Hannibal Buress doesn’t want to talk about Bill Cosby. And with good reason.
A star of the contemporary stand-up scene, Buress’ achievements have been overshadowed by the small — but pivotal role — he has played in the outing of The Coz as an alleged serial rapist. That it took a fellow stand-up — and a male one at that — to somehow inspire the American media-consuming masses to take seriously the long-standing allegations against Cosby is by turns shameful and, if the allegations are true, welcome. Make no mistake, Buress didn’t brand Cosby a rapist out of some sort of bravery. It was just a comedy bit, albeit one with a point, and a very sharp one at that.
Which is why the City Paper agreed to leave any discussion of Bill Cosby off the table in order to get an interview with Buress, one of the three headliners at this year’s Charleston Comedy Festival. As much as we’d like to know what the Chicago-based comedian thinks of the whole sordid affair, we understand that he’s got more on his plate than being a footnote in the combustion of the holier-than-thou Cliff Huxtable.
There’s Buress stand-up career, for one. So far, he has two Comedy Central shows under his belt, Animal Furnace and Hannibal Buress: Live from Chicago. He’s also a supporting player on the critically acclaimed TV comedy Broad City and the Ed McMahon to Eric Andre’s Johnny Carson on The Eric Andre Show. That’s not to mention his work on the big screen (Neighbors with Seth Rogen), Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock. Although Buress may not be a household name just yet, he’s far from an up-and-comer. If the world of comedy is a game, he’s clearly winning.
Which is a good thing because Hannibal Buress loves to gamble, and nobody but Kenny Rogers should build a career on that. But instead of Texas Hold-em, Buress prefers to gamble on sports, basketball in particular. And as anyone who bets on sports knows, even the smallest amount can make a boring game exciting. “It just makes it intense. It makes it fun,” Buress says. “Every play matters.”
For the gambler, all notion of team allegiance goes out the window when it’s time to place a bet. Sometimes you don’t even have to choose sides. “The best live bet you can make is the over on a basketball game. Because the over on a basketball game, you’re betting on everything. You’re betting on the total. You’re for both teams,” Buress says. “If you’re at the game, people are just wondering, ‘What the fuck is up with this dude? He’s clapping for both teams.'”
Of course, there’s a downside to all of this high-stakes spectatorism — getting your dollar-stamped ass handed to you. To paraphrase Freddie Mecury, bad mistakes, Buress has made a few.
When we spoke to the comedian, his most recent full-court disaster had occurred on Thanksgiving Day when he placed a bet on a college team to win a basketball game. “I bet them to straight-up win. They were down by three, and there was a guy driving to the basket, maybe a second and a half to go, and there was a guy wide open for the three, and then the dude, instead of kicking it, he just takes a layup, and they lose by one. I would rather lose with the right play. I would rather lose with the dude going for the three,” he says. “I think I got physically sick after that loss.”
And Buress is not just being dramatic for a reporter’s sake. He adds, “I was laying down. My glands got swollen a little bit. It could’ve been just coincidence, but I blame it on that game.”
In conversation, Buress is very much how he is on stage. He speaks at a measured pace, but he isn’t hampered by a need to make sure every word counts. In fact, the comedian is prone to veer off the practiced path, and sometimes that means getting sidetracked, seriously, seriously sidetracked. “I definitely go off on tangents. We’re talking a minute of straight-up rambling,” he says.
However, if everything is clicking, he knows where to go next, no matter how sidetracked he has become. “If a show is going really well, you can be three jokes ahead of yourself,” Buress says. “If it’s going poorly, you’re worried about making that one joke right there work. Your mind is not even able to think ahead. It’s straight-up survival.”
As it stands right now, Buress is doing a helluva lot better than surviving. He’s thriving. Well, at least as long as his glands cooperate.