Hannibal Buress is having a moment right now.
Since packing Turner Hall in February of 2014, the comedian/actor’s star has grown exponentially, oddly, due in part to being among the first to publicly reference Bill Cosby’s alleged monstrosities. In the year and a half after his last time in town, Buress turned in another great season Broad City, released his second hour-long special, roasted Justin Bieber, starred in a Comedy Central show called Why?, dipped his toes ever-deeper into the world of film, and fashioned a brand new hour-plus of material. Saturday night, at the height of his popularity, the burgeoning comic rose to the occasion and made good on his recent fame in front of a captivated Riverside Theater with 75 minutes of strange premises, bold tangents, and keen self-awareness.
Coming out to a resounding applause and the accompaniment of a DJ, the Windy City native elected to start at a disadvantage, saying, “It’s always nice to come back to the northern suburbs of Chicago,” which was met with a smattering of boos. Confronted with the realization of his growing fame, he quickly lamented scalpers selling his $30 tickets for upwards of $90 because he didn’t feel he could give people a $90 show. Though he estimated he could deliver a $32.50 show tops, the value grew by the minute, as Buress seemed at ease while plowing through a variety of non sequiturs that ranged from the irony of Lasik surgery occasionally causing blindness, conspiracies regarding Stevie Wonder’s ability to see, and his “beloved high school brunch crew.”
While the vast majority of his material was brand new, he revisited his “bomb juice” bit from Animal Furnace. During an especially meta departure about seeing Riff Raff rap over his own recorded music in Montreal, he chimed in with punchlines from his old specials that his DJ played over the house P.A. (“Pickle Juice” thankfully among them). The DJ was a focal point for much of the evening. He played the beat from Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” that prompted Buress’ takedown of the its simplicity. He played part of a Tupac song when Buress posited the legend was “the first rapper to ever diss someone for having sickle cell while also raising awareness for sickle cell.”
Of course, the headliner had to reference the Cosby controversy. “Now that shit got out of hand!” he said. “Who would’ve thought that one offhand joke about Cosby rape would lead to so much great consensual sex across the country?” Though that situation was undoubtedly the gateway for some in attendance, Buress’ material and uncanny stage presence stood sturdy enough on its own to justify the turnout and the response. Whether tackling tough topics, coasting through DJ-assisted bits, recounting the time he made an entire table lose while playing craps, standing up for asthmatics or taking deviled eggs—”the biggest racket in the restaurant industry”—to task, Buress seized the moment for an hour and 15 minutes. Could this be Hannibal Buress’ plateau? Sure. Yet even if the news cycle pushes another comic to the forefront of mainstream consciousness in the coming months, any dip in Buress’ notoriety won’t be a byproduct of weak material or a lack of evolution. Saturday night, he was at his best and gave every indication there are still better things to come.