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Hannibal Buress talks Netflix, phones at comedy shows, and racist babies

The funniest people can make light of even the darkest topics.

Technology is not always funny. I conducted a phone interview with comedian Hannibal Buress originally, on Thursday, January 21 — the first one, anyway. Seconds after hanging up the phone, I realized the call recording app I used indecipherably jumbled the audio up, and, more damningly, recorded only 8 minutes of the hilarious 28-minute chat.

A few apologetic emails and prayers later, the interview was rescheduled, Hannibal was as hilarious as the first time I talked with him, and I had the last laugh after my technology betrayed me. But with Comedy Camisado, his first one-hour special for Netflix, airing on February 5, Hannibal told me he hopes technology will keep people laughing. Filmed at The Varsity Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Comedy Camisado has Hannibal examining how blind Stevie Wonder really is, the Bill Cosby scandal, and even racism in infants.

In an exclusive interview with Digital Trends, Hannibal details creating Comedy Camisado, why he hates cell phones pointed at him while on stage, what Xbox One game he will dominate you in, and the season three premiere of Broad City.

Digital Trends: When did you start writing the material for the Netflix special Comedy Camisado?

Hannibal Buress: A couple bits were cut out from my last special Live From Chicago. So, it’s some stuff from a couple of years ago and there’s some stuff I might have added that week. That’s been the case with all of the hour-long specials. There’s been jokes I’ve been working on for a couple of years, and then there might have been something in there that I thought of the day of, or a couple of weeks [before]. Total, I worked on this set over the course of a year and a half or so of touring and writing it.

I think sometimes, babies are like “Yo, this pigment is weird.” “I’m not used to this color.”

When did you decide to bring it to Netflix? Why Netflix?

We filmed in September [2015], so we probably decided Netflix in December or January. Netflix is easy for people. People can get it on their tablet, laptop, or whatever. It’s global. It’s a good place for it. People can watch it when they want to watch it. There’s no certain time it’s coming on. They can throw their own party if they want to have a viewing party. It makes it simple for people.

Are you putting any of your other specials on Netflix?

Yeah, we’re putting the other two specials [2014’s Live From Chicago and 2012’s Animal Furnace] on Netflix about a week before [Comedy Camisado] comes out.

In Comedy Camisado you mention how shocked people were that you were filming a special in Minneapolis. With all the big comedy markets like Boston, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, why did you pick Minneapolis? 

We were going to do Boston. I could have filmed it at The Wilbur [Theatre] in Boston, but I think, then, I wasn’t all the way comfortable with the set yet. It would have been slightly different. A couple of jokes wouldn’t have been as developed as they were in Minneapolis. Since I decided not to do Boston, I only had a few more dates. Then I was kind of not touring as much when I started working on my show [on Comedy Central] Why? So, I had a few months where I couldn’t [film the special]. I finished up production on Why? and thought, “let’s just do it in Minneapolis.” It’s just a good town. It’s a midwestern town, so it’s one of those places I went early on. I went the first time in 2007, 2008 as an opening act. It’s a spot that feels good.

One of things that makes your comedy in the special, and in general, appealing is how you sneak profound commentary into seemingly exaggerated jokes. One of the jokes from the special that does that is when you say babies may not be racist, but they sure have favorite colors. What inspired a joke like that? 

Why-With-Hannibal-Burress-Color-

I mean, kids do have favorite colors. No situation really happened. I have been around babies that don’t really … there can be several reasons why a baby can be apprehensive around you. It might be because you’re not comfortable with a baby or something. I think sometimes, babies are like “Yo, this pigment is weird.” [Laughs] “I’m not used to this color.” There was this comedy club that I worked a few years back and the owner’s baby was white. It was me and this other comic, JT [Thomas] and a third comic who was white. The baby wouldn’t go to me or JT but he would go to the white comic.

You’re part of a special group of comedians where, in the first time in the history of comedy, the audience all have some sort of camera. How do work on a set  or even keep your sanity when you’re walking around knowing people may record you all the time?

It’s annoying. I’ve had stuff put online. It does make it tougher to work; I don’t like performing with phones pointed at me. It’s a bigger problem for other comedians for me. You just got to do the work. I’ll have signs posted that say “No Video,” have security, have people not film. It is difficult. You don’t want to have something you’re working on be filmed, they put it online and people see it at an early stage or they see a rough draft. Actually, we cut it out, but somebody was filming on their phone at one of the Netflix tapings. I asked “Why are you filming with your phone? It’s coming out on Netflix in a couple months. It’s going to look waaaayyy better.”

What’s a big moment in your career when you felt “Wow, I’ve made it”? 

When I did the Oddball tour, the first one [in 2013] and the second one [in 2014], doing those outdoor amphitheaters two years in a row was pretty crazy. Last night [January 21, 2015], I went out to shoot some stuff and then I came back to the room and was kind of tired. Took a nap. I wake up and it was 8-ish. I want to do a set, so I’m looking at this site to see what shows are going on. There’s this site for LA comedy called The Comedy Bureau. I see that [Dave] Chapelle is putting on a show at this place Club Bahia. So, I hit up the person that usually handles his shows. I asked “What’s going on with the show?” and they were like “Oh yeah. Come through.” I did a set. The show started at 9-ish, so I got there around 9:45 p.m. So, to do shows with someone I respect is big to me. Chris Rock went on later, did like 25 [minutes]. It was a fun show.

There’s going to be some “physical activity” that is outside of my comfort zone that people won’t be expecting me to do.

Wait. There was an impromptu Hannibal Buress, Dave Chapelle, and Chris Rock show last night in LA?

Dave booked it a couple of days prior. But, my involvement was last minute. I think he asked Rock to come on that night.

That brings me back to when Questlove told the story of Dave Chapelle, Bill Bellamy, Marlon Wayans, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, and so many other comedy legends all sharing the stage in New York City at the Comedy Cellar in 2013, spontaneously. How often does that happen in comedy?

I was there that night, too. I went on right before Rock or right before Kevin Hart. I wasn’t booked, I was just there to watch. I think Chris and Chapelle had went on the night before or something. I was sitting there watching, and Chris told them to put me on. So, I did a set. That was a crazy night to watch. That’s kind of crazy. It’s rare, but it’s not unreasonable.

Speaking of Questlove, you’re a pretty big Hip Hop head. Flying Lotus was the house DJ for your show, Why?. Have you heard the new Kanye West songs [Real Friends and No More Parties in LA] and what do you think of them?

I like them both. I like that he talked about his cousin stealing his laptop in both songs. So, I just want to hear if Swish [Kanye West’s next album] is really about his cousin and his laptop. The narrative of if his cousin stole his laptop and copied that shit. The whole thing.

You told me off record that you have an Xbox One. What are some games that nobody can mess with Hannibal in?

I play NBA 2K16. I’m pretty good, but some people can fuck with me a little bit. I’m pretty good on it, but I’m not home that much. There’s some people that spend way more time on it than I do. [Laughs] You look at some of those records and you be like “Holy shit.”

I feel you on that. I thought I was a legendary player until I went online and some kid was 120-6. 

He remembers each one of those six. He avenges those six. Those six hit him hard.

What is your go-to team?

I go with [Chicago] Bulls. I like to play with weird teams, sometimes. It’s a nice challenge if I got the [Minnesota] Timberwolves and somebody got OKC [Oklahoma City Thunder], or some shit. I play with different team. I’ll run with the [Sacramento] Kings sometimes just to try them out. Minnesota is actually kind of fun. You got [Zach] Lavine, you got [Andrew] Wiggins. KG’s [Kevin Garnett’s] old ass is there still.

I haven’t played the new NBA 2K16, but I hope they grade Kobe Bryant accurately and not give him some Legend pass. Kobe’s playing like a 70, right now.

[Laughs] I think they got Kobe at an 85 or something.

I can see Kobe being an 85.

Ehhhh. I don’t know. I don’t think he’s an 85 right now, man. [Laughs]

Everyone is looking forward to you reprising your role as Lincoln for the third season of Broad City. I know you can’t tell me too much about it, but what can we expect in the season premiere? 

There’s going to be some high stakes. There’s going to be some “physical activity” that is outside of my comfort zone that people won’t be expecting me to do. That’s really all I can say. People can start guess as to what that may be.