the biggest adjustment of going from stand-up to television?

HB: Stand-up is immediate and right there. It’s just you and the audience, and television is more collaborative, so you just learn to play your position and do what you need to do to help the good of the show and the good of the team. It’s a team game, not an individual game.


TR: What can we expect to see from your show?

HR: It’s going to be sketches and some man-on-the-street stuff … but there’s going to be more different elements. It won’t be sketch all the way through … I’m real excited. Comedy Central has been real cool, and we’ve been creatively kind of able to shape a show as we go along, which is a pretty unique situation. I’m just trying to put on a good television show for 21, 22 minutes and see what happens.


TR: When did you start doing a Bill Cosby joke?

HR: It was last year, April or so.

TR: What was the reaction?

HR: It was hit-and-miss. It depended on the crowd. It depended on the energy and how I did it.


TR: What gave you the courage to go there?

HB: It was just something that I thought was interesting to talk about and explore.


TR: Did you expect it to go viral?

HB: You never know what will go viral. You never know what’s going to catch on. There are people who put out YouTube videos for a living, and they might have one that’s 30,000 views and they may have one that’s 3 million. … You never know. That’s just the nature of the Internet. It’s an interesting time.


TR: Do you still tell that joke or do you stay away from it now?

HB: I talk about the reaction sometimes to it. I actually stopped doing it. I talked about it on shows. Occasionally I talk about it. I don’t make an issue of it. It’s not on the set list where I have to hit this, but if I feel like talking about it, I talk about it, but it’s definitely way less these days.


Editor’s note: Why? With Hannibal Buress debuts on Comedy Central July 8 at 10:30 p.m.

Ronda Racha Penrice is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. She is the author of African American History for Dummies.

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