Hannibal Buress is suddenly everywhere.
The 32-year old comedian, who will tape his third comedy special at the Varsity Theater next week, just wrapped up his first season of “Why? with Hannibal Buress,” on Comedy Central. He also hosted the 2015 Webby Awards and is filming his recurring roles for the next seasons of “Broad City” on Comedy Central and “The Eric Andre Show” on Adult Swim.
But ultimately, Buress is best known for his stand-up, growing his audience from intimate clubs to more spacious theaters. His act runs the gamut from absurd humor to serpentine narratives of odd encounters to topical bits on music and sports, all delivered in a laconic style.
But one onstage quip in particular last fall mushroomed into a cause celeb that has been both a blessing and a curse for Buress. A member of the hip-hop generation, he was put off by elder statesman Bill Cosby’s harsh criticism of the culture.
“You rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple of notches,” he said. Weeks later, a video of the remark went viral, and is widely regarded as the trigger for society at-large to pay attention to the voluminous allegations against Cosby.
Buress doesn’t apologize for the remark but is clearly bothered by how much he is associated with it by those uninitiated with his humor. It was the one instance in our 30-minute conversation where he was short in his response. The rest of the time, Buress revealed himself to be a consummate craftsman with an abiding love for Minneapolis.
Q: You seem like a really laid back guy and yet you have this crazy schedule. How do you keep it all straight?
A: I like money, man. I like doing comedy and I like making money and so I know my spots. On “Why?” I have to run a show, so it is different hats. But on the other shows it is just acting — pop up, say some lines and get out of there, you know? And stand-up, I’ve been doing it for years.
Q: Are you pretty much done working the material for the special you are taping at the Varsity, or will there be more added?
A: It is pretty done. There is some newer stuff that I have, but I am doing four shows before I film on Sept. 18th, and six shows in Chicago over three nights before that to warm up. So by that 10th show I’ll be in my mode. But yeah, I haven’t been touring for a while because of these other things. Those 10 shows will help me get in shape.
Q: Why the Varsity?
A: You know, I played there last year and I just like the place, man. It doesn’t look like anywhere else I perform. It has a flavor, a nice décor to it, nice colors. I think it will look good on camera.
Q: Are the Minneapolis audiences pretty good in terms of grasping what you are doing?
A: Minneapolis audiences are outstanding, man. I have played Minneapolis several times over the years through Acme Comedy club and kind of grew an audience early on and it has just been a fun city to play. So I am excited to get back and just chill out for a few days, which I am not usually able to do in certain cities. That’s why I did it this way — instead of playing in a place with a couple thousand [people], I thought I’d spread it out and get to mellow out for a few nights.
Q: What I like about some of your stand-up is how absurdly specific and quirky your narratives are.
A: It is just more funny when you are specific. It helps paint the picture, especially if it is about a disagreement or something ridiculous.
Q: Do you ever run into lawsuits, like with your bit about the restaurant in New Orleans that has large rats?
A: No, because they have rats for real! [Laughs.] And they have great food! I think it helps them more than anything. I have people texting me, saying, “We’re eating at Coop’s right now and we don’t see any rats.”
Q: Another thing that is interesting about your stand-up is you can’t be summed up in a sentence or two, like “Don Rickles insults people.”
A: Ideally I want to be able to have solid jokes about lots of things. Like I do a lot of sports stuff. Because of that, I’ve been able to get opportunities to do stuff with ESPN. And I do a lot of music stuff and because of that a lot of rappers put me on their record and I’ll do music festivals. And I do stuff about the Internet so I hosted the Webby Awards. It is not super calculated, it is just that I’ve got a bunch of different interests.
Q: What about your process — do you run hot and cold in terms of generating material?
A: It is easier to write stand-up when you are doing a lot of stand-up. Once you get into that mode — I felt it during the second and third set in New York last night. There was an energy and I was just sharper and better. Later, just walking around, you feel more active, like something can trigger a thought.
Q: Did the whole Cosby controversy make it more difficult for you to just let yourself go?
A: No. Not at all.
Q: You can’t afford to be reluctant or safe.
A: Look, man, I’m just trying to do funny stuff.
Q: You’re a huge music fan and you still travel with a DJ to help with your stand-up. And I hear that you are a big fan of Doomtree.
A: Yeah, Dessa reached out a few years ago, and I came in and did the Doomtree Blowout and it was a fun couple days. They’re good people, her and P.O.S.
It’s really cool that Minneapolis is super supportive of underground hip-hop. It is just a good “artist” city. Part of the reason I am doing the special in Minneapolis is that when I was coming up, it was a place where you could be a big draw before anywhere else. People are slightly ahead of the curve as far as their willingness to support something new and different.
Q: This will be your third live special. How does it fit in with your other two in terms of what your longtime fans might get to see?
A: This one is about a dude who has sort of grown up. Well, not grown up, but [his previous special] “Live in Chicago” caught me in a place where I was getting a decent amount of recognition, and this is what happened in the year and a half since then. This is me exploring fame a little bit and exploring relationships, and do I want to have kids — that type of thing. I still have some random weird thoughts and crazy [expletive], too, but there is [more] practical, relatable things. I am more confident in my job now and I am just excited about being able to do something good that people appreciate.
Britt Robson is a Twin Cities freelance writer.