The details of his jokes and the way they're constructed address a very specific audience.
Some celebrities would take a humiliating arrest and issue a public apology. They’d share about it on late night TV, their head hanging. At the very least, they’d lay low and never mention it again, hoping it would fade soon from public consciousness.
But that’s not comedian Hannibal Buress. He blew it up on a projector inside the Saenger Theatre, taking the crowd on a step-by-step examination of the incident.
From beginning to end of his October 20 set at the Saenger, the 35-year-old Buress had the audience cracking up on his own terms. The veteran of Broad City and The Eric Andre Show attracts a specific demographic of his own cultivation--one that probably overlaps with people who would own a Trump voodoo doll. Not everyone would find an AutoTune song dedicated to bagels or a line-by-line review of 2 Chainz lyrics funny, but for this group of mostly 25-45 year olds, it’s comedy in their language, and it’s utterly Hannibal Buress.
Buress understands that his audience speaks social media and shares laughs by DMing memes to each other, cracking up alone in their apartments while staring at their iPhones. They love nothing more than a hilarious clapback from Chrissy Teigen. They pride themselves on their own abilities to share their humor on different platforms, mostly with one-liner captions or a series of well-timed emojis. Some of their favorite celebrities are YouTube personalities, which is why the idea of Buress yelling “Subscribe! Follow!” into a police officer’s body-cam sends them into gales of laughter.
And Buress is no different than his audience, sharing their online humor and inserting it into his own storytelling both onstage and off. He prefers to stay in a stranger’s house than a corporate hotel, even with the ridiculous AirBNB host rules. The day after his New Orleans show, he shared a fan’s Instagram story onto his own, then shared that over and over again, shrinking the frames and creating an Inception-style frame-within-a-frame, until the fan’s original frame was a little dot inside 19 other versions of itself. Doing this once would be nice, twice would be a little odd, and 20 times is the sign of a madman--and therefore hilarious to this crowd.
In order to speak in his own language and connect to his peers, Buress illustrated his jokes with digital media like Reddit comments, text threads and video, which are projected onto a large screen on the Saenger’s stage. The irony of reading about a one-night stand on Reddit while seated in the Saenger is pretty funny on its own. Thanks in part to AV guy Tony Trimm, who sat in the stage corner with his laptop ready, Buress integrated it seamlessly into his narratives. It was like he was at brunch with friends and showing them the digital evidence to support his story. Sometimes the media itself became the punchline, like when Buress broke out the AutoTune.
Additionally, Buress doesn't shy away from sharing his most embarrassing moments and owning it. In the case of the arrest, he rehashed how he harassed the police officer and the frustration of the police officer not calling him an Uber (which, he noted, would have been a lot more convenient than personally driving him to the station). He even showed the real footage of a Miami news station covering the unflattering episode, stopping the video to highlight the reporter’s disgust.
Other Elder Millennial (thank you for the term, Iliza Shlesinger) comics speak to their audience like Buress and earn the same trust. Amy Schumer does things like bury a pregnancy announcement inside the Instagram story of a journalist Jessica Yellin, right under Schumer's recommendations for who to vote for in the midterm elections. She also integrates tales of well-documented woe on social media into her stand-up, such as when a photo of her in a bikini went into circulation. She tweeted: "Here's a word that you don't want to hear when a nude photo of you goes viral. Brave."
For this audience, it's all about connecting on their level and in their language. From his honesty to his Reddit comment threads, the audience deeply connected to Buress because they shared a language. Buress became more than a funny comedian. He became their comedian.