"I'm trying to set up some stuff so that I won't have to tell jokes in about seven years. Seven years from now, anytime somebody comes at me with an offer, I want it to be a known thing where it takes an obscene amount of money to get me out of the house. You know, when I'm not really working working like that, that's the goal."
– Hannibal Buress
Hannibal Buress: How's your eyes? [I was at the eye doctor when Buress first texted to set up the interview.]
Guy MacPherson: They're a little worse but not worse enough to change my glasses. I know you had LASIK, didn't you?
HB: I did.
GM: Are you still happy with it?
HB: I am, yup. Very happy.
GM: So your eyes will never get worse? How does that work?
HB: (garbled) I think at some point they will.
GM: I know you started your last special with your glasses on. Did you ever consider keeping the fake glasses just as an identifiable look for when you're on stage?
HB: I wore them sometimes after I got the surgery. Out and about I would throw on some glasses if I felt like being recognized more, if I wanted to try to fool some girls.
GM: It's kind like the Clark Kent thing.
HB: Reverse Clark Kent.
GM: You could have had your anonymity walking around without glasses and people would have no idea who you were.
HB: Yeah, but it doesn't matter.
GM: You must certainly be more recognized now. I look back from when I first talked to you in 2011. If we chart that, you played at the Biltmore, then the Rickshaw, then the Vogue, and now the Chan Centre.
HB: Where is that? Is that downtown? Or is that in the burbs?
GM: It's at UBC, at the university. Not downtown, but not that far away, though.
GM: So that's from 2011 until now. How do you feel walking around? Is it a big difference?
HB: Definitely. It's not crazy or anything but yeah it's a big difference. More people come up to me and speak. I'm in more shit now, so that's part of it.
GM: How different a person are you now?
HB: I don't think I'm really different. I just try to manage everything and keep it in perspective and try to have fun and be appreciative.
GM: It's gotta mess with your head a little bit, though.
HB: It's definitely weird. I mean, it's weird with women and different situations like that where I kind of know what they're there for. It's not my looks. But you know, there's worse things in the world to deal with.
GM: I guess it would always be in the back of your mind: Does she like me because I'm the guy on TV or because we have a connection?
HB: If I'm somewhere for a night, you know, there's no connection for the most part, you know? I know why they're there and they know why they're there.
GM: Are you going to get in trouble from your publicist for talking to me?
HB: She works for me; I don't work for her.
GM: Well I appreciate you calling.
HB: No problem.
GM: I'm might get in trouble from her. Maybe. But what the hell. You're in my good books from now on.
HB: Alright. Good to know.
GM: You're doing a lot of acting now. I heard you say, "I just say the words." Did you ever take any lessons?
HB: I just say the words, man. I just really say the words. Occasionally, if I've had a big audition, a couple times I've met with a coach to work on that specific audition, but as far as studying acting, I mean I watch television and movies and kind of look at people's moves and different techniques like that, you know, but as far as me taking classes alone, not really. I just try to say my lines and not be jarringly horrible.
GM: Words to live by: Try not to be jarringly horrible.
GM: Some actors will think not everyone can do it, but I look around and I think just about anyone can act. I mean, to varying levels. You don't want to be jarringly horrible, but I think anyone can do it. What do you think?
HB: I think with a little practice. I mean, Aziz put his actual parents on his show. They're not actors but they're able to do it and be likable. I mean, they're playing themselves but they're still on camera working. So I wouldn't say necessarily anyone but give somebody some repetition and they can do a couple lines. Yeah.
GM: Yeah. I don't mean literally anyone, because some people will just freeze up but there are enough examples, like you say of Asis's parents who are just regular people and they do a fine job. And certainly a lot of comics. Sinbad has had starring roles and he was just a standup.
HB: I mean, a lot of times you're already acting in your standup a little bit, switching into different characters. You know, I used to not think I could do it. I would get offers to go on auditions and I wouldn't go just because I didn't see myself in that way. I'm talking more in 2009, 2010, where my agent at the time would try to push me into film and different roles like that and I just didn't feel comfortable as an actor. But it really just takes time and learning.
GM: I guess Seth Rogan is another example. You were with him in Neighbors and I saw he interviewed you for something. He was a kid that was doing standup in Vancouver. A teenager. And now he's a huge star.
HB: Seth is great. Just him collaborating with Evan and them writing and producing their own projects, it's been really awesome to watch. He knows who he is and he's able to just be really entertaining on the big screen. He does his thing.
GM: Do you look at him as a role model? Would you like to get into that kind of thing, too?
HB: Somewhat, yeah, yeah. When you're producing and owning your own projects, it's a great position to be in. For the most part, if you're not one of the huge movie stars, then that's how you're going to get lead roles by writing them for yourself and just creating your own stuff. Yeah, he's doing some good stuff.
GM: Have you written anything for yourself?
GM: But maybe one day?
HB: Maybe one day. We'll see.
GM: You're doing more and more of these roles. Does that mean less standup because there are only so many days?
HB: No, not at all, man. I mean, I'm on something like a 30-40-something city tour. Usually the movies don't take up that much time. And even if I am on location for a movie, I'm able to do standup at night. Even if I'm not touring. I don't really go more than three or four days without doing standup no matter what I'm up to.
GM: Does the tour you're bringing here have a name or is it just Hannibal Buress?
HB: It's the Hannibal Montabal Experience.
GM: Is it still an experience? I remember the last one you did here, you had a deejay and some ballerinas.
HB: Yeah, a deejay, we got some video stuff and some pre-show vid–. Yeah, we got some different elements in there that mix it up a little bit.
GM: What kind of video element, or is that a surprise?
HB: It's kind of a surprise, yeah. It'll keep people engaged from when they come into the house, even before the show starts. We just have fun with it and tinker with the show and make sure people have a good time.
GM: You're still doing, like, an hour of standup, right?
HB: Yeah, still an hour, an hour-twenty, thirty, depending on the night, yeah.
GM: I know last time you had Dino Archie opening for you here. Have you kept track of him since he did that?
HB: I think he put out an album or something like that recently. And he won a contest also.
GM: That's right, Seattle. And he was on Jimmy Kimmel in the summer.
HB: Oh, cool. Yeah, I didn't see that but I been seeing his name pop up here and there.
GM: I know you're a huge sports fan. I loved your take on swimming on your last tour here. Even though I know nothing about swimming, I agree with you: There are too many events!
HB: Too many. Too many strokes. It's unnecessary.
GM: You can't say somebody's the greatest Olympian of all time when other people can only enter one event.
HB: Yeah! Any decathlete is better than a swimmer.
GM: Exactly! Is sports a main interest of yours?
HB: I wouldn't say it's the main. It's one of them. I'm not talking about sports as much on this show, this hour. I dabble a little bit. Sports and music and travelling. I'm into investing now. I'm doing some real estate investing. So right now I got this building in Chicago, a three-unit apartment building, that had tenants in there but they're out now. I'm in the process of redoing the place and remodelling all the units and furnishing them and putting them up on Air B'n'B. I'm trying to just do that. Trying to get into a couple buildings a year is my goal. Trying to set up some stuff so that I won't have to tell jokes in about seven years.
GM: You don't want to tell jokes in seven years?
HB: Uh... I don't want to grind at telling jokes in seven years.
GM: So you want to have the option if you don't feel like it.
HB: I want to have the option to do it. I want to do it at my leisure. I want, seven years from now, anytime somebody comes at me with an offer, I want it to be a known thing where it takes an obscene amount of money to get me out of the house. You know, when I'm not really working working like that, that's the goal.
GM: Now I get it. Now I see why you have some sympathy for Donald Trump. You want to become a real estate tycoon like him.
HB: (laughs) Not at all. He's a maniac.
GM: But weren't you saying would it be that bad if Trump were president?
HB: I don't think it would be as bad as people think, but he still is a maniac. There's a system of checks and balances that'll keep him a little bit in control, with the House of Representatives and Senate. It wouldn't be a good look globally for him to be representing us but as a country, I don't think things would get that outrageous or that extreme as people think. Also, I'm no political expert. But also, what politician does what they say they're going to do right away?
GM: That is true, but usually they say better things in the campaign and then they do worse things once in power. So you're saying it'll be the opposite here: He says worse things and then he'll end up doing better things?
HB: No, I didn't say that. I just don't think it'll be as shitty as people would think. I don't want it to happen and I don't think it will happen, either. But I'm ready for it to be done.
GM: You're not a political comic, but you'd probably get some material out of it.
HB: You can get material out of anything. He's an easy target. I have a few in my set but it's just easy to write Trump jokes, man. It's really easy. I mean, I do 'em and I have some angles that I think are interesting but... People really hate him. I mean, there are some people that like him. I talk about that, too. Me and Trump, it may be a small percentage but we do have some overlap in our fanbase and I hate it. But whatever.
GM: The tricky part is finding the interesting angle because everyone's going to be doing these jokes.
GM: Because I remember when George Bush was in and everyone was doing Bush material. Although he seems pretty good in comparison to Trump.
HB: He does.
GM: You did the Justin Beiber roast. Do you like him?
HB: He has a couple songs that are good.
GM: I always heard that to roast somebody, you have to kind of like them otherwise it comes off as too mean.
HB: Nah. That's the old sentiment. You don't necessarily like somebody. I mean, I said what I was there for. I had a TV show coming out in a few months so they booked me in that spot so more people could see me and hopefully in turn watch my television show. So I was there for the opportunity to help my career. And that's what a lot of people were there for. He was there to try to change people's minds about himself and turn his career around and that's what worked for him, so that was his publicity, man. We all selling stuff in that type of situation so we did our jobs and got it done.
GM: Did it work? Did it get you the publicity you needed for your show?
HB: In general. Because the roast still runs. His was one of the highest-rated. Those roasts are watched by people that might not be diehard standup comedy fans; they just watch the roasts and they find out about people. You're able to get the casual fans that don't go see standup and then they saw me on the roast and they might go check out other stuff or look up stuff on Netflix and go from there. I don't regret doing it at all. As far as visibility, it's one of the biggest things I've ever done.
GM: Oh yeah? I know it worked for Amy Schumer and Anthony Jeselnik and Lisa Lampanelli. I love watching the roasts. I guess with the last one, now there's this movement to stop them.
HB: Whose movement?
GM: Well, who knows if it's a movement?
HB: Just because you see a website or a Twitter page...
GM: It was more than that. It was the New Yorker and it was this long, reasoned piece on how the roasts have devolved. It was completely misguided all the way through. I was a little disappointed because it was the New Yorker.
HB: Well that's one dude. He's been pushed by the New Yorker. It was one dude or one woman and the editor okayed it. So it was like two or three people that approved that message getting out and don't really necessarily speak for the masses.
GM: But when you see people linking to it, it kind of implicitly approves of the message.
HB: It depends if they put the comment on there. Because sometimes I share stuff that I don't believe in. Sometimes it's, Look at this stupid ass shit, or Look at what this idiot said. It's not necessarily an endorsement. I might be contributing to the clicks and the traffic and the ad revenue, but it doesn't mean agreement.
GM: When they quoted your bit about Cosby, to me I'm like, You can't report comedy as news and out of context like that. Your intent was to get laughs. We all heard and read about this before. When they reported what you said, it didn't even seem like news to me. But then the regular press picked it up. It was weird.
HB: (chuckles) It was very weird.
GM: Is that what you thought too? Like, what are you doing?
HB: It was more that they kept going back to me with it, you know what I mean? There are still people bringing it back to me. It's a very fascinating situation.
GM: It was like they thought you were the guy that was holding this secret all this time. But it was in the newspapers!
GM: I remember Tracy Morgan got in trouble because some blogger...
HB: Remember that? There wasn't even video.
GM: Exactly! So back to when you were starting out, did you have certain images in your mind about what it would be like to be rich and famous? And is it everything you dreamed it would be?
HB: It's fine, man. It's a very manageable level. It's not crazy. I don't feel the need to have security or anything. It's not that crazy. It's nice to have money and be able to work with my friends and take care of family and to not have to worry about that, just to know that I'm not over-extended financially. So it's nice to have that comfort and peace of mind to where if I didn't get one gig next year, I'd probably be upset about not getting gigs but I wouldn't have to worry about anything. So it's nice to have the comfort.
GM: Presumably you'd like more fame. And then it builds and builds and then you'll get to that point.
HB: I don't know. It would be more out of competition, just to show that I could do it versus actually genuinely wanting it. You get what I'm saying? It would be more just to show that I could be one of the biggest comedians versus actually wanting that. As far as entertainment goes, I could start focussing on movies more or I could try to do a TV show or I could come up with an idea for a game show or go into podcasting or just exclusively tour and write material or just do commercials or chill. So it's a fun spot to be in. I'm out in seven. Maybe five. Five if things go smoothly.
GM: I'd put money on it that you're not.
HB: Interview me on my fortieth birthday.
GM: When you're retired, call me and you can say you won. But I guess there are two ways you could go. There are some celebrities that hole themselves up and never go out in public. And from what I understand, Jerry Seinfeld, who's as big as anybody, he goes to baseball games, he walks through the mall. It's your outlook on how you handle the attention.
GM: I guess you'd be that model rather than shielding off from society guy.
HB: Yeah, I wouldn't do that.
GM: But you'll be a rich real estate mogul by that point running for president.
HB: No. They wouldn't have me running for president.
GM: Now that Donald Trump has run, I think it's open to anybody.
HB: Yeah, he's opened up the floodgates to anybody.
GM: Maybe that's his gift.
HB: They talk about how he has five kids by three women, and if that was Obama's situation, that would not fly at all.
GM: No, not at all. Or even if Hillary did anything he did. Maybe if anyone did anything he did.
HB: Yeah, probably.
GM: Okay, Hannibal. Thank you so much for calling.
HB: No problem, man. Bye, Guy, thank you.