There’s an age-old rule in stand-up comedy: it’s not just the jokes, but the delivery.
For an example, look no further than Hannibal Buress. The secret to his growing success lies not only in his sharp observations on pop culture and societal dysfunction, but also in that deep drawling voice that’s prone to slurring.
The way the 32-year-old performs his material is akin to listening to someone telling you a convoluted – yet hilarious – story first thing in the morning, before their initial cup of coffee, or paying attention to someone who is, frankly, heavily intoxicated.
Surely, this is a well a calibrated act. But speaking from New York City a few days before his Dubai Comedy Festival performance on Friday, Buress is cackling away.
His ability to tell it like it is is not limited to the stage. When informed that hard-core fans are particularly excited about his inclusion in the festival line-up, he deadpans: “I am excited myself to be going all the way down to Dubai. In fact, I will be more than happy to keep coming back if they keep giving me big buckets of money.”
While the quip was more in good nature than arrogance, it belies the truth that Buress has finally arrived.
The Chicago native began his career in the early 2000s as a touring comic and writer. After winning the award for Funniest Person in Chicago (organised by a local entertainment magazine) in 2007, television offers arrived.
In 2009 he scored a writing gig for Saturday Night Live (only one skit made it on the show), followed by a six-month stint writing for the hit sitcom 30 Rock.
Meanwhile, with the exception of a couple of comedy albums (2010's My Name is Hannibal and 2012's Animal Furnace), Buress's career was active but confined to small clubs and the college circuit — the tag of future star was slowly turning to a "could have been".
Then came that infamous 2014 show in a Philadelphia club, where his fiery monologue about Bill Cosby’s rape allegations, recorded on mobile phone by a crowd member, went viral and triggered the public destruction of Cosby’s career, while simultaneously catapulting Buress into the public conscious.
Buress refuses to answer questions about the notorious performance. He also doesn’t mention it in his present stand-up material. However, he ventures that he is satisfied, no matter the circumstances, that he is now on top of his game.
“The past two years I have been working and I am pretty pleased that things have got to where they are now,” he says. “I have also become a better comic in the process, so I am very much glad that things took the time that it did.”
His high profile inevitably resulted in more opportunities; one the biggest being in March, when he was invited to join an eclectic line-up that included TV personality Martha Stewart and rappers Ludacris and Snoop Dogg, for the Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber.
One of the few printable lines from Buress’s skewering was “you got to hand it to Justin. He started at the bottom and he’s still at the bottom”, before adding: “I hate your music more than Bill Cosby hates my comedy.”
Buress says he planned his Bieber material during his solo shows in the run up to the roast.
“I would do this segment where I would practice my roast jokes and the crowd would go absolutely wild,” he says.
“But it’s not the same and a bit weird when you are doing the material when the person you are roasting is actually in the room. Now, Bieber and I didn’t hang around after or anything, but I think he took it well. It may have been a little bit rough, but I think he is glad he did it.”
The year holds more big moments for Buress. In addition to his current role as the laid-back dentist in the hit Comedy Central show Broad City, he is set to star in two upcoming films: the comedy thriller Band of Robbers, featuring modern versions of Mark Twain's characters Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and the Christmas release of Daddy's Home, with Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell.
“To be starring alongside those guys is just crazy,” says Buress.
“It is easily my biggest movie role and it was just surreal to be doing a scene with Mark Wahlberg. What can I say man, things are going very well at the moment.”
• Hannibal Buress performs at the Dubai Comedy Festival at The Meyana Theatre, Jumeirah Beach Hotel on Friday, October 16, at 8pm. Tickets, from Dh295, are available at www.dubaicomedyfest.ae