In his 16-year comedy career, Hannibal Buress has done everything from writing for Saturday Night Live to playing pediatric dentist Lincoln Rice on Broad City. He also has a successful podcast, Handsome Rambler, and a leading role in Tag, a big summer comedy hitting theaters in June that also stars Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Ed Helms. But through it all, he’s a stand-up comedian at heart who can’t say no to picking up the mic and walking on stage alone, even though he admits he doesn’t have to do it at this point in his career.
Buress has been in the news recently for reasons unrelated to his comedy career — even though he’d rather not. He’s been credited in part for Bill Cosby’s conviction, after Buress’ 2014 stand-up act put old accusations against Cosby back in the spotlight and encouraged dozens more women to come forward. He was also arrested in December of last year, for a pretty innocuous incident that led to a disorderly intoxication charge. While he openly talks about his own legal troubles — he’s quit drinking — he’s remained mum about Cosby.
The Indy caught up with Buress by phone ahead of his Missoula appearance on May 9, and the warm, quick-witted comedian was happy to dish about a lot of other things including Michelle Wolf’s Correspondents Dinner routine, his favorite comedy show and his experience on a Montana Tinder date.
How’s the tour going? Do you like being on the road?
Hannibal Buress: It’s going cool — good crowds, fun shows. I’m going to film this one in September and self-produce it as a special. This will be my first time self-producing and I’m excited to take those steps. I do enjoy being on the road, because it puts you in a different mindset. You get to connect. It’s fun to come to a city and do a show and have people be excited that you’re there. To be honest, I don’t have to do the road any more by any means. I do it because I want to.
How does your new stand-up material compare to what you’ve done in the past?
HB: It’s different. There’s still some whimsical, goofy stuff in there, but it’s more grounded. It’s me talking about being 35 and my place in life — working and dating and traveling. It’s a bit different than me talking at 26, just moving to New York. It’s a different spot. I’m a property owner. I got tenants and shit. I have a church that owes me in rent. How do I handle a church who owes me money? Do you show up at church and take the offering plate? Do I testify to the pastor?
You’re not drinking anymore. Has that affected your life or your material?
HB: It’s been great. It hasn’t really affected my stand-up. I’ve been talking about it on stage. I’ve been more productive. I’m healthy and feeling good; I’ve been working out. I’m about to be ripped here in about three weeks. I know Montana is a crazy drinking place. My last time in Montana I learned what a car shot is for the first time.
Wait, what’s a car shot?
HB: I was told it’s when you take a shot of alcohol in the car. I was in Montana and I met this girl on Tinder, and she picked me up. This was three years ago. I stayed the night after my show, I get in this car, and the girl says, you want a car shot? Mind you, it’s 11:30 in the morning, and we were headed to a bar. But on the way to the bar, this Montana woman wants to do a car shot. So yeah. A crazy drinking place.
Did you do the car shot?
HB: I did the car shot.
Do you remember where you were in Montana?
HB: I was in Billings.
You should tell this story when you’re in Missoula.
HB: Are there feelings of superiority between Billings and Missoula?
Yeah, I think most people in both places would say so.
HB: [Extended laughter] Here’s some advice as an outsider: All of Montana needs to unite under one front, because that’s how we see you. We don’t sit around and say, Well, Missoula has art galleries or whatever. You need to be nice to Billings, because that’s how you’re judged from the outside. You are all just Montana to the rest of America.
What else do you want to talk about? The White House Correspondents’ Dinner?
HB: Michelle did great. She was really funny and the jokes were harsh. She’s been a great writer for a while. She’s helped me with a couple things, like when I hosted the Webby Awards, she helped me write jokes for that. And her special [Nice Lady] is really good. [The dinner] was a tough space to perform in. They didn’t really want to laugh that much, but she did her thing.
What project are you working on right now that’s the most exciting to you?
HB: The podcast [Handsome Rambler] is fun just because it’s so loose — and it’s in my control, more so than stand-up. With stand-up, you have to try it out in front of people live. If you said it, you said it. With the podcast, we can say shit and go off on weird tangents. If it’s boring or crazy, we can just cut it out. Or I can just Autotune it or make a song out of it.
What’s the best comedy you’re watching right now?
HB: I’ve been watching Barry on HBO. It’s really funny and spot-on.
What’s the most exciting thing happening in comedy right now?
HB: I think it’s the opportunities that people have to build their own audience and to put out what you want to put out. You can build an audience through Instagram or have your own podcast and you can use the internet to build a fanbase no matter where you are. That’s pretty exciting. You don’t have to be in New York or L.A. anymore.
What advice would you give to an aspiring stand-up comedian?
HB: I feel like it’s so much stuff that’s accessible on the internet. There’s hundreds of hours of videos and podcasts out where you can learn about comedy now. You can take yourself to school through Google and YouTube with a lot of things. Obviously, you’re not going to be a heart surgeon, but you can learn about how to approach comedy. Then there’s the obvious stuff: You should write every day, you should read the newspaper and write 20 jokes a day, or whatever. You should record your sets every time and listen to them. That’s simple straightforward stuff, but it’s easier to say than to do. Do comedy a lot and approach it seriously.
Hannibal Buress performs at the Wilma Wed., May 9, at 8 PM.