On Wednesday night, the very first episode of Hannibal Buress’s very own show aired on Comedy Central. You’d think it would be safe to say he can officially pen a politely generic missive to all his friends and family back home in Chicago and say, in about as many words, “Lookit me. I’ve made it.” Landing an eponymous program on the cable network is a rite of passage to be sure—but passage to what remains the question. So many comedians have trod this road before him, and it’s led them to all sorts of places, some more pleasant than others.
You have Anthony Jeselnik, of The Jeselnik Offensive, who only hung on for one season and has gone back on the road as a stand-up (the show, which aired in 2013, is the last credit on his IMDB page). There’s Jeffrey Ross, who since the cancellation of The Burn With Jeffrey Ross (two seasons) has ended up right back where he started, relegated to the occasional Comedy Central roast. Dave Chappelle’s Chappelle’s Show (three seasons) might still be on today had he not had that crisis of conscience for making it OK for white people to laugh at things it maybe wasn’t OK for white people to laugh at. And then there’s Amy Schumer, who’s been an inescapable presence since Inside Amy Schumer debuted in 2013 and has a Judd Apatow-produced big-screen comedy coming out in a few weeks.
So many journeys.
What bodes well for Buress is that he’s cute and funny—unlike some of his forebears (*cough* Jeffrey Ross)—and people seems to want to see him succeed. There’s something very appealing about being told jokes by a man with adorable tiny eyes.
The format of Why? is similar to Chappelle’s Show—Buress does an opening monologue for his studio audience, then introduces a series of prerecorded skits on the video screens, with setups in between. But Buress doesn’t do characters—or at least he didn’t in the premiere—relying instead on the persona he’s perfected doing stand-up as he sets out to answer a series of questions. For instance: Why do people troll online? “Trolls are like roaches,” he says, “except roaches have mothers and I think trolls were spawned out of their own assholes.”
The skit leads him to his most prolific troll, Amy Schumer, playing herself in the throes of a jealous rage because Comedy Central is “her channel”—”It’s owned by Viacom,” Buress corrects. “Name one person who watches two TV shows,” Schumer demands. “Hannibal Buress,” he says.
Other skits involves a failed Daily Show audition and a questionable strategy for dealing with the police. The best part is having the opportunity to hear what Buress has to say about current events, from Trump’s presidential bid (“That’s like asking Greece to be president”) to the Greek financial meltdown (“Don’t pick up the phone—it’s bill collectors. Act like you’re Germany and say Greece don’t live here anymore”) to whatever’s going on in soccer (“Chicago Fire is a horrible name—that was a bad time for the city”).
Buress isn’t breaking new ground with Why? but who says he has to? We all have questions.