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A Killer By Any Other Name

You'll remember comedian Hannibal Buress

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Hannibal Buress does not watch the hit NBC series that bears his name.

"You want to know how petty I am? I don't watch anything Hannibal," the 31-year-old comedian told Boise Weekly, mirthfully. "I never watched Silence of the Lambs, the movie Hannibal, Red Dragon or whatever that was, or the show Hannibal. I won't watch any of those. I hear the show Hannibal is really good, but I can't support it. I'm that petty." Chuckling, he added, "I always get tweets every time the show is on Friday, people saying, 'Hannibal is trippin'! I thought it was about you!'"

Buress' father named him after Hannibal Barca, a North African military commander born in the third century B.C.E., never anticipating the name would become so closely associated with a fictional serial killer. But it's a strong name which, Buress says with clear pride in his voice, is why his father chose it. Even Hannibal the cannibal is a gutsy character (albeit a terribly flawed one), and if tenacity and a fierce work ethic are signs of strength, Buress' father chose well. And its uniqueness has served the comedian well--his debut stand-up CD is titled My Name is Hannibal (Stand Up! Records, 2010) and he talks about it in his set.

"[Hannibal] stands out, and it makes people remember you," Buress said. "You got it and you got a Mike, a Scott, a Jennifer, a Chris. If all of them are equally funny, you probably remember the Hannibal."

As memorable as Buress' name is, it may not be familiar, except to people who key in on credits: The Chicago-born comic has written for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. For those keen on comedy, his face is probably much more recognizable: He appeared on 30 Rock several times--credited as "Bum" and "Homeless Guy" in most of them. Buress also appears on and writes for The Eric Andre Show, part of Comedy Central's Adult Swim lineup. He was also in the cutting-edge, first-season episode of Louis C.K.'s Louie in which a group of renowned comics including C.K., Rick Crom, Jim Norton and Nick DiPaolo discuss homosexuality, homophobia, circle jerks and the etymology of the word "faggot." More recently, Buress has a recurring role on Comedy Central's new sitcom, Broad City, as Lincoln, a funny, laid-back, slightly screwy but successful dentist who is in love with Ilana, one of the two main characters. Broad City was developed from a series that was originally on the web, another place people may know Buress from: He has more than 200,000 Twitter followers (@hannibalburess) and appeared in an episode of the web series High Maintenance, which centers on a weed delivery guy whose customers are overwrought New Yorkers in need of his particular kind of therapy. In his episode, titled "Jonathan," Buress plays a part close to home: a touring stand-up comic who regularly tweets jokes. Buress, now a New Yorker himself, tweets regularly (7,000-plus tweets to date) and understands the importance of the Internet and social media to his career, but doesn't feel he has to share every intimate detail (find him online at hannibalburess.com).

"Using the Internet is necessary for a performer in this day and age, but I don't tweet from every place that I'm at," he said. "I'm not tagging myself of Foursquare when I go out to eat," he added with a laugh, "but I don't feel like my privacy is compromised. If you want to be in this business, you have to decide how much you're willing to give and operate on that."

Buress also knows that regardless of how much he does or doesn't share, popularity doesn't promise success. But hard work pays off. For years, he did open mics in Chicago, doing three or four shows in a night. He now has a regular gig at the Knitting Factory in New York and even though he plays--and fills--theaters instead of clubs, he still hones his craft, a lesson learned after he released his comedy special Animal Furnace (Comedy Central Records, 2012).

"After the special aired, I didn't do a bunch of stand-up for [a while]," Buress said. "I had a road gig in Iowa City. The show went OK, but I was kind of rusty. It wasn't the best I could do. So the next weekend, back in New York, I did five shows in one night and six shows the next. ... When I got back out, I was comfortable again. It's like anything: You have to practice and stay sharp."

Buress will be getting a different kind of practice soon: He has a Comedy Central show in development. No, it won't be called Hannibal; the working title is Unemployable and it will see Buress trying out occupations, working with real people in real-life situations that are completely out of his wheelhouse.

"It will be, like, me going to coach a kids' basketball team to see if I can do it," he said. "And stand-up of me talking about my experience. Just putting me in these situations ... seeing if I can do the job. It was a lot of fun. The basic idea of it is that I have been in stand-up so long, that while I'm good at [stand-up] and can do acting and showbiz-related stuff, I don't have any other regular-life skills. I'm not a handyman. At all. I can't fix stuff. [For so long] I've been focusing on writing jokes and trying to be funny, I haven't done real work ... not to diminish entertainment. It's work, but it's not the real world."

Buress' real world is comedy and his real job is stand-up, something he is quite good at. His approach is dry, his delivery wicked. his Comedy king, Chris Rock, is quoted as saying, "If Steven Wright, Mos Def and Dave Chappelle had a baby, that would be disgusting, but it would sound like Hannibal Buress. The funniest young comic I've seen in years."

Buress is doing a one-night-only, three-show engagement in Boise at Liquid. He's doing a club show because he's friends with Liquid promoter Jen Adams from her days as a stand-up in New York, and because he has some new material he's working on. Buress may not be a mass-murderer but there's no doubt he'll kill it on stage.