Two Drink Minimum is a comedy-based column by Vague Visages staff writer Jacob Oller.
In February of this year, barely three months ago, I covered Hannibal Buress’ Netflix special, Comedy Camisado, for Vague Visages. Netflix has nestled in with Buress, as it does with many comedians, already featuring his 2012 breakout special Animal Furnace as well as 2014’s Live From Chicago. While some of his prolific predecessors burn out (Katt Williams) or diversify into other comedic avenues (Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari), Buress builds his breakneck touring pace into a deeper and deeper art form. The constant tours of a road-weary comic takes a toll, as seen most explicitly in last year’s Entertainment. Many comics transition to film or television jobs and leave the lonely tour circuit behind, and those who can’t hack it on screen for whatever reason often slip off the map, churning out stand-up specials out of nothing but fiscal need.
Meanwhile, the still-rising Buress has yet another new special out: Hannibal Takes Edinburgh. Documenting his trip during a month-long performance festival in Edinburgh, we see the comic grapple with the stagnation of sedentary isolation and the grueling schedule of performing the same stand-up routine at least once a day for a month. While Ansari released a sociology book and created a brooding millennial TV show, Buress personalizes his material by simply doing his job.
The film isn’t really about Buress’ material, though. In fact, almost all the jokes have been used in other previously released stand-up specials (Hannibal Takes Edinburgh was filmed over 28 days in August 2012, right after the comedian had released Animal Furnace). He’s relatively fresh, at this point in his career not yet having made a big-screen debut, and completely candid. This documentary, because that’s really what it becomes, is about Buress’ comedic process — not just the process of crafting and refining a joke, though that is featured, but the process of becoming and continuing to be a professional comedian.
Night after night, the jokes evolve, and as crowds take their toll or energize the exhausted comic, the performances blur together. Thanks to mercifully energetic editing, the viewer may never feel as trapped as Buress within the confines of the same hour of material, but feel and understand his creative claustrophobia. When a woman harrasses him for a joke rather than give him directions, it feels entirely put-upon, and moments later, Buress turns the anecdote into a rambling joke whose purpose isn’t as much humor as it is catharsis. His performances, over the course of a month, become therapeutic.
Hannibal Takes Edinburgh describes creative burnout at its most generic and the lengths one must go to in order to avoid it. You may be a dancer with a great move, an accountant with an entire system’s worth of processing to do, a one-hit wonder band or a film critic writing about countless mediocre movies that all blur together, but your brain fries just the same under exhaustive repetition. What Buress finds during his month-long trial are a plethora of solutions, whether they be psychological, as a puppeteer explains his mental justifications for daily thankfulness, or physical, as Buress scales a local peak and discards his shows’ microphones. He’s able to loosen and achieve perspective outside the monotony, finding a beautiful working-man’s solace in each show. Hitting the cerebrally relatable and the absurdly goofy, Buress provides an allegory for the American worker: even if your daily grind is performing stand-up, taking pleasure in your work is the only way to stay sane.
From AAA TV to Z-movies, Oklahoma City-based critic Jacob Oller (@JacobOller) would like to bring the world together through entertainment, writing about it for publications like The Guardian, the Oklahoma Gazette, and his own blog. He’s a decent impressionist, semi-decent karaoke participant, and terrible dancer, although you’ll have to get a few drinks in him first.