When you’re doing stand-up comedy, things pop up. Sometimes it’s a snowstorm. Sometimes it’s a noisy audience member.
Sometimes it’s Hannibal Buress himself.
Buress, the 35-year-old comedian and actor (this summer’s film’s: “Blockers” and “Tag”), is heading to Buffalo shortly for shows Tuesday and Wednesday at Helium Comedy Club. For the first time in years here, his performances are scheduled (the last one, in 2016, was a spontaneously planned pop-up show at a music club) and unlikely to be hindered by snow. (Buress’ shows five years ago at Helium happened in the midst of a winter storm.)
“Buffalo is used to that stuff and just handles it,” Buress said by phone this week, noting that despite the weather advisory, his shows were three-quarters full. “As a Chicagoan, I appreciate those shows being packed.”
Buress’ next shows at Helium come at the front end of a fall tour that will lead to the filming of his next comedy special. He’s also delving into producing and investing, and if those go well, you may do well to see his stand-up now, because he may be on the road less.
(Buress' publicist said Buress would not discuss anything related to Bill Cosby, who was convicted of sexual assault earlier this year. A joke by Buress during a 2014 stand-up routine put the spotlight on Cosby's criminal actions.)
Here’s our conversation, edited for space and clarity:
Q: What are the differences, for you, between a pop-up show and a regular performance?
A: For the most part it’s business as usual. Usually the crowd is a little more hyped because it’s last minute, and that can kind of fuel the performance. I might riff sometimes, but that’s any show.
Q: I've long had the sense you try to make every show just a little bit different. True?
A: Every now and then, there’ll be a back-and-forth with an audience member, or something that happened early in the show, and you can use that as a thread, as a callback. You can almost use it as a theme for the show. If something crazy happened at the beginning, reference it in the middle and then late in the show, connecting it to another bit in some way. Those kind of moments are always fun. I try to embrace them when they happen.
Q: It seems like every article written about you that tries to get inside your head labels you a “risk-taker.” (Note: Most journalists point out that Buress left jobs writing for “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” to pursue his own comedy.) Do you think you’re a risk-taker?
A: I’ve definitely taken some risks. It’s a risk when you invest a lot of your time in stand-up on the early side, especially when it’s not profitable. To spend a lot of time on something when you’re not making much money at all is a big risk.
But I’m taking more (risk) now because I’m starting to produce stuff and self-fund it. Funding my own special, different investments I’m getting into — that’s the real risk-taking.
Q: What motivated you to start investing and producing?
A: A couple writer friends of mine in Chicago had a (television pilot) script that they wrote with me in mind. I liked the idea, but I really didn’t want to act in something else. Instead of just saying no, I said I wanted to expedite the process and do the best we can.
I said, “Let’s just cast it and shoot it on our own, and we’ll go from there and see if somebody wants to pick it up. If they do, they do. If they don’t, then we took a risk, but at least we did it on our own terms and took a good, clear shot at it.” (Note: The pilot is shooting now; Buress declined to share any details yet.)
If this goes well, I’d like to start producing more television. It would be nice to just make shows and be at home.
Q: Do you plan to keep performing? Or is there a day coming when you’ll want to stay off the road?
A: We’ll see, man. I haven’t been performing that much this summer, but we’re really about to ramp it up with this tour and filming a special. We’ll see how I feel after that. I think the stand-up bug is something that doesn’t really go away, but it can subside a little bit, meaning that I don’t feel that urge to go up three times in a night, but I still need to perform every now and then.
But the thing with stand-up, even if it’s not for touring, it just gets your brain flowing and you get in that creative mode and you feel that energy. That energy can be transferred to whatever I’m working on.
Q: Does producing make you feel like you’re back to learning something from the beginning?
A: It’s not all-the-way ground up. I’ve worked in this field. I’ve written for TV. I’ve acted. I’ve directed a music video. I’ve been on lots of sets and put together segments. So it’s just an extension of that.
The biggest difference is that my money is on the line now. The other difference is getting stuff going from scratch — putting the team together, and then the process afterward: We have this finished thing. Let’s set up these meetings. Who should we approach first?
I don’t feel out of my depth at all, but there still will be stuff to learn, versus the tech industry and the start-up world, which I’m looking into. I’ve been to some conferences. It’s a whole different language and I don’t know what people are talking about sometimes. You just have to ask questions and read up on as much as you can. But that’s what’s really exciting about getting into a new thing: There’s lots to learn.
You can just ask a bunch of questions and not be afraid to sound stupid in the moment — when it’s not stupid to ask questions, because you’re trying to get more information anyway.
Q: Why the interest in tech?
A: I like the idea of getting in early with a company I think has a great idea, being able to help out with strategy and promoting, and seeing something grow like that. Obviously it’s a super-risky world, but I’ve seen a lot of people have success with it.
It’s high-stakes gambling, and I’m a gambler.
When: 7:15 (sold out) and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday; 7:15 p.m. Wednesday (sold out).
Where: Helium Comedy Club, 30 Mississippi St.
Tickets: $30 at heliumcomedy.com.