Many of today's successful young comedians spent their childhoods consuming classic comedy and fantasizing about making people laugh for a living. Hannibal Buress had other dreams.
"I wanted to be a samurai warrior or a businessman, or a football player," he says. "Or a combination of them all. Why limit yourself?"
Buress may not have imagined having a career in comedy growing up in Chicago, but at age 28, that's what he's got. And it's going pretty good: He's written for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock; he's developing a television pilot with Jonah Hill; and his debut album, My Name Is Hannibal, announced him as one of the funniest stand-up comics in America. Chris Rock called him the new Mitch Hedberg, and though Buress doesn't totally agree with the comparison, he does share with Hedberg an absurdist outlook on life's little things, like pickle juice and kicking pigeons.
"My comedy is not deep at all," he says. "It's more self-centered than anything. I don't have anything good to say about Occupy Wall Street or Barack, but I can talk to you about Young Jeezy."
WW: I take it you didn't grow up studying Monty Python records.
Hannibal Buress: Young black kids don't know about Monty Python. I hate to generalize, but that's one I feel good going with. But no, right before I started doing comedy, I started listening to more comedy and buying DVDs. Before, I was into video games and music—the same stuff I'm into now.
Did not being a student of comedy alienate you from your peers?
Nobody was giving me quizzes, like, "Name your three favorite Monty Python sketches." We were just doing open mics. However you got there doesn't matter, it's just that you're doing it.
What was your material like when you started?
It was the same kind of stuff, it's just better now. I talked about rap lyrics and the stuff people say to me and stuff that I see that I thought was weird. It's just more focused now.
You performed at the Gathering of the Juggalos in 2010. What was that like?
It's wild, man. It's just people getting fucked up and yelling. There was a drug bridge, where people are just openly selling drugs. Nobody threw anything at me during my show, so that was pretty cool.
SEE IT: Hannibal Buress performs at Helium Comedy Club, 1510 SE 9th Ave., 888-643-8669, heliumcomedy.com/portland. 8 pm Wednesday-Thursday, 7:30 and 10 pm Friday-Saturday, Oct. 26-29. $10-$15. 21+.