Hannibal Buress Talks Prom, Sobriety, and Spin Class
Hannibal Buress makes stand-up comedy look easy. Onstage, he's discursive and loose to the point of seeming lazy, lulling audiences into an easy rhythm—and then snowballing into increasingly funny bits about Lasik, losing his ID, and Bill Cosby. (In case you missed that whole Cosby thing, here's a primer.)
It's a persona Buress uses to droll effect onscreen, too—on The Eric Andre Show and Broad City, and in countless movie cameos, from The Disaster Artist to Baywatch to Neighbors. He'll swing through Portland's Keller Auditorium on Sunday, April 15. We caught up with the Chicago-based comedian ahead of the show.
You have a cameo in Blockers, the new movie about teenage girls who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. What was your own prom like?
I went to prom with a girl I met at a debate meet. I don’t know if we debated against each other or I just saw her there, but I thought she was cute and smart, so we started talking and hanging out from there, and I asked her to come to prom with me. Parents were there on the porch to see you off, and everyone’s taking pictures. I wore a weird rented tux—it was cream.
Cream! That's bold. And prom itself?
I wasn’t much of a dancer. I think I expected to lose my virginity, but I didn’t have any moves—I just thought it was gonna kinda happen. I didn’t really plan anything or communicate that. I don’t even know if she would’ve been on board. I didn’t get that ball rolling, anyway. I didn’t have sex in high school, but I have some friends that did, and I remember being like, man, I wonder what it’s like. I’m sure it was fun for the guys, but women weren’t having great sex in high school. A 16-year-old dude isn’t laying it down, if I had to guess.
You have another film, Tag, coming out in June. It’s based on the real-life story of these grown men who play a cutthroat game of tag every May. Did any impromptu games break out on set? Is Jon Hamm secretly really into tag?
No, set was pretty normal. People always want to know if it’s crazy on set, but [that hasn't been my experience]. Nobody’s doing pranks, everybody’s just doing their job. I’m not complaining. I’m not saying it’s a stiff, strict, structured work environment, but it’s not a goofy playland.
During a recent performance at Loyola University in Chicago, you made a joke about the Catholic Church's history of child abuse, and your mic was cut. Were you surprised by that?
A little bit, but I wasn’t really too bothered. I mean, they had these restrictions, which is fair, but they were being kind of annoying—they kept following up with my DJ about the restrictions. I just got annoyed by it, so I was willing to have fun with it and take the risk and see what happened. And so that was that. I came back and did the show. The kids didn’t leave. I feel like the students [didn’t agree] with the restrictions.
What happened during those 15 minutes when you were offstage?
I drove off. I was gone. I got in my car and I sped off into the night.
Were you at all reluctant about returning to finish the set?
Once I heard the students had stayed I was like, ohhh, they stayed! None of them left. They were chanting, and they said they were going to have me back without the restrictions, so I said, “All right, cool.”
You quit drinking this year, right?
Yeah! I tried multiple times—I’d go a couple weeks without it. It had become a normal part of life as a comedian. It’s always around. Even before you start getting paid for gigs, they give you drink tickets. I’ve had some [incidents]—some public, some not—that were definitely influenced by alcohol. Even in my private life, I think of the opportunities that have been missed, and money that’s been spent because of drinking. I’m 35 now. It’s affecting my health. And it just takes up a lot of time if you get fucked up, or you spend time getting fucked up and you spend time recovering. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, so I need that time. It’s an interesting challenge. I’ve been in nightlife for 16 years now and have been drinking all of those years. Now I’m trying something different, and different can be exciting.
Has sobriety made you more productive?
Absolutely, because my brain is never—I mean, I still have some weed or some edibles or whatever, but my brain isn’t compromised by that. When I’m high, my brain is firing off different ideas—some good, some not, but it’s firing off. I think it’s been good. I used the first three months of the year to not drink, and now I’ve been working out. I’ve been to two spin classes in three days. Doing two in three days is pretty intense on the legs, but I like it. I went back to New York for a day or so a few weeks ago, and there were some people who hadn’t seen me in a while, and they were like, “What have you been doing to your skin?” ’Cuz if you’re not drinking, you don’t look terrible. Which isn’t to say you can’t drink and look good, but it’s easier to look healthy if you’re not drinking.
I’m glad to hear you’ve got your glow back. You're talking to me from New Orleans—how are things down there?
I’m in New Orleans for the first time not drinking. I’ve visited New Orleans lots over the years, probably because of how the laws are, how you can drink in the streets. It’s interesting to be back here when my relationship with the spot was based around getting fucked up. Your sense of taste gets better when you’re not drinking. I went to Red Fish Grill and had barbecue oysters. They were amazing.
8 p.m. Sun, Apr 15, Keller Auditorium, $30–45