Hannibal Buress’ Intense Animal Furnace

30 05 2012

Bless Hannibal Buress. Years ago, when he was still in Chicago, I interviewed him for a short video/text piece I was working on about stand up comedy. I had met with a number of local comics and asked them if they could suggest other comics I could talk to. Without exception, all of them told me that the next big comic out of Chicago would be Hannibal Buress. Indeed, within a matter of what seemed like weeks, Buress had moved to New York to write for Saturday Night Live, which he followed with a writing stint at 30 Rock. In that time his profile exploded in the national standup circuit while he also become a favorite in the big city alternative rooms, thanks in part to his versatility as a writer and performer.

That versatility is no more on display than on his new record, Animal Furnace. Early on, Buress takes on an appallingly tone deaf review of his act in a college newspaper, which seems fitting because his style throughout the record is a marked contrast to the style he’d been pigeonholed into by critics–as an iteration of Mitch Hedberg, the beloved slow-roll, wordplay comic. Buress’ first record, My Name is Hannibal, is decidedly more slow-paced and playful, which played into Buress’ low-key personality.

So on this record, he busts out. Stories and anecdotes seamlessly incorporate jokes that build on one another up to sometimes angry, often indignant or frustrated (and always hilarious) conclusions, delivered at a quick pace and with high energy. Knowing Buress and being familiar with his first record, the style he exhibits on Animal Furnace comes across as Buress exhibiting his strengths as a performer, a comic’s comic who is increasingly mastering the form and a crowd pleaser who packs in jokes to keep the audience rolling.

Buress touches on some chancey topics, particularly a bit about rape statistics and dropping the c-word, which could cause some listeners to squirm, as they did me–something he addresses head on in his act. But as with many of the best comics, including Louis C.K., there are no teeth in the potentially offensive material–he isn’t trying to provoke people, to shock them for the sake of shocking them or to earn some kind of ironic street cred for being risque. To the contrary, Buress’ frustration with people’s hypocrisy, stupidity, racism, or plain old weirdness is just personal; disagreeing with his take on any given situation doesn’t make the way he presents it any less hilarious.

Along with John Mulaney’s New in Town, Animal Furnace has to be in the running for the best record of the year. The fact that both men are Chicagoans has nothing to do with my opinion in this regard.


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