My LOLs and My Word: Hannibal Buress on How Hip-Hop Influences His Comedy

NYC's reigning alt-comedy king on 2 Chainz, Wak, and his own freestyle past

Hannibal Buress
Hannibal Buress

"I feel like rap affects how I talk with people too much," says ever-rising New York stand-up Hannibal Buress on Animal Furnace, likely the comedy CD of the year. "I was talking with my mom on the phone and she was telling me, 'Hannibal, I'm watching your niece and nephew for a week while your sister is gone.' For a week, ma? Are they paying you? She said, 'No, Hannibal, a grandmother doesn't have to get paid to watch her grandkids.'

"And I say, 'Yo, ma... money over everything.'"

Buress' comedy is some of the best going, like Patrice O'Neal-styled observational incredulity delivered with a measured, Hedbergian flow. But obviously our favorite parts are his jokes about rappers, his punchlines about Odd Future and Young Jeezy and Lil Kim and the unnecessary "To Be Continued…" tags at the end of rap videos. We decided to find exactly how much hip-hop influences the tricky cadences and sucker-punch punchlines of this avowed rap fanatic.

Is there a rapper whose punchlines you love?
Redman has some real good punchlines. Just real funny. Redman could do standup. I'm sure he's got good stories. I think 2 Chainz is really funny just 'cause of…the spot in his verses where he decides to emphasize and yell. I don't even know if he's trying to be funny or if he just is being funny, but there's this one track on the Meek Mill mixtape ["Str8 Like Dat"] where he says "riding with the doors off, I fuck her on that lean and [yelling] then I fuckin' doze off!" It's funny he just decides to yell at certain points. So he's like comedy. That's why people put him on as a guest on a lot of their tracks because he just brings certain energy to the track.

Waka Flocka Flame is the same way.
Waka has funny stuff. I forget the name of this track that I was listening to, "Back 2 the Basics" by Gucci Mane. And Gucci Mane's flow is like kinda subdued and low on it and the beat. It fits the beat…it's kind of a smooth, more chill song. And then Waka comes in and he's just yellin'. And it's like, yo, it's not that type of song, man. It's like he was just told to do a verse with no beat, hey just go on your on and make a verse by yourself. With no beat and no direction. He's like, "All right, I'm just gonna yell then."

Do you have a favorite live performer?
Jay-Z's live shows are pretty good. Wale is really good live. I saw Redman and Method Man live sort of a while ago, they put on a good show. Young Jeezy had a solid show.

Are there any lessons you can learn from watching a hip-hop show that you can bring to a comedy show?
One thing I do wish that I get to do in my set is…special guests [laughs]. [Yelling] "Yo! I'm gonna do this joke and then as a special guest on this joke I got Chris Rock comin' in real quick to do a joke." Uh… yeah that'd be nice. But I learned stuff about workin' the stage and just using the whole space and engaging the audience. You just want things to end on a high note, and you want to be able to engage people right away from the beginning of it. Just being really into your show at all moments. 'Cause you can't just be bored up there. The audience can read that, so you just want to be into it all the time and just really rock it.

Are there lessons that you learn from rap records that make you a better businessman or a better artist?
Yeah I guess there are some lessons… just really work hard and kind of be… constantly creating content, you know what I mean? Like, rappers, at least the ones now, they put out so much content like mixtapes, Like, how do you have so much? I was thinking about Curren$y, and this dude puts out so much music, but how does he put out so much music when he smokes so much weed? It's about always producing and always trying to come up with something new.

You should do a DatPiff mixtape with just all your bits about rap songs.
Nah man, I gotta save those for albums. That's the thing, rappers…that is one luxury that they can put out content for free because you know, that just drives people to live shows. It's tougher as a comedian to just put out an hour of stuff that you could maybe be puttin' on a special. People don't want to hear that shit again. You can't just say, "Alright this is my mixtape comedy, y'all, and I'm gonna never do this again."

Have you ever gotten a response from one of the rappers you make jokes about in your act?
Yeah, Young Jeezy responded. He responded, because they interviewed him for Rolling Stone and they brought out the "rooms got rooms" joke ["No, Jeezy, those are closets"]. He responded, "Yeah, his house must not be as big as mine, that's all." So yeah that was funny…. I think Odd Future knows about my joke. They haven't responded but I heard they liked it though 'cause we have mutual friends.

When you mention Odd Future on the record only, like, one person cheers for them.
It's never a huge response, which is fine. In doing jokes about any rappers, I want to do it in a way that some 70-year-old lady still understands. You do want to talk about weird things that might be very specific, but you still want everybody to be included.

That's something that rap music doesn't do. It can be very willfully obscure in its referents.
That's the thing about rap. It'll be a song that I've been listening to for years and I'll hear something and like yo… I didn't know that that's what they were saying. I like that website RapGenius. It's good for Lupe Fiasco songs. It's always funny on Rap Genius when they'll do a breakdown of a song that's obviously simple, like a Waka Flocka song. Like, "It's a party, it's a party, it's a party." And then you click on the explanation: "Waka is partying right now." It's like, I don't need an explanation for this song. I guess I'm an asshole for lookin' at it. They'll break down any song on there. There'll be lines like, "Yeah! And I fucked her." Yeah, he's always mashin' girls…that's the explanation. All right. Thanks for that, man.

Have you ever tried rapping yourself when you were younger?
I rap all the time man.

Yeah?
Yeah I freestyle all the time — just kickin' it with my friends.

Are you any good?
I mean, it depends on the day. Sometimes I'm good and sometimes I'm…and art is subjective, man, so.... But yeah I freestyle and rap, and I get drunk and just rap, man.

You've never freestyled on a stage, though?
Yeah I've freestyled on stage. I used to freestyle battle in college, man. Yeah…'cause I'd just do it to get stage time. I wish there was video — this is pre-YouTube, you know I'm not the best rapper technically, but I could be real funny. And then sometimes I could get up to a good flow, but I might lose that flow, and I'll go into gibberish. My flows are dope, but sometimes I don't have the words for the flow. I just was rappin' man, which is the same thing I do now. [Laughs] I'm talkin' like that's my career and shit. Maybe it will be, man.

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