Ask Me Another
10:11 am
Thu April 10, 2014

Hannibal Buress On Moving To New York With '$200 And Dreams'

Originally published on Wed March 4, 2015 12:59 pm

Hannibal Buress knows how to hustle. In addition to touring as a standup comedian regularly across the country, he hosts a weekly comedy night at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. He has written for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, where he was given the opportunity to play an eccentric homeless person. Since then, he has played a wise-cracking dentist on Comedy Central's Broad City, and a cop in the Seth Rogen film Neighbors. While he has found success juggling several projects, Buress' ambition far exceeded his abilities when he left his native Chicago close to a decade ago.

"I just popped up, and was like, 'Hey, wassup, I got $200 and dreams. Let's do this,'" Buress told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg of his grand plan to make it in New York City, which started with crashing at his sister's place. "I didn't even call up. I was very rude and focused." Soon after, Buress' sister kicked him out, but he stayed in New York out of pure stubbornness. He slept on subways, at a Times Square Starbucks, at hostels and "crashed with girls I didn't really like, just so I could crash out there."

As part of his act, Buress performs his own "Gibberish Rap," but he's also an expert on hip-hop. Don't miss his Ask Me Another Challenge, a Pyramid-style game in which he must describe songs without using their titles. Plus, listen as he helps lead the game "Shaq to the Future," in which all the answers contain terrible puns on the famous basketball player's name.


Interview Highlights

On coaching a youth basketball team for a television pilot

I like basketball a lot, so I was pumped up. For the game, I had some Adderall and a Red Bull, and I was crushing it. We almost blew them out. I go to a lot of basketball games, and I play basketball video, so it was almost like live action video games, like, "Move! Put your hands up in his face!" I was like, "Yeah, this is real life! This is like Avatar with seventh- and eighth-graders!"

On performing "Gibberish Rap" at his shows

I wanted to perform it, but I was scared to perform it with just me on stage, so now whenever I perform it, I have between three to six ballerinas with me, and also costume characters... I would have Alvin from Alvin and the Chipmunks. And SpongeBob came through in Miami; Incredible Hulk came through in Cleveland.

This segment originally aired on April 10, 2014.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

You're listening to ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR and WNYC. I'm Ophira Eisenberg. And let's welcome our very important puzzler, Hannibal Buress.

(APPLAUSE)

HANNIBAL BURESS: Hey. What's up? Hello, ya'll. Thank you. What's up?

EISENBERG: Hey, Hannibal.

BURESS: What's up? How are you?

EISENBERG: So this is not your first time on public radio, right?

BURESS: No, man. I've been crushing public radio.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: Been on here a couple times. Nah, I've been on like twice.

EISENBERG: Twice? What was...

BURESS: Two, three times.

EISENBERG: What was your last experience? You did WAIT, WAIT recently?

BURESS: I did WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME. Yeah.

EISENBERG: How was it?

BURESS: It was cool.

EISENBERG: Yeah? You had a good time?

BURESS: Yeah. It was - I didn't - they were parts where I didn't get the answer right and then they would make me keep guessing. I'm like, it's fine, we could move along.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I got it wrong.

BURESS: They were, asking can you guess again? No, I don't want to. Take it.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You're juggling a lot of projects. You're acting on television, in a film.

BURESS: Yeah.

EISENBERG: You're doing lots of voiceover work.

BURESS: Yeah.

EISENBERG: And also standup. Would you ever just go, I'm just going to be an actor?

BURESS: No. No. That...

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: That wouldn't be fun for me.

EISENBERG: No?

BURESS: Actors, you have to wait for people to give you work or you have to make your own stuff. But standup I could just say, I want to do standup in 30 minutes and I can go do standup. Or I could just say, I want to do standup in a few weeks in this city. But with acting, you can just; it's harder to make movies out of nowhere.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I know you started standup in Chicago.

BURESS: Yes.

EISENBERG: And you did sort of, you know, the dream in the sense that you're in college and you've got, caught the standup bug...

BURESS: Yeah.

EISENBERG: ...and went, no, I'm out of here.

BURESS: Well, sort of. 'Cause I spent the amount of time that you're supposed to spend in college without getting what you're supposed to get for that amount of time.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: So little bit of both. I just did - yeah, I did kind of lose focus with academics.

EISENBERG: So then you moved to New York. Did you move to New York with a plan of attack?

BURESS: I did not move to New York with a plan. The first time I moved to New York, I just popped up. My sister was living here in New York. I just popped up. She had her baby and a husband and I just popped up. Hey, what's up? I got $200 and dreams. Let's do this.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: Let's do this.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

BURESS: You, you help me and my dreams. Let's do this. I didn't even call up. So I was rude. I was very rude and just, rude and focused, which is the worst.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: Rude, focused, self-absorbed, no self-awareness. A lot of bad traits I had a 23.

EISENBERG: And how did - so what happened? She let you stay with her?

BURESS: What happened - for a little bit.

EISENBERG: Yeah?

BURESS: Yeah. But a little bit. And so then they kicked me out.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: And then I, and then I still stayed in New York out of just pure stubbornness.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BURESS: And I probably could've moved back in with them if I was humble, but I, I wasn't. So I was like, whatever. (Bleep) this. I'm staying on the street.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: I'd rather stay on the street than apologize.

EISENBERG: What do you mean stay on the street?

BURESS: Like, well, not on the street, like on the subways and Like Times Square, Starbucks.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: So you were - you didn't have an apartment for a while?

BURESS: For a while? I didn't have an apartment at all.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: I stayed in hostels and I crashed with - I slept with girls I didn't really like just so I could crash out there.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: I was hustling hard in 2006 just to be...

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: In 2006, I was going hard over here.

EISENBERG: See, the greatest thing about what you just said is if any of those women are listening and hear that, they'll think I helped him.

BURESS: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: They did.

EISENBERG: That's how it works.

BURESS: They definitely did. They're very sweet women. And I'm sorry...

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: They're very sweet women. I'm sorry I used to, but help you - well, thank you for helping me achieve my dreams.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: And you were working on a project currently where you get to try all kinds of different jobs.

BURESS: Yes.

EISENBERG: That will be hopefully a television series.

BURESS: Yes.

EISENBERG: What are - so the premise is you just get to try things you'd never done before?

BURESS: It's just me. The premise is just I've been doing standup since I was 19. I'm 31 now and I really haven't had any real jobs for a long time outside of, you know, stuff in high school. I worked at Burger King or I did some like some BS sales Job. I got hooked into the pyramid schemes a couple of times.

EISENBERG: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: But yeah, so the job is just me because I've been doing standup for so long and I, you know, I don't have - I probably could develop skills, but I don't have 'em.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: And so it's just me doing other jobs. So I worked on a goat farm in Louisiana.

EISENBERG: Sure.

BURESS: I worked at a diner. I coached a kid's basketball team in Brooklyn.

EISENBERG: Oh, how was that?

BURESS: That was really - that was actually the least funny one because I like basketball a lot, so I was pumped up for the game. I had some Red Bull and some Adderall and...

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: And I was crushing it and we almost blew them out. And I play - I go to a lot of basketball games and I play basketball video games, so it was almost like, it was almost like live action video games. Like, hey, move, get, put your hands up in his face. And they would put it there. I was like yeah, this is real life.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: This is like "Avatar" with seventh and eighth graders.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Right. All right. We're going to give you the job of puzzle guru. You're going to help me...

BURESS: Puzzle guru.

EISENBERG: ...run a game

BURESS: All right.

EISENBERG: And we've asked what kinds of things you're into and obviously, you said you were a fan of sports.

BURESS: Yeah.

EISENBERG: And so we hope that you also like bad puns, because this game is called Shaq to the Future.

BURESS: All right.

EISENBERG: And it's about Shaquille O'Neal, sort of. But let's meet our contestants. This is Janet Falk and Rebecca Rindler.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: And this is a little extra special because Rebecca and Janet are mother and daughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SURPRISE FROM THE AUDIENCE)

BURESS: Whoa.

REBECCA RINDLER: Excuse me, Ophira, Rebecca is the daughter.

EISENBERG: Yes. OK. Good. Thank you, Janet. You're here clearly to settle a score.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Is this a competitive family, Janet?

JANET FALK: Absolutely.

EISENBERG: OK. Whoa. I love it.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: Janet looks like either a teacher or a leader of a non-profit or both.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: Janet, what do you do for a living?

FALK: I used to be a teacher.

(LAUGHTER)

FALK: I was a college - I was a college professor of Spanish.

BURESS: Yeah.

FALK: I have worked in a non-profit.

(LAUGHTER)

FALK: OK?

BURESS: OK.

FALK: Currently, I have my own public relations practice.

BURESS: All right.

EISENBERG: Nice.

(APPLAUSE)

BURESS: Two out of three ain't bad.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: All right.

EISENBERG: So here's our game. As you know, Shaq was not only an incredible NBA center, but a rap artist, a movie star and the author of the autobiography, "Shaq Talks Back."

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: And we've recently learned that Shaq has been finding his way even into even more hobbies and careers. He's what we call a Shaq of all trades.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: Yup.

EISENBERG: Yes. And we're going to take pause for the listeners to groan.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: So it's just like that. In this game very answer will be a terrible pun that has the word Shaq in it. OK? So for example, if we said Shaq has a great attention for detail and loves reviewing the accuracy of news articles as a what? You would say?

FALK: Shaq checker.

EISENBERG: Shaq checker. Exactly, Janet.

AUDIENCE: Whoa.

EISENBERG: So Hannibal and I will be giving the clues. Hannibal, are you ready?

BURESS: Yes, I am ready.

EISENBERG: All right. And ring in when you know the answer and the winner will move on to our Ask Me winner final round. After cutting down a Christmas tree befitting his size, he discovered a lifelong passion for chainsaws, flannel and delicious pancakes as a...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Rebecca.

FALK: Lumber Shaq.

EISENBERG: Lumber Shaq is correct.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: He is kind of the closest thing America has to Paul Bunyan these days.

BURESS: Yeah. Pretty much.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: After the family dog passed away, he was able to return into a nearly lifelike character, though a little stuffed because of his work as a...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Rebecca.

RINDLER: Shaqidermist?

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BURESS: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

FALK: My mom just congratulated me.

EISENBERG: Aw, that's so nice. 'Cause you know you're going to get her.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: When one of his teammates asked him to pop his back, Shaq developed a reputation for his attention to misalignments of the spinal column as a...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Rebecca.

RINDLER: Chiroshaqtor.

EISENBERG: You bet.

(APPLAUSE)

BURESS: Hey. I think we've been hacked.

(LAUGHTER)

FALK: The worst thing is I can hear my voice going up at the end of each thing, which my mom has corrected me on for years.

EISENBERG: Oh.

FALK: Stop raising your voice at the end of the sentence.

EISENBERG: Well, because you're raising it up at the end like a question?

FALK: Yeah. Yeah.

EISENBERG: Can you say don't do that.

RINDLER: Up talk. It makes you sound indefinite.

EISENBERG: Oh.

(APPLAUSE)

BURESS: All right. Although Shaq already has a nursing license, he went on to receive and advance clinical education that allowed him to diagnose medical problems as a...

EISENBERG: Hmm. May be a little hint.

BURESS: Give her a hint? It got Shaq in that.

EISENBERG: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: No? Neither of you know?

RINDLER: No.

EISENBERG: Does anyone out there know?

AUDIENCE: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes. Nurse shaqtitioner.

EISENBERG: Nope. I guess they don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: It's nurse shaqtitioner. Yes. I know. Although, I kind of like the idea of the television show Nurse Shaqi.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Sadly, Shaq eventually turned to a life of crime. He would break into homes and open strong boxes and volts, stealing peoples valuables as a...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Janet.

FALK: Safe Shaqer.

EISENBERG: Exactly.

BURESS: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

BURESS: This game. Shaq went to Indonesia to visit a volcanic island between Sumatra and Java, the site of an 1883 eruption thought to be the loudest event in modern history. He called it...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Janet.

FALK: Shaqitoa.

EISENBERG: Shaqitoa.

(APPLAUSE)

BURESS: Wow. Wow.

AUDIENCE: Janet.

EISENBERG: (chanting) Janet. Janet.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: They got people chanting. It's live here in the Bell House.

EISENBERG: Shaq became obsessed with the male star of "High School Musical"...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: ...to the point of moussing his hair and trying to date Vanessa Hudgins. He called his new teen heartthrob persona...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Rebecca.

RINDLER: Shaq Ephron.

BURESS: Yeah. Yes.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Janet is like, I've no idea what that is, right?

FALK: Right. That's exactly what I say.

EISENBERG: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Did you know Shaqitowa, Rebecca?

RINDLER: No.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: It turns out Rebecca, you're the winner of this round then you will be moving on.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: The mother and daughter hugging. Harmony in the house has been restored.

(LAUGHTER)

BURESS: That was, that was fun.

EISENBERG: That was amazing. Thank you so much, Hannibal. Give him (unintelligible).

BURESS: Thanks a lot, y'all.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: We'll see you later in the show for your own challenge. Don't get too comfortable.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JONATHAN COULTON: (Singing) Hit the road, Shaq. Don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more. Hit the road, Shaq. Don't you come back no more. What you say? Hit the road, Shaq. Don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more. Hit the road, Shaq. Don't you come back no more.

(Singing) Oh woman, oh woman, don't treat me so mean. Meanest old that I've ever seen. I guess if you say so I have to pack my things and go. That's right. Hit the road, Shaq. Don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more. Hit the road, Shaq. Don't you come back no more. Don't you come back no more. Don't you come back no more.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.