HANNIBAL Buress got his Christian name from Hannibal, the Carthaginian military commander who was famous for hauling 37 elephants across the Pyrenees and Alps and subsequently outwitting the Roman army in several battles during the third century BC, before his retreat back to northern Africa. His tactical nous greatly impressed Napoleon and obviously Buress’s father too.
“You know that’s a dad’s name right there,” says Buress. “That’s not a mom’s name.”
Buress was born in 1983 and grew up in Austin, a suburb on Chicago’s west side. He’s been a stand-up comic all his adult life pretty much, having debuted at 19 years of age during an open-mike slot in the basement of his university’s student centre.
Buress talks candidly in his podcast interview with Marc Maron about days (or rather nights) he spent sleeping rough in New York on the city’s trains before things started to click for him after moving to the city in 2008. He used to ride back and forth on the subway line during the night. “I was very familiar with the Coney Island stop,” he said.
A year after moving to New York, Seth Meyers recommended Buress to Saturday Night Live’s producers. Buress went to work on the sketch show as a writer. He put down shifts writing on Tina Fey’s 30 Rock also, and did a memorable roasting job on the Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber. “I hate your music more than Bill Cosby hates my comedy,” he ribbed.
The line referred to a segment Buress did on Cosby in Cosby’s hometown, Philadelphia, in 2014. Buress told his audience he wanted “to make it weird for you watching Cosby Show re-runs” on TV. He was annoyed at Cosby’s habit of lecturing to black people on how to behave, so he made references to the allegations of sexual assault several women have made against the star... ‘So turn the crazy down a couple of notches’.”
The clip went viral on social media. A media thunderstorm ensued. CNN rowed in with panel discussions. Dozens of more women came forward with allegations of being drugged and raped by Cosby. CBS News posted a story, “Who is Hannibal Buress?”
The story keeps running. “It is a very extended situation,” he says wearily.
It couldn’t be going better for Buress career-wise. He’s comedy royalty, acting alongside Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, for example, in the comedy film Daddy’s Home, due in cinemas at Christmas; doing voice-over work on Angry Birds; and he has his own show on Comedy Central entitled Why? With Hannibal Buress, which is a mix of studio pieces and man-on-the-street interviews. He singles out one of the voxpops where he chatted to a street preacher.
“I was trying to gauge if he believed in everything he was saying. These dudes just pick a couple of quotes out of the Bible and live off of those and try to apply them to regular life but they omit a lot of other different things in the Bible. There’s some crazy stuff in there.
“These guys who go on the street to yell at people about Jesus and religion. If Jesus ever came back ‘Do you think he would want you as a representative?’
“They have a calendar full of events so they know where they’re going to go to street preach. On their calendar, they see, ‘Oh, shit, Mardi Gras is coming up. I better get a ticket to New Orleans to yell at people.’ I would love to see the list of people who have been converted by a street preacher, if there has been somebody at Mardi Gras who has heard a street preacher and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to put these drinks down and I’m going to go and pick up the Bible’.’”