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Comedy DVD Review: Hannibal Buress: Animal Furnace

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Up-and-coming stand-up comic Hannibal Buress offers up plenty of reasons to take notice in Animal Furnace, his first hour-long special for Comedy Central, recorded in December 2011. A writer for 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live, Buress delivers a supremely confident, frequently hilarious set here that will likely appeal to comedy nerds above all else.

Animal FurnaceBuress may not break much new ground with his subject matter – for example, bits on attempted late-night hookups, problems with cops, TSA frustration, and credit card fraud – but he’s crafted an expert delivery style that brings to mind the laconic charm of Mitch Hedberg or Steven Wright. For Buress, his deliberate diction and word selection can take a joke that’s merely OK in concept and turn it into an irresistibly funny moment – and he knows it. After a couple of jokes about rental cars each ending with the same one-liner, Buress admits, “Those are two so-so jokes, but I just like saying, ‘Hop on this shuttle bus.’”

There are some distinctly Hedberg-like moments scattered throughout the set, like his explanation for why he doesn’t put the napkin in his lap – “I believe in myself” – but Buress is hardly a derivative performer. Throughout Animal Furnace, he returns again and again to expressions of faux-outrage that quickly segue into amused bewilderment at the stupidity of those around him. Perhaps the best example of this is an early bit in which he recounts a particularly tone-deaf preview in a college newspaper – “A human being wrote this and then they sent it to a higher-ranking human being, an editor, and that person said, ‘Yeah, let’s go with that.’”

The strategy also works for the quick asides that pile up in between longer bits; his laid-back approach really masks the sheer amount of material Burress includes here – like the perplexity about why his grandma would feel the need to comment on his weight gain. “What does this mean, grandma? We can’t fuck anymore?”

The cumulative effect of Buress’s genial stage presence, his precisely written jokes, and his winning delivery makes it essential to see an entire act. Isolated, some of the parts might not look too exciting, but the sum is an incredibly talented comedian.

The Comedy Central DVD comes with just a single behind-the-scenes documentary, but it’s far better than most of its ilk. Titled A Week to Kill, the engaging 30-minute piece takes an observational, fly-on-the-wall approach to the week leading up to the special.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.