Review | Hannibal Buress in Sydney

Following on from his hilarious appearance on The Project earlier this week, Hannibal Buress continued his Australian Hannibal Montanabal Experience comedy tour at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre last night to a packed house of fans.

Having rocketed to global fame/infamy when he called out Bill Cosby as a rapist during a comedy set, the inevitable video going viral online, Buress has not let that one action define his career. With supporting roles on Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show (where he plays a version of himself as a disinterested co-host) and of course Comedy Central’s Broad City (where he plays Ilana’s dentist boyfriend Lincoln) as well as a number of film roles, the Chicago comic has been steadily building his acting career over the past few years.

While acting may be a talent of his, it’s hard to imagine Buress spending too long away from standup, where he has free reign to indulge in and explore what makes him laugh. From Trump to Sydney’s Lockout Laws and one section where he just interviewed a pregnant couple about their lifestyle before “putting a bid in” to buy their yet-to-be-born child, the Hannibal Montanabal Experience is very much an experience. A whole body laughing fit experience.

Buress opened up with some topical humour, mainly about him being in Australia, and how, when arriving at airport customs and seeing no other black men, he realised he was “going to get a lot of pussy on this tour”.

It wasn’t all Australian focused however, with Buress delighting us with tales about having to take a shit on a plane – “I went through so many emotions” – investing in property – “you can only buy so many v-neck t-shirts before you realise you’re not building equity” – and his love life. This last topic proved to be particularly fertile ground, not just for him but the internet community too as he pointed out by projecting a Reddit post from a fan who slept with him for us all to read.

This joke stood out to me as a great example of what makes Buress’s comedy so compelling – his combination self-deprecation and insulting people. It sounds obvious, but it is a hard thing to pull off, as walking that razor’s edge between bitterness and humour can be precarious. On one hand you don’t want to look like you’ve got sour grapes, but at the same time you don’t want to sound like a self-hating loser. No one wants to laugh at that, at least not in public.

How Buress manages to do this is deceivingly simple. He makes it feel like he is actually talking to you when it’s clearly material. And I bought into it last night. Hook, punchline and sinker.

Sitting there is my seat at the Enmore, I truly believed that a lot of the jokes (not all, I had heard some of the material before) were just thoughts that were occurring to him. That this is all just coming to him live on stage, as if it wasn’t pre-written and rehearsed. I am not a smart man, sure, but Buress’ delivery is so effortless convincing it’s easy to get drawn in by him.

Matching moments of low-key, almost mumbling self-epiphany to dramatic theatrics, he manipulates the audience like an expert and you never know where he is going. For instance, when closing the show with a musical number – the rather self-explanatory Gibberish Rap – backed by DJ Tony Trimm and three ballerinas, Buress stops things halfway through and talks to his DJ about his biggest regret in life. As Tony tells the sad story of how he never finished college because he got caught selling weed and refused to snitch, the whole thing felt genuine, if absurd, especially as it came sandwiched between two verses of Gibberish Rap.

Yet more than just a bizarre aside, this exchange was, for me, one of the most interesting comedic moves Buress made last night, showing his nuanced understanding of what makes jokes work. Expectation.

Gibberish Rap on its own is more silly than funny, but what makes it funny is the context, and by having the DJ tell us this sad story in the middle of the song, Buress can launch back in at maximum hilarity. Hardly the best joke of the night, nevertheless it’s little things like this that mark Buress as the truly great comedic talent he is, rather than someone just up there telling jokes.

What Buress realises is that a story from real life will always be way funnier than any joke. All you have to do is figure out how to tell it right.

The Hannibal Montanabal Experience continues tonight in Melbourne. Full ticketing details for the remainder of his tour is available here.