With Third Special, Hannibal Buress Confronts Cosby Controversy…and Himself

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BjPIQZrWhen he moved from Chicago to New York City in 2006, Hannibal Buress didn’t have much of a plan. He bounced around Washington Heights and Inwood, stayed in hostels on the Upper West Side and in the East Village, and crashed with friends across Brooklyn and Queens. When he had nowhere else to go, he slept on the subway.

Buress also performed on any stand-up show that would have him, and made sure audiences and industry members remembered him. On Sunday nights he hosted Comedy at the Knitting Factory, a platform that allowed him to create and refine new material on a weekly basis. He scored a writing gig on Saturday Night Live, then another on 30 Rock.

2010 debut album My Name Is Hannibal and 2012 Comedy Central special Animal Furnace introduced him as a performer with a nonchalant, slow-burn delivery and self-effacing accessibility. He made the rounds on Letterman, Conan, and Kimmel. Buress had a great backstory, “Next Big Thing” status, and the chops to back it up. His name was bound to go mainstream. It was just a matter of when.

The next few years were a mixed bag. His second special, 2014’s Live from Chicago, featured a DJ playing music and sound cues as Buress strayed from tight observational assessments to loopy anecdotal arcs detailing interactions with the opposite sex, drinking and partying. Later that year, his Comedy Central pilot Unemployable failed to get picked up (despite his Tweeting to the contrary). A 2015 show Comedy Central did go for, Why? with Hannibal Buress, lasted eight episodes.

He did, meanwhile, score a role as a cop in the Seth Rogen/Zach Effron blockbuster Neighbors, and maintained steady, well-received gigs on Adult Swim’s The Eric André Show and Comedy Central’s Broad City (the third season of which premieres February 17).

Then onstage allegations in Bill Cosby’s Philadelphia hometown hit the internet, and Buress’s name went mainstream overnight. Media reaction helped his career on paper. In the long run, fame precipitated on scandal rather than crafted material wasn’t sustainable. Buress didn’t want to capitalize on perceptions he couldn’t control. He took a step back, kept his head down, and put pen to paper.

Hannibal Buress Special

The culmination of his first national theater tour, third special Comedy Camisado again integrates storytelling. This time it’s in the service of taking personal stock, including confronting his warring proclivities toward relationships and family. Buress’s resolute focus on quality writing pervades. He lobs tag after tireless tag, elevating personal circumstance to the universal the further his tellings veer toward absurdity.

Directed by Lance Bangs and filmed at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, Camisado’s centerpiece chunk finds Buress sans ID at first a budget hotel and then an airport bar. Sputtering with mounting incredulity, he derides lack of empathy and misuse of authority. At his most indignant, Buress becomes his most galvanizing. He’s a rare comedian who demands social justice without raising a single political point.

Elsewhere Buress envisions his future as a multifaceted businessman (gourmet deviled eggs, his own liberal-arts college, toilet-paper tycoon) and recounts a jarring acting experience with finicky costars. “I’m not the kind of guy who will say that babies can be racist,” Buress pauses, “but I will say they have favorite colors.”

The Moontower Comedy Festival veteran also, inevitably, addresses the Cosby controversy. “This a set up? Did Bill Cosby send you?” he asks an audience member, segueing from crowdwork. “Well that situation got outta hand. Yikes! I was just doing a joke at a show. I didn’t like the media putting me at the forefront of it. They were sly, dissing me in the news: Unknown Comedian Hannibal Buress…

“I got a lot of flack for that,” he continues. “I had people writing me awful things: ‘Bill Cosby’s not a rapist, Hannibal, you are.’ What?! That’s not how that works!” Buress diverts into thoughts on potential Facebook killers, then says his final peace with a callback illustrating the irony of his subsequent infamy.

“It’s very weird. Who knew that an offhand joke about Cosby raping would lead to me having amazing consensual sex across the country?” Points firmly made, he moves on with a blackjack story illustrating the perils of hitting on Seventeen.

Police brutality, steroids and definitions of success (“That’s the only difference between me and Kevin Hart: He has a printer, and I don’t.”) showcase new hallmark twists and turns. Though he teases about the relentless pace of “Material churned out to feed the beast that is my growing fanbase,” Buress clearly has a multitude of new eyes and ears trained on him. And with Comedy Camisado he reminding longtime fans and curious newcomers alike why he was on that Philadelphia stage in the first place.

Hannibal Buress Special

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