Hannibal Buress: Chilled-out absurdist, unassuming Cosby slayer

City Paper

Following a Philadelphia gig last October, Hannibal Buress’ profile raised significantly. There, the comedian riffed, not so much on the fact that all signs pointed to legendary comedian Bill Cosby being a longtime creeper, but more so on how readily we forget about or forgive someone for even the foulest shit because they were our “dad” on television for a few years.

“And it’s even worse because Bill Cosby has the fucking smuggest old black-man public persona that I hate. ‘Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom,’” Buress said. “Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, [that] brings you down a couple notches.”

Five months after that notorious Philly show, Buress and Cosby are both scheduled to play the Lyric Opera House this month, on the 13 and 27 respectively. It’s a coincidence that the Lyric could never have forseen when it booked these shows, presumably long before the firestorm began.

In the weeks and months after that show, women accusing Cosby of rape dominated the news cycle. The buzz surrounding the young comedian’s comments rightly reignited the scrutiny that had been all but dead since 2006, when Andrea Constand alleged he’d drugged and raped her, only to have her civil case settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Buress was credited and praised for the takedown, mostly from outlets who had mostly ignored the allegations for years and were now eager to capitalize on the frenzy of negative attention surrounding the Cosby’s alleged past of drugging and sexually assaulting women under the pretense of mentorship (the number of women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault currently sits at 37). And Buress is also onto something calling attention to Cosby’s respectability politics hypocrisy along with his alleged sexual assault.

Still, Buress later made sure to clarify that he was not necessarily trying to call Cosby out and he’s been hesitant to comment further, as you’ll see in our accompanying Q&A where he’s silent about Cosby. Buress was just reminding that Philly audience—and in turn the entire internet—that this was a thing, a big thing, over many years, that has devastated many women’s lives and has been conveniently forgotten about over and over again. It is this relaxed, no-bullshit angle of attack that sums up the comic’s appeal. Whereas a Chris Rock or Eddie Murphy might grandstand on an HBO special, sweating bullets as they make shout-y declarations about a person or event (“I’m fuckin’ done with Michael [Jackson]!” Chris Rock exclaimed on his HBO special “Never Scared” following the highly public abuse allegations against the singer), the more laid-back Buress seems content to just throw things out there.

The whole Cosby joke shit storm demonstrated that though not overtly political, Buress doesn’t dance around much of anything, and in a culture where victim-blaming and celebrity worship are all too complementary, a voice like his seemed especially vital addressing what Patton Oswalt referred to as “a very badly kept secret in the comedian world.” Buress and Cosby seem like they are now linked for good, and so it’s fitting that Buress’s nationwide Comedy Camisado tour comes to Baltimore exactly two weeks before Bill Cosby is slated to play the theater.

Hailing from Chicago, Buress put in short stints as a writer for “Saturday Night Live” (only one of his skits ever made it to air) and “30 Rock”  (where he also had a series of cameos as a lewd homeless guy) between 2009 and 2011, before moving on to release his comedy album, “Animal Furnace,” in 2012. With a Comedy Central special shortly thereafter, and guest spots on FX’s “Louie” as well as performances at nearly all the stops on the late-night talk-show circuit, Buress became one of the comedians to check out. He’s also involved in two of the smartest television shows out right now: as the straight-man sidekick on Adult Swim’s “The Eric Andre Show” (at least as straight as one can be on a show as dissonant and bizarre as that one) and the dick-in-a-box, nice-guy love interest to Ilana Glazer’s character on Comedy Central’s “Broad City.”

On stage, Buress is sort of a Mitch Hedberg/Dave Chappelle hybrid. He rarely leans on the “white people do this, black people do this” bits of his Def Comedy Jam-era forebears, and when he does, as he did with his bit on black strip clubs vs. white strip clubs on the “Animal Furnace” special, the vibe is less self-serious than the “Whitey sure is wack!” comedy. There, he said he found white strip clubs “boring,” mostly because the strippers want to dance to Marilyn Manson rather than purpose-built rap songs.

Synthesizing Steven Wright’s deadpan with the delivery of the unhinged man people try to avoid making eye contact with who’s dropping truth bombs on the corner, Buress’ style oscillates between restrained and manic. Throwing out the disclaimer during a Chicago show that this joke has no connection to those coming before or after it, Buress declared, “I wanna jizz in my hand and go to a palm reading and say ‘What does this mean?’” And the self-proclaimed “Lenny Bruce of moustache humor” tackles “deep issues,” such as how dudes with handlebar moustaches can do anything other than juggle or ride unicycles and other things that it makes sense for a dude with a handlebar moustache to do. But how do they talk about music or politics, as though they don’t have handlebar moustaches?

Whether Buress will acknowledge Cosby on stage at the Lyric remains to be seen; regardless, Buress offers up a fearless voice when he’s on stage. He is a hilarious comedian with a profound ethical streak who avoids the gaping chasm that is the “Black Foolishness” genre, though he does inject his jokes with a nice dose of absurdity, and won’t accept an alleged rapist of nearly 40 women as an icon. In a post-“Chappelle’s Show” world, we’ve been watching the throne to see who really is going to be the one to step up and be our new black comic darling, and Hannibal Buress could be that darling if he felt like it.

There is, after all, a grand tradition to uphold. We’ve reached the point in time where a Richard Pryor biopic is imminent, Martin Lawrence and Chris Tucker have become shadows of their former selves, and Eddie Murphy is past the point of saving from corny family-movie hell (and a nascent reggae career it seems). Meanwhile, Chris Rock is making another run at being a proper filmmaker. If you’re not into the funny but ubiquitous and populist Kevin Hart, Buress seems like the logical progression in the line of black male comics at the top of their game.

But when Desus Nice, cohost of the Complex.com podcast “Desus Vs. Mero,” joked on an October episode that, “as soon as something bad happens to Kevin Hart,” Buress’s “got next,” the comedian responded, with his characteristic chill: “I don’t got next, I got a different version of now. . . This is not fucking ‘Highlander.’” 


Hannibal Buress plays the Lyric on March 13.

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