When I last interviewed Hannibal Buress, I asked him about the seemingly nonsensical title of his forthcoming release, Animal Furnace, and he told me it was something “goofy and dumb” that someone had sent him on Twitter. Clearly I hadn’t yet said the two words out loud, especially following his name, which brings the goofy dumbness into focus. Or maybe it’s just a silly rhyme and nothing more.
This subtle, weirdly clever slow burn is a lot like Buress’s comedy, which frequently garners comparisons to the late Mitch Hedberg. “I’m doing a little work here,” he tells the security guard at the doorway of NYC’s Gramercy Theatre in Animal Furnace‘s opening bit, and you know that’s how he really said it. While Buress gets worked up during his act, often raising his voice, it’s usually to make a point. His default is more of a relaxed, patient flow, his words coming out at a nice pace, carrying you along, hitting you with laughs when you might not expect them. For example: “When you put a garbage can on your head, it limits your peripheral vision about 100 percent,” he says early on. The bit goes on to repeat the words “garbage can” every third phrase or so, and the results are a mesmerizing avalanche of giggles.
Animal Furnace‘s material is delightfully varied and absurd. He touches on his Saturday Night Live experiences (including the sketch he wrote for Megan Fox where she killed people with musical scatting—it didn’t make it to television), taking down Homeland Security about the liquids rule (with talk of Snickers and “bomb juice,” no less), shaking hands with Jimmy Carter and the many dangers inherent in that, lovely and unpredictable stories about lack of sex and excessive vomiting and well-timed farts, how “urban” doesn’t mean “black,” the Holy Ghost dancing in Arby’s and so much more. As a group, these may sound kind of ridiculous, but it’s Buress’s sense of silliness and confidence that ties them all together.
Many of Buress’s jokes have a personal/social moral at the end, from “You shouldn’t hang out with this person,” and “Do I kill myself or do you kill yourself?” to “You should expand your social circle,” and, unsurprisingly, there’s an obvious absurdist quality in that as well. It’s almost as if he’s a comedic guidance counselor, pointing his audience to better decisions. But at the same time, he’ll be the first to admit it’s all kind of bullshit. He’s just in it for the laughs, as he should be.
Fans of Buress’s Jeezy joke from a couple years back will be happy to know that he’s expanding his rap-humor repertoire. Of Odd Future’s lyrics “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school,” he jokes, “Doesn’t it seem like they’re getting more reasonable as they go along?” following up with the fact that they’re really just a half step or so away from saying they hate spam or hotel-television channels or updating iTunes. Elsewhere, he talks about how rap has ruined the ways he talks to people, including his mom, to whom, after telling him she needn’t be paid to watch her grandkids, Buress concludes, “Yo, mom, money over everything.”
Not many comedians working today can consistently deliver laughs in such a clever and refreshing fashion. He’s got this uncanny knack for simultaneous swagger and self-conscious hilarity; he’s as happy to tell someone else how to live their life as he is to tell a story about messaging a woman on Facebook before realizing she’s in high school. He’s flat-out laugh-out-loud throughout; Animal Furnace is almost embarrassingly consistent, a mix of big hilarity with subtler moments woven in between to break up the rhythm just so.
Now that Buress is no longer writing for 30 Rock, and given the quality presented here, one has to hope he’ll focus on comedy full time. Or at least fuller time. He’s got myriad TV projects cropping up, from his co-hosting duties on The Eric André Show to the Fox pilot he’s working on with Jonah Hill. Hopefully those projects—and his recurring role as a hobo on 30 Rock—will pay the bills and allow him to keep doing stand up until it’s taking care of the rent. Luckily, he’s not content with his relative fame. Toward the end of our recent conversation, when I mentioned that things were really coming around for him, what with the shows and opening for Aziz Ansari, he cut me off. “Yeah, but you just said ‘opening,’ though,” he interjected with a laugh. “That’s great, and it’s helped me build my audience, but I want to be, you know, headlining those venues, and that won’t be for another couple years. There’s a lot more work to do.”