So was the St. Andrew's gig your first time in Detroit?
Nah, I’ve been there a couple times. A couple years ago I opened for Aziz [Ansari] out there, I’ve been to Ann Arbor. I did the amphitheater with [Dave] Chappelle for the Oddball fest. I played Livonia…
Yeah, yeah, Joey’s. But I think this will be my first headlining show in Detroit? Oh no no no no noo! Wait…I played Magic Bag in uhhh…
Yeah I played that, but this was my first headlining gig in Detroit proper.
Yeah St. Andrew’s is right in the city. You’re in the shit. I always wonder how outsider’s view Detroit, because of the terrible reputation that precedes it.
I mean, I just know that I can get a house for $200, that’s all I know about it. I gotta say, I don’t think Detroit has a good reputation nationally. People think it’s violent and unsafe, even if they haven’t been there.
In their defense though, all of those things are true. It’s a scary place.
But as far as the actual show goes, are you constantly vetting new material for the road or are you strictly touring the album?
In general I always try to come up with something new. In this set up, I’ll be doing stuff from my latest special, Live from Chicago, that came out Saturday (March 29). So I’ll be doing a mix of that and new stuff that I thought of. But it’s nothing from Animal Furnace, unless it comes up randomly, just newer shit.
Do you rock with a setlist, or do you play it by ear?
I don’t do a setlist unless I’m trying to work on newer stuff that I need to remember. But for this show, once I get into a groove on the road, I kinda know what I wanted say. I just mix up the order a bit so I don’t need a setlist.
So when putting new stuff together, what’s the litmus test for a good joke?
Just if people enjoy it and laugh. I do an open mic and try out new material. A lot of times I try out jokes in their raw form and then I figure out from the energy if I have to add bits to it or if they need punched up. And it has to be interesting to me too. I have to be interested in talking about it, and if I can have fun with it then I just need to find the right structure for it.
Has there ever been a joke that when you wrote it you thought, “This is money,” and then tried it out and it just died?
Maybe the audience hated it, but I usually don’t hate my stuff [Laughs]. Off of the top of my head, I can’t really think of anything specific that didn’t make for a good anecdote. But it happens where I think somethings funny and it doesn’t hit at all. But it could be a number of things though, it’s not just the audience, it’s finding how to make that idea funny. Like maybe the executions just horrible, and I have to find out where it will fit better, earlier or later in a set. I think most ideas are funny, it’s just about communicating. Like how to putting the sentence together better, finding a rhythm, and if it doesn’t hit then I’m not doing my job right.
Do you have a favorite joke that you tell?
I have one about New Orleans that’s really fun, I have a joke about buying a lot of apple juice…
Yes! That apple juice racism joke kills me!
I also do a gibberish rap on stage some time that’s fun to do, cause I don’t think people expect that. Uhhh, I got this new one that I don’t want to spoil. I guess my favorite ones are the ones that the audience really responds to.
Performance aside, you’ve been on the other side of the pen a lot, doing writing for 30 Rock and SNL. Does behind the scenes stuff make you appreciate performing or is it equally exhilarating to see ideas come to life on a larger scale?
Both are really cool. I enjoy TV writing just because I learned about TV and how to run a show. Plus I got to watch people like Tina Fey and Seth Myers and learn from them, which was valuable. But I enjoy being on screen more and doing my own act, just because it’s easier to write ideas for yourself and it’s more fun.
With your new gig playing Lincoln on Broad City, are you just coming in as an actor, or is there anything you add to the script?
I met with the writers and had input on my character and pitched stuff to the script. And I do a lot of improv for the character that ends up in the show.
Starting off as a stand up comedian, were you performing to scratch some internal itch or was the goal always to get into TV and movies and build a kind of overarching show business career?
They’re both fun. But the main difference is the immediacy that comes with stand up that you get used to. Projects take a little long to come out. I really enjoy the work but I want to see it right away. So with stand up I can think of something that day and try it the same night.
Broad City was kind of rare in that we wrapped in late November and it started airing in January, which is not typical for TV shows. It just takes so long. I had a lot of fun doing the movie Neighbors with Seth Rogen and Zach Effron. But we did it in May of last year and it doesn’t come out in theaters until May 9th of this year. So I’m all pumped like, man, I’m in this movie, I wanna see this movie that I’m in…
[Laughs] Have you not seen the final cut?
I haven’t seen the final cut, I want to see it in the theater with a real crowd. And I’m like, yo May 9th, its been so long, I might die before then.
It’s been really tough getting used to stuff on that kind of clock.
Did you ever have a moment where you’d realized that could do this for a living?
I think I felt like I could do it for a living early on, I just wasn’t doing it yet. Working on SNL was a big step for me back in 2009, because it was my first real job and I had a regular paycheck in 2009. It felt good and made me feel established. And it just opened a lot of doors to meet people and create opportunities.
But it’s still progressing. Like that was huge for me but even now I’m in Chicago. And I just did this event “An Evening with the Bulls” for charity, you know. And I performed and all the Bulls were there, which was a team I watched growing up as a kid. I performed on the floor at the United Center on the jumbotron and all that, then Scotty Pippen comes up after like “Hey man funny stuff.” Pshhht, your Scotty Pippen! [Laughs] It’s kind of a thing that’s happening now and the progression has been crazy, and I’m really grateful.
Has there ever been a solitary surreal moment that was made you feel like you made it?
Different artists that I’ve been able to meet and collaborate with where you realize that someone you respect not only knows your stuff but appreciates it. Like when I found out Scarlett Johannson was a fan, that was really cool. It’s weird just cause when I started out I was just doing open mics and small shows, and just to know that it’s reaching to people in the business and people that I admire, it’s very cool.
Has there been any strange moments with fans?
Nothing too strange. There is somebody, and I don’t think this dude is for real, but somebody who posts on my Instagram comments about me being in the Illuminati…
I feel like they have to be joking, but it’s weird. They make up this elaborate [laughs] descriptions on anything I post on Instagram about how it relates to me being in the Illuminati [laughs].
[Laughs] Are you in the Illuminati?
Am I… are you!?
Definitely. I know all about 9/11, I know about all that stuff.
I dunno… I can’t talk about that.
I’m also in the Illuminati so we can talk about it, it’s fine.
I didn’t say I was in the Illuminati
Do you believe in that type of thing? I never know how to gauge people who talk about that. It’s usually just like on internet forums, mostly hip-hop stuff. But it’s usually like the most whacked out conspiracy stuff I’ve ever heard.
Yeah, but that’s mostly the internet. Have you ever met anyone like that in real life?
My brother is like that though.
Yeah, I love him but he’s always talking about 9/11 being an inside job, and I just don’t know how to respond to it. [laughs]
I dunno, was 9/11 an inside job? Who knows! WAS IT!? I mean that other building fell kinda weird…
[Laughs] Isn’t that the ultimate level of you’ve made it? People accuse you of being in the most elite group in the world.
[Laughs] Is the Illuminati even a real group? I joked about it in a interview, and people joked about being in the Illuminati has it’s benefits.
Like a sweet healthcare coverage for members, they’ve been hiding from us.
But legit I don’t even know… what it is. Like if somebody right outside of my hotel asked me like, “Hey Hannibal, Give me a legit description of what the Illuminati is for a million dollars.” I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Is it because you’d be scared that someone in the Illuminati would murder you?
No, I mean I know the word and the associations with it. But really, I don’t know what it is.
I don’t think anyone does, I think it’s like that old expression, “The man is holding me down,” that’s like the new form of “The Man,”—some vague unseen force that you can blame different stuff on. Wow, this interview has been derailed.
But it is fun to talk about right!?
Yeah, because you never know how someone will react to that. A regular, sane person you know could be talking to you, and that topic will randomly broached and they just turn on a dime. Like, “Yeah that’s a real thing, and the government is now watching us right now.”
[Laughing] But what if they’re right!?
[Laughs] But that doubt is what makes them feel like they’re right. Because if you say they’re wrong, and if you do they’ll just tell you that’s what the government wants you to think.
But anyway, let’s get back on track, umm… comedy, jokes. What do you have coming up?
Just touring, and finishing up the Broad City season, and Chozen. And I just finished up my pilot for Comedy Central as well, hopefully that gets picked up.
What’s that about?
It’s me trying different jobs. Like a comedian version of Dirty Jobs. I’m not really a worker outside of comedy. I haven’t had many jobs in the regular workforce and I’m not really good at it.
Is there any pressure with Comedy Central? It seems like a lot of up and coming comics get in the cycle of a few albums/specials for them and then a show on the station. Is it like you’ve signed the dotted line and now you have to produce situation?
I can’t speak for anyone else’s situation. I mean with me they’ve been very supportive. It is a business so you’ve gotta do work, but I don’t feel any pressure.
Outside of the industry, what’s a regular day like for you when you’re not working?
I play NBA 2k14, order delivery and have a girl to be cool with that.
Chuggin’ apple juice and playing video games?
You know what’s crazy, I don’t drink apple juice nearly as much as people think I drink apple juice.
You just destroyed the illusion for me.
Well, guess what? I drink, and buy, way more orange juice than apple juice. Way more orange juice.
My image of you is just flying around in a private jet sipping apple juice between shows.
Well let me destroy that—I fly commercial all of the time.
Orange juice and commercial. Man, you’re definitely not in the Illuminati.
Neighbors will hit theaters May 9th. neighbors-movie.com/, check out Chosen on FX and at http://www.fxnetworks.com/chozen, Broad City on MTV and at www.broadcitytheshow.com/, and for everything else Hannibal head over to hannibalburess.com