I have been quietly following Hannibal Buress since back in 2011 when Chris Rock referenced him in an Esquire interview; when a comedian gets the Rock seal of approval, I tend to stand up and take notice. I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting stand-up comedians and I’m always curious who other comedians think are funny. To me, there’s really no higher compliment than being considered a “comedian’s comedian.” When you have earned the respect of your peers, especially those that are as critical and competitive as stand-ups, you have really accomplished something.
Though the number and quality of comedians that have come through Albany have greatly increased in the last two years, Hannibal Buress has never made a stop here. I’ve had to make do with comedy specials and his occasional appearances on podcasts to get my Buress fix. My limited exposure to him reinforced my interest in him and in his comedy; something about his laid back demeanor really worked for me and I loved his style of slightly absurdist storytelling. Half the reason that I initially tuned into Comedy Central’s excellent new show Broad City was because Buress was a cast member. I have contemplated making the trek to Brooklyn for the comedy nights that he hosts at the Knitting Factory, but those are Sunday nights (logistically problematic) and I was unclear if his hosting responsibilities would translate to actually performing a full set or simply introducing other comedians. If it was the latter, I wasn’t sure that it would be worth the trip. I had a near miss with Buress when I bought tickets to the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, partially to see him, only to discover that the Holmdel show was one of the few that he would not be a part of. It was still a great show – seeing Dave Chappelle perform live is absolutely nothing to sneeze at – but I was disappointed that I had come so close to finally seeing Buress and yet remained so far. I made seeing him one of my pop culture priorities and when his new tour dates were announced, I decided to take the bull by the horns and just by tickets to his show in Boston. I was a little nervous, since the weather is still pretty questionable for traveling in the Northeast in March, but I crossed my fingers and hoped that my plans would not be derailed. A bad winter cold momentarily was cause for concern, but armed with plenty of cough drops I made the trek to Beantown. Since I had tickets to the first of his two shows that night, I decided that it made sense to make the roundtrip to Boston in one night rather than getting a hotel room, which made a lot of sense on paper and less sense in actual execution. Driving 6 hours for a one hour set isn’t the smartest math.
Local comic Lamont Price kicked thinks off with a funny short set. He wasn’t the most polished opener that I’ve seen, but he had some good material about wanting a Nintendo as a kid and his mom buying him the Nintendo cereal instead. I laughed particularly hard on his discussion of Cap’n Crunch cereal and how its sharpness helps weed out the week; I am a long standing fan of ‘the Crunch’ despite the fact that it cuts the roof of your mouth when you eat it. That is indeed some scratchy cereal. He has some other non-breakfast food related humor and helped get people in the mood for the rest of the show. He was on stage just long enough to make an impression, but not so he overstayed his welcome.
The second opener wasn’t a comic, but was instead hip-hop artist Jean Grae. Her inclusion on the bill was a little puzzling and I can’t say that it necessarily worked for the audience. She immediately demanded that everyone stand up and participate in her performance by either waving our hands when instructed or doing call and respond at the appropriate time. Now, I happen to generally enjoy hip-hop and rap – in fact, earlier that morning I went to a Notorious B.I.G. themed brunch to commemorate the anniversary of the rapper’s death, to say nothing of my multiple trips to see Kanye West– but I don’t necessarily want to see a hip-hop show in the middle of a comedy show. It felt really out of place and while Jean Grae was clearly talented, most of the crowd just wasn’t too into what was happening. A few brave souls sat down and were called out, so everyone else remained standing and gave a lackluster attempt at doing what we were told. Part of the problem was the venue set up; The Wilbur is a great old theater, but it is extremely cramped. The audience is largely grouped around small tables and sitting in straight back chairs that are in very close proximity to one another. So it was very hard to dance and wave your arms without greatly infringing on the personal space of the person next to you or without running into a piece of furniture. There was a long shelf running along my seat that was a convenient place to put drinks but that further cut into my space; I spent most of this performance with the shelf cutting into my one side and trying not to step on the person next to me. It was all just too awkward and uncomfortable and I was glad when it was all finally over and we could go back to the comedy, which is what we all ostensibly had signed up for when we bought tickets. Another time and place and I might have really dug it.
Finally, Hannibal took the stage; my dream was finally coming true. Thankfully Buress did not disappoint and he did a really fun set that the audience loved. Since Hannibal had just been on The Tonight Show I was a bit concerned that it would be at least partially material that I had heard during that appearance, but it was all new to me (though from what I’ve read on-line, there was some overlap with what he did during the Oddball Festival). Buress has a DJ on stage with him and occasionally incorporates music and audio into his performance to help illustrate a point. For example, during a story about going to rap concerts, he recounted his experience at a show where a rapper just played a song from Kanye and Jay Z’s Watch the Throne album – he didn’t cover the song, but just played their song on cd. Buress pointed out that comedians can’t get away with that – and then played a Chris Rock clip while he just stood there nodding his head. It was really funny and it helped to mix things up a bit. Buress covered a lot of material from drug use to being pressured into buying a time share to stories from being out on the road. The set was solid and I laughed throughout, though it did suffer a little in comparison to my recent experience with seeing Jim Jefferies. Buress did have to deal with a heckler, but it was short-lived and security escorted the drunk out pretty quickly, which was anticlimactic after you’ve seen someone try to attack the comedian. Even though it lacked some of the recent drama, it was still worth making the extra effort to see Buress live. I would definitely make an attempt to see him again if the opportunity arose.
Thankfully, I’ll get to see more of Buress without having to hit the road when his new Comedy Central special premieres on March 29th. His star is definitely rising and I’m glad that I was able to see him before he becomes too popular; I don’t begrudge him any future success, but it always nice to say that you were a fan of someone before they hit it big. I’ve got to keep my comedian street cred. If you are unfamiliar with his work, I’d definitely recommend seeking him out. He’s smart and has a fun way of looking at the world that I appreciate, not to mention that he is also ridiculously funny.