Hannibal Buress: The Hannibal Montanabal Experience

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

‘Speak softly and carry a big stick,’ Theodore Roosevelt said, and it’s a philosophy Hannibal Buress has taken to heart. He may be softly-spoken and understated, but this elegantly sarcastic 28-year-old has a powerful comedy arsenal at his disposal.

He gets his impressive credentials out of the way from the start, mentioning that he’s a writer on 30 Rock as a set-up for a droll comment on the homophobia storm engulfing Tracy Morgan. But whatever words Buress puts into the star’s mouth, his own mild-mannered approach is a world away from the confrontational bombast of his NBC colleague.

Likeable Buress sits on the overlap of the geeky and the cool, which should make him a favourite of hipsters everywhere. He’s a language nerd who enjoys pulling apart everyday phrases like a kid with a spider; an unyielding logic he also applies to deconstructing admittedly obscure punk lyrics, to great effect.

Yet he’s also got the sass to apply that same very literal approach to traffic cops or street evangelists, producing unarguable, if childishly petulant, putdowns. He’s got the perfect way to put whiney teenage boys in their place, but such sardonic cockiness even extends to the pure of motive: get off praying for the ill, or keeping them in your thoughts, he snips, and make yourself useful instead.

This show, which hits Edinburgh next week, is geared towards maximising the number of quirkily absurd gags he can deliver (not for nothing has he been called the ‘black Mitch Hedberg’, despite his protestations), so the occasions where the pace slackens into a storytelling vibe are noticeable, if rare. But his description of feeling out-of-place in a nightclub is the only real fallow patch, and even this leads somewhere eventually.

The wry material is smart and wide-ranging, from pickle juice to racism (kind of), though it’s always essentially self-centred and usually leading to an off-beat, snappy riposte that marks him out as a strong, idiosyncratic writer.

Last year, Buress made it on to Variety magazine’s influential list of 10 Comics To Watch – and watching him own an intimate stage, it’s hard to take issue with those Hollywood trend-spotters.

Reviewed as part of the 2011 Just For Laughs festival, Montreal

Review date: 26 Jul 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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