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Interview: Hannibal Buress Discusses His Next Movie and Takes on Confederate Statues

The Carpenter Theatre, Friday, Oct. 7



Last time stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress was in Richmond, he was given a basketball jersey from Virginia Commonwealth University and hit the town to party with fellow comedian Todd Barry, who had a show the same night at Gallery5.

Barry had a running joke during his set about how cheap his show was compared to Buress, where more people obviously had gone.

Indeed, Buress is hot lately. You may recognize him from such hit shows as Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” Adult Swim’s “The Eric Andre Show,” his stand-up performances on Netflix, and his voice in the animated movie “The Secret Life of Pets.”

Raised in Chicago, the comedian has an Everyman flavor to his ha-ha. It’s mostly observational and not controversial — except two years ago in Philadelphia, when he called out accused rapist Bill Cosby as a hypocrite for preaching to black people. Since then, he’s addressed the “Cosby moment” ad nauseam in interviews and is known to hate any Cosby questions.

So will the comedian have more Richmond jokes now that he’s been here?

“Maybe, if the city inspires me,” he says. I inform him there’s a popular local columnist who’s advocated that Monument Avenue’s famous Confederate statues be put in museums.

“I mean, some cities they’re obsessed with the past, I don’t know [laughs]. Charleston is like that too,” Buress says. “It doesn’t offend me. It’s a part of history. I could see how some people would not want it up there. But put ’em in a museum, though? I don’t think it changes anything. You wanna focus on the behavior of people, that type of thing, versus stationary objects.”

When I tell him that there’s a contingent of residents who don’t want to see them on their daily travels along Monument, or send their children to schools named after slaveholders, he gives it a little deeper thought.

“Well, I don’t have to see it every day,” he says. “I imagine if it was right outside my job, I’d be like, ‘You know what, fuck the statue.’ This guy who wanted to keep slavery going? Shit, now that you say it like that, fuck those statues, man.”

The name Hannibal may sound like a show-biz creation, but it’s not. I ask him whether his parents named him after a famous general so he would go conquer.

“I guess so, man. Yeah, it’s my real name. People think I’m lying. I don’t have a reason to lie. Well, occasionally I do lie, though. My new lie I do when people recognize me they say, “Anybody say you look like” — then they pause — and I always say, ‘Tyrese? Yep. I’m Tyrese from ‘Fast and Furious.’”

He adds that it’s weird when people call him by his full name on the street. “People be like, ‘Hannibal Buress!’ Yeah it is me, but . . . That’s my full name and shit.”

Buress has a number of small roles in films that are in post-production, including acting in two scenes alongside Robert DeNiro for “The Comedian.” Buress plays the host of the real Comedy Cellar in Manhattan, where he’s performed but never served as host in real life.

“It was cool, man. You know, I think if it was a normal movie, I would have been intimidated, but we shot in a comedy club, know what I’m saying? I’m playing myself, he’s the one acting,” he says, laughing. “I was doing real stand-up with the audience before I brought him to the stage.”

He’s also playing Coach Wilson in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and says that like many of his films, his agent was approached by the filmmakers. “It’s a good spot to be in,” he says, noting that he does little improvisation in the movie.

“A little bit, but it was super-secretive with the script, man. Normally they email you the full script. But with them, the day before I would shoot they would hit me up and say, ‘Where are you?’ Both times they did it, I was at Vortex [a comedy club in Atlanta]. They would send somebody to the bar to bring the two script pages, then I gotta sign for ’em. ... Somebody leaked a call sheet or something.”

Another project coming up is a “Baywatch” movie. Buress admits he was a fan of the television show, but took the job mainly to be in a movie with Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.

“He works hard, nice guy,” he says. “The Rock wakes up at like 3:45 in the morning, man.” When I ask him if the set was overrun with female fans admiring the chiseled actor, he sticks up for his star: “Yeah, he’s a married dude, man. Stop trying to mess up the Rock’s marriage.”

Fans of the upcoming “NBA 2K” basketball video game will recognize Buress’ voice as the character of the Barber. “Sometimes people go into the barbershop and don’t know much about sports,” he says. “So my opening line is, ‘I don’t think Steph Curry is that good, he’s just lucky.’”

As far as future projects, Buress has seen the hot new FX show “Atlanta” by Donald Glover and is a big fan. He almost was cast in the pilot episode.

“Yeah, it’s great. We talked about it last year when [Glover] was writing it. They just went in a different direction,” he says. “But yeah, I would love to do something [on the show]. The casting is great, the main characters kill it, the supporting actors even crush it. Lots of great little moments and it looks slick. Well-made show, man.”

Considering the ongoing spate of police shootings the week we talk, and that Buress is from Chicago, I ask him if any serious material has made it into his set lately.

“Ahhh, it’s a tough thing to really talk about. Not really, man,” he says. “If it comes naturally I’ll do it. And I have addressed police issues before. ... It’s almost normalized now. ... In Chicago, it’s just certain areas. It’s a deeper problem than just the violence. What caused it goes back years and years to people being forced into pre-planned ghettos and different things. It’s just an unfortunate situation, you know?” S

“Hannibal Buress: the Hannibal Montanabal Experience” will be held at the Carpenter Theatre on Friday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $25 to $65.

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