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Hannibal Buress On Quitting Drinking to End the ‘Messy Shit’

Why the comedian is trying to do things differently.
Image courtesy of Comedy Central /Jason Nocito

Over the last decade, Hannibal Buress has been inescapable. Between starring in Broad City and The Eric Andre Show, five stand-up albums, Netflix and Comedy Central stand-up specials, watching his scene stealing performances on the big screen, and his very public arrest for disorderly intoxication in Miami (charges were later dropped)—it’s difficult to not feel familiar with the star.

Speaking from Las Vegas on his North American stand-up tour, Buress spoke to VICE about how this tour differs from others, sobriety, and who he’d put on Canada’s Mount Rushmore ahead of his headlining act at Toronto’s Just For Laughs Comedy Festival this Thursday.


VICE: How is this tour been different from previous ones?
Hannibal Buress: We use more visuals. For a few years I'd talk a lot about music, where we would play the clip of the song or some of a beat that we wanted to talk about to give the joke more more texture and make it more dynamic. So now we do that with visuals, where there's an article or internet thing or a quick video clip that enhances a bit. I don’t want to spoil anything but there’s also a piece in the show that’s maybe 30 minutes long. I think I've had stories that have gone around 10 or 15 minutes. You know depending on the show this could go to about a half hour or so. So that's different. I talk about stopping drinking I have a few bits about that. I'm trying to flesh out the subject a little bit more because this is funny to me.

How is sobriety being a part of your act—
[Interrupts] Well, not drinking!

OK, not drinking. How has that changed your act and the stories you tell?
I think with all of my specials or albums there's been some story like, “We were drunk and this happened, when I was drunk and I said this." But I think you know I do have material about just stopping drinking and especially being in a job where it's not like being an accountant and stopping drinking. I'm stopping drinking in a business that at the base level was built around drink revenue. All levels actually, but generally at the comedy club.


You know, there's a lot of just different elements to it. I did this when I was drinking too where you got to treat somebody like a weirdo for not drinking.

People don’t know what to do when you don’t drink!
What I've learned about it is that a lot of drinking is just to be comfortable in situations you wouldn't just chill out sober and certain events or places that you on a genuine level don't like or enjoy it. And so you numb it with drinking but naturally you wouldn't like these spots. So it goes from you know now if I'm in a spot that you know that is either that the place has to be enjoyable it has to be some type of fun activity or the people I'm with have to be very enjoyable. If there's not one or all those things then leave. It just made me realize that I spent a lot of time just chasing the night and and just trying to be around and stay out late.

How recent was this change and what triggered it?
This was just the beginning of this year. I would have little breaks where I would stop for a couple weeks or so [in the past]. I was having a bunch of different situations happen that were alcohol fuelled, like arguments or just, you know, ways I handle things that were not smooth, just messy shit.

Also, just from a health standpoint…I remember three, four years ago I went to the doctor and got bloodwork. And she talked about liver enzymes and said, “I could see that you drink a lot. You need to try to cut down to 10 drinks a week.” I remember thinking, Well, that's impossible. I'm definitely going to die early. Great talk lady.


You’ve also been in a couple of movies this year. What’s that been like?
For me it's just a way to have some visibility and get people to come see my standup shows. I'll have the fans that have been with me or seen specials and really know me and then there’ll be a segment of people that just sort of saw me in a movie and wanted to see me talk. Most of the movie appearances that I've done has just been comedies with me playing some version of myself as far as speaking patterns and demeanor go. And so I'm super appreciative of them. But for me it's just trying to get people to go to the show.

It seems like a lot of your fans have known you for a very long time.
It is nice to have that. And have a handful of projects over the course of 10 or 11 years where you can kind of see how a person has changed or been ruined by show business.

Have you been changed or ruined?
[Laughs] I wouldn’t say ruined. I mean obviously there are changes with a person over the course of 10 years but it’s kind of funny being able to have those time capsules of albums and specials to see what was important to you around that time. Those things are what I felt like I needed to go around the country saying over and over. That hour of stuff is what I repeated and tinkered with and worked on. Sometimes it’s fun to look at that and be like, “I don’t give a shit about that, but I did then.”

You’re coming to Toronto Thursday, who would be on your Mount Rushmore of Canadians?
Let’s see. We gotta go Jim Carrey. Kardinal Offishall. We’re gonna go with a curveball—Evan Goldberg.

He’s a screenwriter right? Would Seth Rogen make it?
No, that’s why it’s a curveball. And my final piece… let me think. [pauses for several seconds] No, I’m not looking up a list of famous Canadians on my phone. Let’s go with…Alex Trebek.

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