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Interview: Hannibal Buress talks 'SNL,' ex-girlfriends and not doing serious acting (yet)

As he heads out on a comedy tour, Hannibal Buress discusses the one time he got a sketch on "Saturday Night Live" and how he's not ready for serious roles.

Comic Hannibal Buress attends a "Hilarity for Charity" function. Credit: Getty Images Comic Hannibal Buress attends a "Hilarity for Charity" function.
Credit: Getty Images

Hannibal Buress takes issue with being said his rise to fame has been quick. “I don’t think it’s been that quick. I’ve been doing stand-up almost 13 years,” he points out. He’s had three albums and two specials, including last March’s “Hannibal Buress Live from Chicago.” But it is true that he’s more recognizable now than he once was. In 2009 he got a gig on the “Saturday Night Live” writing staff. In about six months he only saw one sketch get on air. Since then he’s written for “30 Rock” then crossed over to the other side of the screen, appearing in small roles in “Kings of Summer” and “Neighbors,” and stealing scenes on the show “Broad City,” which has been renewed for a second season.

What was the sketch that got on “Saturday Night Live”?

I should just make up a sketch. Did you ever hear of “D— in a Box”? You ever hear of a sketch called “What’s Up with That”? That one.

What was it really?

It was called “Barkley Golf.” I’m going to start lying to journalists, not to mess up the Internet, but just to get different stuff out there for fun. It doesn’t really matter, does it?

Sometimes you talk about people you’ve met or know, like running into Scarlett Johansson in a club or complaining about an ex-girlfriend. Do you ever get blowback for that?

I haven’t heard from Scarlett, but that’s probably not her style to reach out and go, “What the f—?” No, I haven’t heard back from anybody. What I say about people in stand-up is usually not mean-spirited — except with an old ex-girlfriend. Only thing with her is she’s untraceable on the Internet. I Googled her — she has no Facebook, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, nothing. I can’t find her to tell her how good I’m doing. Good for her, I guess. In this day and age, people who are not on the Internet at all, I’m like, “That’s amazing.”

Some people today don’t even have email.

You can still do it. They’re probably living rich lives and don’t waste their time with stuff. They probably have long conversations and long attention spans.

Credit: Constance Kostrevski Credit: Constance Kostrevski

You’ve been doing more and more acting in films and TV shows.

I haven’t shown incredible range onscreen. [Laughs] A lot of my roles have been playing different versions of myself. I do like it. I think I’m a solid actor. How about that? I think I’m OK at it. I should stop saying I’m not good at it in the press because that’s going to get me less roles, right? They’ll say, “He doesn’t act? He’s playing the same thing? We shouldn’t cast him.” Let’s retake that: Man, I’m a great actor, and I can play lots of roles and different ranges of emotions. I can be sad and I can be happy and I can be everything in between. That’s the quote.

What’s your favorite Shakespearean character to play?

Shakespeare himself. And Hamlet.

Do you have any acting goals you’re looking for right now?

I want bigger roles. I want to write my own stuff eventually, once I stop being lazy and get to it.

Do you see yourself doing something more serious, the way Patton Oswalt has done films like “Big Fan” and “Young Adult”?

Maybe eventually. That would be further down the line. I’ve gotten auditions for that kind of stuff. It will be good material, but if it’s not funny, I’m like, “Man, where are the jokes?”] I want to have fun, and doing something just because it’s a good, serious project, that’s not enough for me at this point. If I’m not enjoying saying this stuff at home over and over, then I’m definitely not going to enjoy saying this stuff onset. Even doing comedy can get a little rough — just the repetition. I can get through it because they’re jokes and it’s people having fun. I don’t know if I could be on “NCIS.” I know it’s a job and you get paid, but I don’t know if I could keep doing something that’s not funny over and over and over. If it’s just something like, “She’s dead. She looks like she’s been stabbed six times.” And then saying that 25 times? F—, I don’t want to do that s—.

Credit: Constance Kostrevski Credit: Constance Kostrevski

You were working on a comic reality show called “Unemployable,” where you’d try out odd jobs, but it didn’t seem to happen. Is it totally dead now?

It’s dead! Dead dead dead. [Laughs.] I’ve got something else cooking, you’ll see.

Too bad, that would have been funny. What’s your history with odd jobs?

I haven’t had that many jobs. It’s been mostly stand-up. I started standup when I was 19. I did some promo work, handing out samples and stuff. I did some door-to-door sales. I haven’t had jobs like that for a long time. I haven’t had jobs where people that worked there or still work there can reference back to me. “Oh yeah, Hannibal, he was here for awhile, he was a slacker.” The first jobs I worked more than a month on was “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.”

You were on a Chicago morning show called “Windy City Live” awhile back, and they seemed like they wanted you to join them in mocking Justin Bieber and you just sat there.

I didn’t know the tone of the show, so I just zoned out. Eventually they were like, “Hannibal, you still with us?” I was like, “I’m with you, but I don’t want to talk about Justin Bieber.” I wished I had flipped on them and just changed the tone of the show, because they were making snide, condescending remarks. They were saying all this slick s—. I ended up blasting them on my stand-up later that night, but I wished I had destroyed them there, because they were some weak, artificial people. I don’t know how they are in regular life, but on the show they were just horrible people. They were like, “Are your parents disappointed in you for becoming a comedian?” I was like, “No, I’m doing well.” I wanted to say, “Are your parents disappointed in you for being on TV in the morning talking about Justin Bieber for 10 minutes?”

Hannibal Buress will do two shows at Philadelphia's Trocadero Theatre, 1003 Arch St., on Thursday, Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. (sold out) and 10:30 p.m. Buress will appear at New York City's Town Hall Theatre, 123 West 43rd Street, on Friday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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