With his laid back delivery, Chicago’s Hannibal Buress doesn’t fit the profile of an incendiary comedian. He certainly doesn’t see himself that way: "My responsibility is to be an entertainer," he tells Colorlines over the phone. "I have some things that I care about, and I’ll share those things in my set occasionally, but my objective ultimately is to do my job."
But if you look deeper at Buress—as cohost of "The Eric Andre Show," as the star of his criminally underrated series,"Why? with Hannibal Buress," and in his standup—you can see hints of subversiveness.
The way Burress touches on police violence in "Comedy Camisado," his new Netfilx special premiering tomorrow (February 5), is especially poignant. In it he describes a fanboying Missouri police officer at an airport who asks to take a picture with him and his concern that the cop might end up shooting him. Without giving the punchline away, Burress manages to personalize the situation and get the audience laughing at what could have been a catastrophic situation.
Your comedy is peppered, from time to time, with references to police violence, racism and other political topics. You’re from Chicago, where a lot of shit’s been going down. Do you feel, with the platform that you have, a responsibility to talk about these issues?
It’s not a duty, but it is something that I think about. That story about the police officer in Missouri, that was real. I was thrown off. I was just off of a very small flight, and it was just weird having a cop, someone in a uniform, like, "Woaaahhh! What’s up?" It’s unprofessional. [Laughs.] So I talk about those issues and different things in my stand-up and talk about what’s really interesting to me.
Do you see yourself as politically aware?
I follow politics and try to keep up with the news, but I wouldn’t say that I’m all the way or that I know everything. I wouldn’t say I like to be ignorant, but sometimes it’s like, knowing that stuff doesn’t help me in any way. [Laughs.] I know about some stuff and don’t know about some stuff, pretty much.
So I’m going to just ask point blank: Is "Why?" coming back?
OK. Did you envision it as a one-and-done kind of project?
No. But later on in the season it just didn’t [work]. If we did do it [again], which I don’t think we are, it would be a big revamp on all fronts [including] set design.
Why do you feel like you’d have to do such a big facelift?
The studio format didn’t fit my vibe. It wasn’t as consistent as I would’ve liked. It didn’t come together in an ideal way. The show did get better as the season progressed, but ultimately, it wasn’t the right show for me to really put my voice through and really excel. And that’s fine. People have had several shows that didn’t work before they got the show that hit for them. It was a cool learning experience—I learned a lot about having that type of gig and working with people in that fashion. It was fun.
One thing that was really cool about "Why?" which I see now with your Spotify gig, is that you had a platform to highlight trailblazing artists like Thundercat and Jean Grae. Do you think you have a unique ear for music?
I like a lot of different stuff, man, but I wouldn’t say I’m a person with this exclusive, wild musical taste. I think [the gigs came] because I openly talk about different lyrics in my act, and I tour with a DJ who will play a song before I talk about it. I like a wide variety of stuff, but I don’t think I’m unique in that.
So you’re becoming more famous at a time when show business is under a lot of scrutiny over representation, especially for people of color. Do you have to make decisions that a White comedian in your position wouldn’t have to?
Not really. I mean, I do a handful of movies, but I’m not going for star roles. I’m doing mostly bit things at the moment. Over the next year or so, it’ll progress into bigger roles and potentially starring vehicles, but for now I just go out for an audition and try something, or I’ll get an offer for something and decide whether I want to do it or not. I haven’t been put into any weird spots as a Black man.
Do you think the #OscarsSoWhite controversy will create change that will affect you?
I look at it like, when there’s an uproar about something, then there’s going to be some changes made. I’m excited to see [the Oscars] since Chris Rock has to revamp his entire set to address it. He’s the right person to be in that hosting spot, and I’m excited to see what he does with it.
Hannibal Buress’ “Comedy Camisado” premieres on Netflix on February 5.