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Hannibal Buress on Miami arrest: 'I don’t believe I was at fault'

In December, during the massive contemporary-art fair Art Basel, a Miami police officer found comedian Hannibal Buress standing on a tourist-packed Wynwood street corner. Buress asked to call an Uber. The officer, Luis Verne, asked him to leave. What happened next, according to recently released police body-camera footage, sounds like dialogue from Buress’ standup act: “Hey, what’s up? It’s me, Hannibal Buress,” the 34-year-old says, bursting into laughter in an eight-minute video clip posted online. He claps and points at officer Verne’s camera. “This cop is stupid as f---. Hey, put this camera on.”

Minutes later, a crowd of onlookers gathered to witness a handcuffed Buress being lowered into a police cruiser. The comedian hollered, “You don’t have probable cause for anything and you look hella stupid right now.” When bystanders asked Buress why he was being arrested, he laughed again and said, “I’m under arrest right now for calling him a bitch-ass n----.”

Police later booked Buress at Miami-Dade County jail for disorderly intoxication, a misdemeanor. Reached by phone in Las Vegas on Monday, Buress admits that the body-cam footage looks damaging “out of context.” But the Chicago-raised comedian, who will perform Thursday, Jan. 25, through Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Palm Beach Improv in West Palm Beach, says that he’s not guilty.

Buress’ national profile exploded in 2014 after a string of controversial jokes about allegations of rape against Bill Cosby, and he’s followed that momentum with critical praise for roles on Comedy Central’s “Broad City” and Adult Swim’s “The Eric Andre Show,” opposite Boca Raton native Andre.

On his way to West Palm Beach, Buress discusses his role in the Academy Award-nominated “The Disaster Artist”; his podcast “Handsome Rambler,” which has featured interviews with hip-hop supergroup Run the Jewels and rocker Mitski; and his previous standup show in West Palm Beach, a November 2014 set at which he bombed after becoming too intoxicated to remember his jokes.

I have to start by asking the big question: You were arrested last month in Miami at Art Basel, and –

Yeah, I can’t talk about that until everything is closed up. [Buress says he has a Feb. 5 court date.]

Well, body-cam footage of your arrest is online. On it, the officer tells you seven times to leave the block in Wynwood. At one point, you called the officer “stupid as f---” and —

All right, here’s what I’ll say about it. What happened is that I asked the [officer] to call me an Uber, and he said, “No.” He told me to leave the street. I go into this bar to get a phone charge or an Uber. He follows me into the bar, and told me I’m too drunk to go inside. This is on the police report, but it’s not in the body-cam footage. “If I can’t be on the street, where do you want me to be?” I ask him. I was in a state of trying to get home. The body-cam video starts after that. That’s why I’m so vocal toward him. Without that context, it looks like I’m an a------ [Buress laughs]. Obviously, it’s an avoidable situation, but I don’t really believe I was at fault.

You have a cameo appearance in “The Disaster Artist,” the James Franco-directed making of the comically bad film, “The Room.” Big fan of “The Room”?

I was way into the movie in 2010 — my girlfriend at the time put me onto it — and I started going to screenings, and people would throw spoons whenever paintings of a spoon would pop up. So when I heard they were doing a movie, I’m like, “I’m onboard,” because it was such a ridiculous idea.

On your podcast “Handsome Rambler,” you’ve interviewed plenty of musicians, such as Mitski and Run the Jewels. What kind of intellectual itch does making these podcasts scratch?

Originally, we’d record a podcast and say, “We got this gig coming up.” Then, as it grew, it became this musical thing where we goof off and mix traditional interview questions. I try out jokes you really can’t crack in standup — they don’t lend themselves to the hard laugh to move a comedy show — but they work as conversation starters. One of my favorite questions is to ask the musicians if they have sex to their own music. When I’m having sex and their music comes on, I’m like, “Hey, I know Killer Mike!”

On an early “Handsome Rambler” episode, you recalled your bad 2014 set at the Palm Beach Improv. What happened?

It wasn’t that bad. [Laughs]. People got a lot of refunds that night. I was at the end of a 10-day bus tour, so I was exhausted. We drank a little bit, and the show suffered for it. I’ve done shows a little buzzed before, but this was a mess. The messages people sent me about it, they act like I stole their firstborn child, when in actuality it was just a bad comedy show in South Florida. I actually haven’t been drinking this year. Well, New Year’s Day, I got drunk. But yeah, I haven’t drank in three weeks.

Do you feel that you’re progressing more as an actor or as a comic these days?

I don’t pursue acting as much, but as roles come up, I’ll take them, but ultimately standup is the priority. I’ll probably film my new special in May or June or something like that. That where I make the most money.

Hannibal Buress will perform 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25; 7:30 and 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26; and 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, at Palm Beach Improv, 550 S. Rosemary Ave. Suite 250, in West Palm Beach. Admission is $30, with two-drink minimum. Call 561-833-1812 or go to PalmBeachImprov.com.

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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