Comedian who made Cosby joke that went viral coming to Cincinnati

Hannibal Buress: “You can spin all kinds of things in your head.” CONTRIBUTED
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Hannibal Buress: “You can spin all kinds of things in your head.” CONTRIBUTED

He was on the rise even before that Cosby joke.

Contact this contributing writer at aaronepple@gmail.com.

Comedian Hannibal Buress doesn’t like to talk about Bill Cosby.

Buress’ joke about Cosby’s sexual assault allegations, which were quietly settled out of court long ago and largely out of the public mind, unexpectedly went viral in October 2014, uncorking a perfect storm of fresh lawsuits and criminal charges as over 60 women came forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault. The litigation is still ongoing.

The problem for Buress, who is performing in Cincinnati at the Taft Theatre this weekend, is that his name has become entwined with the incident ever since, obscuring the fact that he was a critically acclaimed (the “New York Times” published a favorable review of his work in 2011) and up-and-coming comic before that.

“It’s pretty fascinating that all (the lawsuits) happened because of stand-up (comedy),” he said. “What becomes annoying about something like that is how it might define your success or be seen as the reason for your success.”

Buress is a primarily an observational comic with doses of absurdism and satire. His jokes often consist of meandering anecdotes that close with a sneaky punch line. For instance, after speculating for several minutes that Stevie Wonder might not be blind, he said, “I can make fun of blind people because my best friend is gay.”

He also tells a longish story about going to the store to buy apple juice in bulk because he loves apple juice and it’s on sale. While there, he notices a man shaking his head at him, and it took him a minute to realize he was objecting to Buress’ white girlfriend, but he was “so caught up in the euphoria of having all this apple juice that for a moment I lived in a world where racism didn’t exist.”

“I could’ve been completely wrong about that dude,” Buress said. “That’s just what I thought at the moment. It doesn’t make it true. You can spin all kinds of things in your head. One night, I was having drinks with a female comic that I’ve known for a few years. I learned later that she thought I was trying to hook up with her. That wasn’t my intention at all.”

Like most stand-up comics, Burress has to reconcile his love of performing with the reality that most of the money and recognition is on television. He was a writer for “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.” On the former show, only one of his sketches saw the light of day.

“I wasn’t very experienced in the format,” he said. “I was used to writing specific stuff for myself. Then suddenly, I was writing on his legendary show alongside people who had been doing it for years.”

This television malaise continued even when he got to host his own show on Comedy Central. “Why? with Hannibal Buress” aired for one season in 2015. Burress decided not to do another.

“We had some fun moments, but something about it didn’t feel right,” he said. “The last couple of episodes, it felt more like a job than something to be excited about, and you never want to feel like that. I prefer stand-up because I can just do my thing. It’s very personal and can be tweaked in the moment.”

How to go

What: Hannibal Buress

Where: Taft Theatre, 317 E. Fifth St., Cincinnati

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11

Cost: $25-$35

More info: 513-232-6220 or www.tafttheatre.org