An ornamental, Carthaginian name isn't the only thing that separates comedian Hannibal Buress from his closest peers. He's inscrutable in many other ways — political, but not a provocateur; scatological, but not lewd; weird, but apt to convey it in a very matter-of-fact way. He's a gravelly-voiced mumbler who intentionally blurs words together. He has weird intonation, and an accent that's equal parts Chicago and New York. He often seems prickly and petulant. Not Twitter-addicted like Patton Oswalt or Elon James White. Not a fan of word economy. Not one to josh his audience, aside from asking if anyone in the house does cocaine. Not one for set-ups and punchlines.
While other comedians play it safe by sticking to one subject, Buress prefers to take a lot of asides, and see where the rabbit holes lead him. "Anyways, I got off the subject," he says offhandedly in "It's Hard Out Here," a bit from his new album My Name Is Hannibal. The bit starts off with a kid trying to goad Buress into supporting an imaginary basketball team, which leads to a weird rumination on words (specifically, whether the word "tribulations" can exist without "trials," or whether we can "pillage" without "raping"). It's typical of Buress' shaggy-dog-story form: rambling, conceptual, and a little neurotic, with no clear narrative arc. But therein lies the humor.
The better jokes on My Name Is Hannibal begin in common-man terms, and get progressively more complicated. Take the fourth track, "Metal Arms," which could easily be a coup de grace. Buress starts off with a premise that any maladjusted person would understand: "I don't trust society at all. I live alone and I lock the door every time I go to the bathroom." He makes it more and more improbable: "For Christmas I bought myself a set of metal prosthetic arms. Because you never know when you're gonna lose an arm, and I want to be prepared for the situation." One and half minutes in, he's advanced it to a level of utter lunacy: "If I lose an arm I'd be like, 'Everybody relax — eh, grab my other arm off the shelf over there. ... Somebody clean this shit up right here."
The same form pays dividends elsewhere, as Buress ventures from the banal (kicking pigeons, wondering how the plot will develop in a rap video), to the bizarre (finding new culinary uses for excess pickle juice), to the realm of magical realism (personifying an STD or imagining himself inside a video game). That's a risky way to do stand-up. Yet on this album, it usually works. Buress doesn't seem to mind if his one-liners don't always hit. He prefers the deeper humor of telling stories, and building character. He revels in complexity. (Stand Up!) — Rachel Swan