Before this filming, I witnessed surprise sets wherein Hannibal invariably performed a mix of new bits and old favorites ("Pickle Juice," often by audience request)—and always with the aid of a few cocktails. Those performances in mind, the late set of new material that I attended seemed all the more polished. He was at ease in front of a large audience, far less nervous than my companion and I were with having large cameras pointed at our faces at random. We overthought every chuckle. After growing accustomed to smaller venues and a more personal comic-to-audience interaction, there was something strange about being e-mailed a list of rules before enjoying a stand-up show. Being closely monitored by a room full of producers, who made sure everyone acted appropriately and that no one (ABSOLUTELY NO ONE!) got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of taping, made for a less-than-ideal environment for entertainment.
That being said, Hannibal's performance was the best I'd ever seen. He definitely played to his audience, opening with bits about Chicago cops and traveling to the west side. Part of what's always been appealing about Hannibal and his comedy is how easy it is to relate to his jokes and personality. Even in this large, overblown scenario, he behaved as if he could have been joking with his friends at the bar. If he does break the mold, it's in favor of complete goofiness. The highlight of the night was the finale, a live performance of his foray into hip-hop, "Gibberish Rap," complete with Kanye West-style ballerinas pirouetting around him.
Hannibal Buress: Live from Chicago airs on Comedy Central on March 29, and I'm anticipating the translation of this special from stage to screen. And if my laughing was acceptable enough for one of those in-my-face close-ups to make it in, I really hope there was nothing in my teeth.
Correction: This article has been amended to reflect the correct title of Hannibal Buress's Comedy Central special.