Hannibal Buress has been in the news a lot over the past six months, and for two very different reasons. In November, he began making headlines after he called out the rape allegations against Bill Cosby in a stand-up routine. "Bill Cosby has the fuckin' smuggest old black man public persona that I hate," Buress told a Philadelphia crowd that night. "He gets on TV, 'Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the '80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!' Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches."
As headline-generating as that all is, I spoke to Buress for the second reason he's been on your radar lately. As a recurring character on Broad City, which premiered its second season Wednesday night, Buress and co. have all but replaced HBO's Girls.
It's unclear whether or not the comedian was hungover when he called me on a Friday morning. Unprompted, he gave me some advice. "Drink a glass of warm lemon water every morning," he advises. Why? "It helps you. It helps flush your system. It gets your kidneys going. It helps get the toxins out. It's a good hangover remedy." Was he hungover at that moment? "Not anymore."
It's the kind of behavior only comedians can get away with. And, it's not too far off from a scene you'd likely see on Broad City, the hit web-series-turned-sitcom by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, on which Buress is a recurring guest star. Quick backstory: Glazer and Jacobson are two funny ladies who couldn't get picked for a UCB team, so they banded together and made their own web series. Amy Poehler saw it, liked it, and nabbed it for Comedy Central. Though the show's aired just one season, it's become the beacon for every twentysomething who feels the pressure of figuring out their lives.
Buress, meanwhile, is a working stand-up with a long list of late-night appearances and a popularity among millennials. He's struck that balance between not giving a shit what people think, while also using his comedy as a platform for social commentary about things people should give a shit about. (E.g.: His Cosby comments.) He's the perfect amount of irreverent without appearing apathetic.
I wish I could tell you Buress joined Broad City because he was inspired by what the lady-duo was doing, or because he wanted to support female comedians. The truth is, like anyone who accepts work, he needed a job. "First of all, I was very poor before the show started, so the opportunity to not be poor was the initial draw for me," he told me. At that time, he was done with his writing gigs at Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock and was doing strictly stand-up. Don't get it twisted, though — Buress didn't roll up to the Broad City set harrumphing and cursing his agent. Though he initially saw it as another job, he was hooked once he saw the script. One thing Buress says he's learned from working with women in comedy is that it all boils down to work ethic. "People are either good to work with or they're not," he says. For him, the broads fall into the former category. What's especially appealing about Broad City for him, though, is how much freedom he has to just be him. "We're all just playing different versions of ourselves a little bit," he says. And, that's part of the allure for the audience, too.
Yet, for all the ways he gets to play himself — or a version close to it — on the series, the show's not about him. Nor is it about Seth Rogen, who makes an appearance in the second season, or any other male character who shows up in an episode. Where Girls, previously heralded as the mouthpiece of the millennial woman, allows its characters to be partially — and sometimes entirely — defined by their relationship with men, the male members of Abbi and Ilana's world exist in its peripherals. Buress is only a kind-of boyfriend. And, when he's around, he's not making her feel like garbage à la Adam Sackler. He's embracing the disaster that is Ilana, eating spilled chips off her boobs — a snack he calls "titty chips." Name a scene in Girls that is remotely as powerful as titty chips, or one that wouldn't end in Hannah whining about how offended she is that her boyfriend used the word "titty" to describe her breasts. Maybe that's why Kent Alterman, president of content development and original programming at Comedy Central, told The New York Times that Broad City "resonated and connected with an audience much quicker than I would have expected." Plus, you can't escape how entertaining the show is. "Honestly, it's a lot of fun," Alterman added. And, maybe that's why the show got the green light for a third season on Wednesday.
Ilana and Abbi — and by extension, Buress' character, Lincoln — have swiftly replaced Hannah and co. as a more relatable set of characters. "It's a show about girls who don't have their shit together," Buress said in a Grantland interview. What’s perfect about the titty chips incident is that it's honest. It's a scene seemingly plucked from your own memories of that awkward, vulnerable time when you're just getting to know someone and hoping they don't run for the hills when you have an embarrassing moment or expose a flaw. And, since Buress has committed his comedic form to being about brutal honesty (again, his Cosby routine), he fits in seamlessly with Abbi and Ilana's MO.
In a society that's so quick to ask "How dare you?" of its pop culture institutions, Buress, Jacobson, and Glazer don't shy away from topics. They're unafraid to say the things that might normally offend, or to explore feelings and conventions other shows won't touch. Like, feeling kind of relieved when a family member you hated passes away — a scene hilariously teased in the trailer for season two. Fortunately for Broad City, this voice has resonated loud and clear. The viewers — all 1.3 million of 'em — have spoken.
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