Stage & Dance

Comic Hannibal Buress rides observational humor to success

Hannibal Buress said his comedy starts with observing his world. Then, "you want to make people think about something in a way they haven't thought of before."
Hannibal Buress said his comedy starts with observing his world. Then, "you want to make people think about something in a way they haven't thought of before."

Mundane situations and scenarios take some unusual forms in the mind of Hannibal Buress.

The 28-year-old comedian will make you ponder pickle juice as an underrated sandwich condiment, the importance of a "fire SUV" and the respect that should be given to the inventor of the font called Courier New.

Like many comedians, Buress mines his observations and experiences as potential material, but its his unconventional angles that set him apart, or so he hopes.

"I wouldn't consider myself a maniac about it, but I do have my eyes and ears open to whatever goes on around me," said Buress, who comes to Comedy Off Broadway in Lexington this week. "You want to make people think about something in a way they haven't thought of before."

It's been Buress's way from the start of his comedy career. Growing up on the west side of Chicago, he started doing stand-up while attending Southern Illinois University and ventured out to open-mike nights around Chicago in 2003. As he began making a name for himself as one of Chi-town's funniest comedians, he decided in 2008 to make the permanent move to New York City, where Buress's momentum in the industry continued.

First, after appearing on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, he got a call from Saturday Night Live head writer Seth Meyers and came on as a writer. After a one-year stint, from 2009 to '10, he wrote for SNL alum Tina Fey's sitcom 30 Rock.

But it always has been Buress's stand-up that has earned him the most acclaim, respect and fans. His first comedy album, My Name Is Hannibal, received overall positive reviews. He's been declared the next big comic by the publications Variety, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly and by heavy-hitters including Louis C.K. and Chris Rock — with Rock referring to Buress in an Esquire interview as "the illegitimate son of Mitch Hedberg," the late quirky comedian with a cult following.

Look at and listen to Buress' stand-up and you'll see why. With his quirky observational humor and laid-back, he-must-be-high delivery (which, according to Buress, isn't true — he's just cooler than you), the Hedberg comparisons are common — and complimentary.

"I'd rather have people talking than not talking, so I take the comparisons as they come," Buress said.

His comedic stylings have helped him reach multiple audiences, whether it's appearing on late-night talk shows or at music festivals as varied as Bonnaroo and the Insane Clown Posse's Gathering of the Juggalos.

In some ways, Buress's off-beat humor and approach, and his popularity among college students, has earned him a label as a "hipster comic" alongside the likes of Zach Galifianakis and Aziz Ansari. Then again, as an email question on the subject proved, this reporter might have been a little off — not that there's anything wrong with that in Buress's eyes.

"It sounds mostly like you lumped me in that category. It's not something I really thought about until now," Buress wrote, "but Zach and Aziz are funny, so if people want to lump me in a category with two hilarious millionaires, then I'm OK with that."

Buress might not be a millionaire yet, but many think it's only a matter of time until audiences everywhere see more of him.

Comedy Off Broadway owner Jordan Hawley said the venue was lucky to catch Buress on his way to what he foresees as only bigger and better opportunities. Hawley said anyone who has seen Buress only in short snippets from late-night shows or YouTube clips should come out for the full experience.

"When people see my full set, it's a lot more than just observational," Buress said. "You can watch stand-up on TV, but it's meant to be watched live. That's the feel."