Monday, May 21, 2012

Hannibal Buress's "Animal Furnace"

I like Hannibal Buress. I like him when he's annoyed, I like him when he's slightly offended, and I like him when he's a little perplexed. I like Enthused Hannibal, I like Defensive Hannibal, and I like Offensive Hannibal. I even like it when bad things happen to Hannibal. Not that I'm a sadist who wishes ill upon comedians, but when it comes to watching someone react to the circumstances around him, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone funnier. 

Witnessing Buress react to losing his debit card, questionable interviews he may have sabotaged, and the excessive number of policemen responding to a jaywalking charge with his subtle What the hell is going on here? approach garners big laughs and those are just a few of the encounters you'll bear witness to on his new album, Animal Furnace.

On his previous album Buress seemed to respond to situations with a passive incredulity, almost as if he was seated next to us, giving us a gentle elbow nudge to make sure we didn't miss what was going down on the other side of the room. This time around Buress is quicker to be the aggressor, his material having developed a little more bite. His fuse seems to be slightly shorter and his tolerance for ridiculousness a bit lower. Of course, watching him react is why we're all here and although the overall tone seems slightly darker, that doesn't mean that he's not as funny as ever.

Once you've been exposed to the people and characters Buress has encountered/put up with, it's not difficult to understand why he seems so quick to lose his cool. You'd also be a little miffed if your opening act shoved the microphone in inappropriate orifices or if your teenage cousin was constantly criticizing your work or if everyone you met felt free enough to comment on your weight gain. You can only take so much of Scottish people referring to cookies as "biscuits" or prospective dates regurgitating rape statistics to you before deciding, "OK, this is nuts, I've gotta say something." And, when it comes to carrying on a conversation with someone with a specific facial hair decision, Buress says it best: "It's cool if you wanna have a handlebar moustache but don't try to have a conversation with me like you don't have a handlebar moustache." In other words, no talk of music or politics. You've narrowed your credible small talk topics to Slinkys and kazoos.

Many comics find themselves in awkward situations through no one's fault but their own self-destructive choices. Not so in Buress's case. OK, maybe he is to blame for the time he got a speeding ticket in the Hoosier State ("Life is short, we're all gonna die soon, and I wanna minimize the time I spend on Indiana State Road 37"), but for the most part his conscience is clean. You can't blame a guy for taking up the offer to hold a bomb, even for a little bit, just for the experience of saying you've held a bomb. And if he gets caught by TSA agents at the airport with "bomb juice" on his hands, I mean come on, it's not like he brought the bomb with him to the terminal, so why is he suddenly the bad guy? You can't cite Buress for wanting to take advantage of a sale on apple juice (even though that isn't the real reason the old dude at the grocery store was giving him the stink eye) and if Megan Fox ruins the sketch you wrote for "Saturday Night Live" because she can't scat, well...that one is on her.

Again, it's not the situations but how Buress reacts to them that really brings things to life. To the aforementioned security guard who asks if he is in town for business or pleasure, Buress offers this retort: "I'm going to New York to talk about you in front of strangers." He has come up with a so-simple-it's-genius way to win a fight with a cab driver and has no time for monkeys who over-romanticize SNL's Belushi era. And when the crowd balks at the name he calls the woman who took his debit card and went on a shopping spree, they don't get off easy either ("Fix your face, don't look at me like that").

The album comes to a close with an inspirational "Believe In Yourself" speech that is inspired by his decision to not keep his dinner napkin in his lap. The self-confidence he encourages in others may very well be the secret ingredient that is present throughout the CD, possibly explaining why he's now quicker to take action. He's not gonna just on his laurels. Someone has to say something about children on airplanes, people who put trash cans on their heads, and the pointlessness of Pub Crawls For Cancer ("Basically getting one disease while fighting another"). When all is said and done, I'm glad Hannibal Buress is that someone.


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