Hannibal Buress at the drive-in

Andy Downing
Hannibal Buress

In Hannibal Buress’ new comedy special “Miami Nights,” recorded in 2019 andreleased on YouTube over the summer, the standup recounts a 2017 incident in which he was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for disorderly intoxication after he asked a police officer to call him an Uber (the charges were later dropped). In Buress’ retelling, which stretches longer than 20 minutes, he keeps things light, even as he viciously roasts the officer who arrested him. 

But revisiting the material now, during a time of ongoing nationwide protests sparked by police killings of Black citizens, additional dimensions emerge, with Buress describing unnecessary escalations and questioning the types of people the country allows to become cops. At the end of the comedian’s story, he describes the moment when he learned that the involved officer had previously been arrested for choking a man in a bar and fleeing the scene. “How about if you run away from the cops, you can’t be a cop anymore?” Buress says. “Why is this dude still working?”

“Unfortunately, [the subject] is something that’s more topical now because these situations have happened while the world was slowed down [by COVID-19], so there’s more focus on it,” Buress said recently by phone about the renewed attention being given to police abuses. “Things happened while everything was shut down  jobs and sports and everything  so it made people really lock in on it. My situation is obviously very different, but it shows another layer of the problem, which is just people with personalities that aren’t really suited to that level of responsibility with the public. There’s a lot of petty policing and these types of things with these folks, who don’t really deserve that kind of authority. Just by the nature of the position … a police officer should be a better person than most of the general public. … They should be great, right?”

Buress said he won’t be retelling the story in full when he brings “Miami Nights” to the outdoor stageat South Drive-In on Saturday, Sept. 26, though parts of it would likely appear, updated with new commentary.

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Following his arrest, Buress gave up alcohol. He said the decision hasn’t been impeded by the pandemic, since his drinking was always more socially driven. “Even when I was drinking excessively, it wasn’t about being at home. It was about being out and about and my brain needing to process the level of activity around me, and having some drinks to slow it down,” Buress said.

The comedian's legal hiccup is not the only part of "Miami Nights" that feels different upon reexamination, either. “Even seeing people hanging out at something seems wild,” Buress said of the special, which was filmed before the phrase “social distancing” had entered the public lexicon. “Whoa! Look at that. Look at them hanging out with no fear. Did they just hug? Whoaaa!!”

“We did a documentary for Isola Fest … in December of last year, and I think that might have been one of the last music festivals [before coronavirus shutdowns],” he continued, referencing the inaugural event he spearheaded in his grandmother’s hometown of Isola, Mississippi, which included appearances from Flying Lotus, Open Mike Eagle, T-Pain and more. “Looking at that footage, there are people hanging out, walking around without masks. Seeing that footage is wild.”

Buress said the festival was created, in part, to draw attention to his cousin’s Isola venue, Playaz Palace. The initial plan was to continue hosting either weekly or monthly open mic events at the club, with a second festival following in May. “But obviously plans changed,” Buress said. “It was mostly a goal of helping this club grow, and helping to create a bit of an artists’ community in this super small town.”

These types of business forays are nothing new for the perennial plate spinner, whohosts podcasts, recordsrap tracks, acts on TV and film andinvests in startups, in addition to maintaining an active comedy career.

“If I’m writing in my notebook, I might write a comedy bit, or I might write a rap line or some programming idea for my nonprofit or different ways for businesses to connect,” Buress said. “Prioritizing is a real struggle for me. OK, out of these hundred ... things that I just thought of, what do I truly want to do? What is the most important thing to do? Then also balancing the fact that I still have to generate income and pay bills. … I wouldn’t say it’s stressful, but it can be a lot.”