Hannibal Buress sounds pissed when a reporter asks the umpteenth question about his Bill Cosby rape joke, which exploded his national profile but also buried him in intense media scrutiny.
Eighteen months after Buress' crack ignited the TV icon's legal firestorm, the simple mention of Cosby's name is a trigger for Buress, who first scoffs, then groans after hearing it.
"Why are you asking me about that? What the f--- is wrong with you?" asks Buress, reached by phone in Los Angeles. "How come you don't want to talk about the No. 1 movie in the country right now, 'The Secret Life of Pets?' "
Buress, who will perform Friday, July 22, at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, has nurtured a love-hate relationship with the thing that has lured more eyeballs to Buress' standup than any other career accomplishment, which has included three standup specials, writing stints on "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock" and co-starring roles on "The Eric Andre Show" and "Broad City." If questions about why he called out Cosby's alleged rape and sexual misconduct rattle Buress, the 33-year-old hardly avoids the subject in his current standup act.
On his February Netflix special "Comedy Comisado," Buress tackles the fallout over his controversial joke. "I didn't like the media putting me at the forefront of it," Buress says during the set. "They were sly dissing me in the news: 'Broke-ass … unknown … homeless comedian Hannibal Buress took the stage in Philly covered in rags.' "
Asked in this interview if he ever hesitated about addressing in standup the reaction to his Cosby bit, Buress grows even more brusque. "I knew you didn't have a good question about it," he says, interrupting the question halfway through. "I talked about [the media's reaction to me] right away, but that didn't help."
The conversation warms when talk turns to Buress' prolific workload these days, which includes voice-acting roles in "The Secret Life of Pets," which, yes, grossed $50.6 million this past weekend to lead Hollywood's box office. Buress downplays any responsibility for the film's success.
"It's crazy, man, to see the digital marquee up in New York, using my character, Buddy the dog. It's cool to be a part of it, but if I didn't do it, this movie would've made the same amount of money this week," Buress says. "If I wasn't in it, people wouldn't have been like, 'You know what this movie needed? More cowbell and more Hannibal Buress.' "
A Chicago native who struck out for New York's comedy scene during his 20s, Buress found early success after standup on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" bought him a ticket to the writer's room trenches of "Saturday Night Live" in 2009. The experience afforded him an easygoing tour schedule but little on-camera time, says Buress, who in 2010 decamped to NBC's "30 Rock." That sitcom presented the opposite problem: more on-camera time as a homeless character, but the "30 Rock" shooting schedule cut into touring.
"It's funny to see some people online now just rewatching episodes, being like, 'Damn! You were in '30 Rock' a lot,' " Buress says with a laugh. "It's the kind of thing where you look at old Gucci Mane rap videos from '08 or '09, and you notice a young Waka Flocka [Flame], just in the background. Like, what? Oh, s---, I didn't even know he had smaller roles.' "
For Buress, smaller roles eventually became big ones. He's now a sidekick to Boca Raton native Eric Andre on the comedian's sketch-comedy series "The Eric Andre Show," premiering its fourth season in August. He also co-stars as Ilana Glazer's ex-boyfriend on the New York-set "Broad City," which wrapped its third season in April. The decision to relocate to New York has brought more successes than failures, he says.
"New York is good to me," he says. "I've done a lot of projects and things where my style just doesn't jibe. I'm not exactly a staff-writer-kind-of talent. I'm just an actor. I'm a comedian, and I can write stuff for myself. That's all I want people to expect of me."