ABOVE: HANNIBAL BURESS. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARCUS PRICE.
Perched behind the steering wheel of a rental car, the 31, soon-to-be 32-year-old New York comedian Hannibal Buress is departing Jersey City, cruising westbound on the I-78 expressway. He is approximately two hours away from his Atlantic City destination. There he will check into the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, where episodes of The Sopranos, The Real World, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey have been filmed, and perform a comedy set. Earlier that morning—a chilly, overcast day in late January—Buress had been placing the finishing touches on a music video shot for the rapper Humanshu Suri (a.k.a. Heems) from Brooklyn hip hop collective Das Racist.
Buress emerges from underneath the Jersey City Holland Tunnel, pulls over to the side of the road, and answers his phone. He's staring at the 14th Street Garden Center. A Buick SUV passes by. "Jersey, man," Buress shrugs, in his signature deadpan affect. He sounds tired. And yet, the wry delivery that has placed him on the radar of comedy's ruling elite—Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K. (who has vocally referred to Buress as his favorite comedian) among them—remains fully, hilariously intact.
Buress' itinerary is especially ambitious these days: in addition to the Atlantic City appearance, one of several dates scheduled between now and April 18 (Buress has been consistently touring since last July), he has upcoming spots in the new Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy vehicle Daddy's Home, a 2016 feature film adaptation of the video game Angry Birds, and recurring roles in Comedy Central's Broad City and Adult Swim's The Eric Andre Show, among others. Buress is also refining routines for a fourth comedy special. "Trying to write a new joke or two every day," he says. "Working."
In selecting a foil for Buress, Chicago's Chance the Rapper immediately came to mind. Not only have the two appeared onscreen together twice (Buress in one of Chance's music videos; Chance in an episode of Buress's The Eric Andre Show), the Chicago-via-L.A. rapper and Chicago-via-NY comedian share a mutual respect for, and natural camaraderie with, one another. To put it quite simply, they hang out. In conversation, the two zing off each other in a manner not unlike that of Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter, giddily exchanging jabs.
Chance, who graciously accepted our invitation to speak with Buress, was late to the interview, thereby giving the comedian the upper hand. Chance called in from an AirBnB in L.A., where he awoke in the afternoon; he had been celebrating the publication of a FADER cover story with friends the night before. Chance's phone, which doubles as his alarm clock, was dead. "Sorry just charging my phone," Chance wrote, in a group text message. "Calling in 5."
"Smh," Buress responded cheekily. "Rappers." —John Taylor
CHANCE THE RAPPER: Hannibal, do you want to try a back-and-forth thing? Or do you want to do a series of questions and answers, and then we flip heads or tails?
HANNIBAL BURESS: I don't know! Let's just do it.
CHANCE: Okay. I'll go first. So Hannibal... have you ever seen Silence of the Lambs?
BURESS: I've never seen it. It's funny, this week I was on set and some people were talking about movies they thought were real scary. This photographer said to me, "You know what the lead character was in the movie? Hannibal." I'm like, "You think I wasn't aware of that at all?" [Chance laughs.] Me. At the age of 32. And that movie came out in 1992. You are enlightening me on the lead character?
CHANCE: [continues laughing]
BURESS: Yeah, man. I don't watch those movies out of spite, honestly. I never saw those movies. Never saw Red Dragon, Hannibal, and I won't watch Hannibal the TV show.
CHANCE: Alright. So no to Silence of the Lambs.
BURESS: Are you at liberty to announce when the album's coming out? Or is it going to be a surprise, Beyoncé-style thing?
CHANCE: The album is very much so a Beyoncé kind of thing. So I can't say the date of the project, but I can say that it's super dope. Can you say that? Have I played you any shit?
CHANCE: My bad, dude. Most of the time when I see you, I feel like we're at an event nowadays. It's not really low-key Hannibal-Chance hangouts anymore. Like last year at Beat Kitchen. That show was funnn! Do you remember your first show at Beat Kitchen?
BURESS: I don't remember my first one, but I've been doing shows there since... they run a showcase, Chicago Underground Comedy, on Tuesdays. I was definitely doing that in, '06, I want to say? '07? Something like that. It's a fun spot. So when I'm in the Chi, and I want to do a couple of those last minute shows I announce on Twitter, Beat Kitchen is one of them. Tonic Room is another spot.
CHANCE: For me it's the same thing. I go to Tonic Room, Reggie's Rock Club, Metro... there's a bunch of Chicago spots I do shows at. Is there anybody you'd like to air out for maybe being a dick one night, early on at one of those venues? You don't have to say their name.
BURESS: I do remember one dude at the Funky Buddha Lounge. They had an open mic on Sundays I was trying to perform at. They were charging a five dollar, 10 dollar cover, and I saw a coupon for free entry in New City or one of the Chicago papers. So I take this coupon, and I get there, and this dude there working the door said, "Nah, man." I said I wanted to perform and I had this coupon. This guy was being a real dick about it, trying to fight me and shit. And, he had on flip-flops and dreadlocks. [Chance laughs] I met him years later under different circumstances, when he did stand up comedy for a bit. He's a decent guy. I think maybe the stress of being a doorman was getting to him.
CHANCE: You're becoming super famous these days in the DJ circuit. Would you care to tell us some of the ad libs that you say over the music as it plays?
BURESS: I wouldn't say I'm becoming a famous DJ, and I don't know if I would call what I do "DJing" quite yet. I don't have real blending skills. I do have a decent song selection and I can match up the BPM pretty well. "BPM" means beats per minute. [Chance laughs] It's just fun, man, DJing after parties. I like to make jokes and yell to cover up the fact that I can't blend. Like, "Y'all ready to get some gangsta shit?" So, around this time last year I did this ill ass track. Flying Lotus made the beat, and I knocked it out. One take. Dope ass freestyle. Some lines about Dennis Rodman in North Korea. And I sent it to you, and never got it back. What's up with that?
CHANCE: Have you ever actually really wanted to do that? You know, I've been dabbling in the comedy world, showing up at random improv shows. Been on stage doing four minute sets. So I figured, "Hannibal's going give me my big break." I can come out to NY and fucking crush it.
BURESS: I haven't really seen your stand up yet. I think it's a tough transition. It's easy to go from comedian to rapper, but to go from rapper to comedian is tougher. I mean, your name is "Chance the Rapper."
CHANCE: You mean for me to go into comedy, I'm going to have change my name?
BURESS: "Chance the Comedian."
CHANCE: I'm probably going to do some comedy shows at my new sets. I can be very funny. I actually went out for a role in Empire.
BURESS: Oh yeah?
CHANCE: I wasn't trying to be on the show at all, but me going out for a role on Empire is something me and my friends would find humorous.
BURESS: I was going to ask you about that, actually. Are you interested in acting, things like that?
CHANCE: Yeah. In real life I am. I have to clear it out that in real life I didn't actually go out for Empire. I just thought it would be funny if I said something like that.
BURESS: It's not that outlandish of a prospect! I wouldn't have thought that was a joke, man. It's a popular show.
CHANCE: You know that's not really how the rap world works, right? Terrence Howard, his conference room has a basketball court in it. Would you audition for a role on Empire?
BURESS: Depends on what type of role it was. I mean, I play myself on everything I do, so I don't know I'd fit into a role. Have you auditioned for anything yet for real?
CHANCE: I actually did try out for the N.W.A. movie.
BURESS: Oh, shit.
CHANCE: I read for Dre. But it wasn't in God's plan.
BURESS: If you could pick a show on television right now, and just do that show—
CHANCE: I really like Real Husbands of Hollywood. I would like to be on that show.
BURESS: So after Surf comes out, you going to hit the tour?
CHANCE: Yeah, probably. Maybe do a little tour with somebody really, really famous. I don't know if you heard, but Donald [Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino] has been involved a little bit in this Spider-Man reworking, and we had some ideas going back and forth about Donald becoming a superhero. I thought, "If you were ever to be a Marvel or D.C. character, you might be really good as the supervillain The Penguin." I thought, "If they ever had a crossover with Donald's Spider-Man versus Hannibal's The Penguin, how would those events transpire? What would that look like?"
BURESS: I don't know, man... [Chance laughs] The Penguin. He's a villain that's not that likeable. Some villains have a coolness to them that I can fuck with, you know? Like Magneto. I always thought Magneto's cool. A dude like that. But The Penguin, he sorta seems like a sad fat man. Is that what you think I am, a sad fat man?
CHANCE: [laughs] Not at all.
BURESS: He's one of those villains you just want to lose! Some villains, you're like, "I want him to win a couple of battles, and then lose." But The Penguin, you're like, "I want him to lose right away."
BURESS: I've been thinking about, with the acting, trying to get in shape and get an action role one day.
CHANCE: That'd be hot.
BURESS: If I had to do a running scene though... I don't know if the world is ready for my running, because I'm pretty fast, but I'm pigeon-toed and bow-legged... [Chance laughs] I'm not saying it because I've seen videos of myself running, but I've heard about it. Pigeon-toed and bow-legged running looks crazy.
CHANCE: The Penguin has a pretty signature walk. But we're off The Penguin subject. What high school did you go to? I don't think I ever knew this.
CHANCE: You went to Steinmetz? Okay. I forgot you were super West Side. You ever go back up by Steinmetz, maybe talk to the kids about being a comedian or something?
BURESS: I haven't. While I was still in college I went back and talked to the debate team or something. I used to do the debate team in high school, but they haven't reached out. Am I supposed to reach out? Talk to the kids about what type of shit goes down on the road?
CHANCE: I think it'd be cool if you went back to Steinmetz, or if I went back to Jones. My school is completely different now. They got a whole bunch of money, and it's a different regime also: different crew came in and took over the school, so it might be a little difficult for me to get in that bitch now. But I'll figure out a way. I'll find a door.
BURESS: You do a lot of events in the Chi. How do you put those together? Does your management put it together? Or do you reach out? Is YOUmedia still happening?
CHANCE: Yeah! YOUmedia is still around. I grew up in that program. I would go down there all the time when I was in high school. It was a rec center kind of thing, but with more tech stuff, so they had free WiFi, laptops you could use, a recording studio, DJ classes, production software classes, music theory classes, tutoring... and it was all free. That was awesome. But on Wednesdays specifically, they had this open mic thing hosted by this guy Brother Mike. I used to go to that every Wednesday, back from when I was a sophomore in high school until after I graduated. And Brother Mike, who put it all together, passed away last year. So I'm putting together an open mic in memory of him, two Mondays out of the month in Chicago for high school kids. Just keeping that idea—free presentation of art, and how important it is to be a member of an art community from a young age—keeping that shit going. Organizing that stuff is real easy, because I know a lot of people in the city and I think we're at a point in Chicago's renaissance that people are happy to do shit.
BURESS: Cool. I didn't really start until my second year of college. My second year of college, I started performing comedy at an open mic. It was good to do open mics with the kids. It's a good, safe spot to start, you know?
CHANCE: Yeah. That's the thing; I think the hip-hop and the comedy community, they're the most tight-knit. People know each other.
BURESS: Do you remember how we met? I came by the studio a couple days before we shot "Na Na."
CHANCE: Did you go by the studio? [lowers voice] Hey, Hannibal says he came to the studio before we shot the "Na Na" video. Pat [Corcoran, Chance's manager] doesn't remember that.
CHANCE: What I do remember is we were outside of Shakey's when we were ready to start up the day, and I got in a car with you. You were telling me a hilarious joke about a dog or something. And from the jump I was like, "Hannibal's very, very funny, so I'm going to turn up my funny when I'm around him." Most people, when they hang out with comedians, they want to be a little more jokey around them. Do you care to talk about that, Hannibal?
BURESS: I think some people do it. It works more times than others, though. Some people do it and it just comes off mean, you know? It comes off weird. Some people do it and it comes off obnoxious.
CHANCE: I think everybody thinks comedians are diplomats for funny and shit. Like they represent laughs. I do the same shit with Donald—I think whenever I hang out with any friends of mine who's a comedian, I'm trying to be slightly funnier. But I feel like comedians are hating on you for trying to be funny, because they're like, "Oh, this guy's just doing this because he's trying to relate to me and shit." [Buress laughs] In all honesty, I'm just funny and shit. I'm hilarious! Just a fact.
HANNIBAL BURESS IS CURRENTLY ON TOUR AND APPEARS IN COMEDY CENTRAL'S BROAD CITY IN ADDITION TO ADULT SWIM'S THE ERIC ANDRE SHOW. HIS LATEST COMEDY SPECIAL, LIVE FROM CHICAGO, IS AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD ON HIS WEBSITE.
CHANCE THE RAPPER WILL NEXT APPEAR IN THE DONNIE TRUMPET ALBUM, SURF, RELEASING SOON. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CHANCE, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.