Accolades and endorsements are much sought-after commodities in comedy and right now there is one person who’s hogging the lot. That person is Hannibal Buress. He’s been heralded as a future leading light by some of comedy’s biggest names – Louis CK, Tracey Morgan and Chris Rock are all fans. He also possesses a short but sweet list of well extolled writing credits, having worked on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. On top of this, it was announced late last year he was developing his own sitcom project with Superbad’s Jonah Hill. But while his superstar support and writing may be second-to-none, how will he fare when he steps on stage at the Soho Theatre? Perhaps unsurprisingly, he does pretty damn well.
In London with his first UK shows since his ‘Best Newcomer’ nominated run at Edinburgh in 2011, he makes an interesting start. Opening with some quick gags about the incompetence of British police before segueing into a routine on air travel is usually to be left in the compartment above your seat marked ‘American-comic-abroad material’ (Use Only In Case Of Emergency). However Buress is able to build a story and anecdotalise in a way that many can only dream of and it’s a quality that stands out throughout the evening.
There’s certainly no great plot, theme or message to his stand-up, just a collection of simple tales well told. What he has in his favour is a chilled-out attitude that belies some meticulously crafted material. On paper they don’t look like topics that are going to set the night on fire – the clichéd things that people say, trying to get a girl he meets in Edinburgh back to his apartment, a J-walking incident in Montreal. There are comics who would take this potentially lumpy subject matter and serve it up cold, but Buress can spark it into life and create something really captivating, seemingly possessed by the ever-questioning slacker spirit of Mitch Hedberg.
But it can’t possibly be all so perfect, can it? Well, occasionally he falls back on material from his 2010 album My Name Is Hannibal. Not a grand criticism – it’s excellent stuff and doesn’t disappoint – but those who have been following his career, especially since that album marked him out as a name to watch, will have been pretty familiar with his pieces on YouPorn and the fact he shares his first name with a very famous, fictional serial killer.
He’s certainly a different proposition to his major name cheerleaders and his delivery and demeanour are in no way as sharp as some of his contemporaries like Aziz Ansari. This is a man who has perfected his writing and lets the delivery just go with the flow. Some comics are rightly lauded for making much of their material seem totally improvised. Buress isn’t much different, only his skill is making us feel like he’s so laid-back that he doesn’t really care – he makes it look like an art form. However his audiences certainly do care and he can add tonight’s crowd to his ever-growing army of fans. Whether it’s as a writer or performer his name’s going to be known for a long time to come, and for all the right reasons.
(Originally published on spoonfed.co.uk)