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Hannibal Buress

The comedian, 36, on growing up on the West Side, coping with ADHD, and giving up alcohol (but not drugs)

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke
Illustration: Kathryn Rathke

There used to be a pool hall on this stretch of North Avenue where I grew up. We’d go there and shoot dice. Like 15, 16, I was hanging out in a pool hall with grownups and gambling. I seen West Side shit and grew up around West Side people. Whatever you see in me or how I speak, I am West Side Chicago certified.

I got in a lot of trouble in school, starting in seventh or eighth grade. Constant joking in class and always wilding out. I had undiagnosed ADHD. It was like, “Oh, he’s just impulsive.” I graduated from Steinmetz with a 1.9 GPA. One point nine!

At SNL, I was getting my first solid paycheck — a few grand every week, which was nice. What’s funny is, my credit was fucked up because when I first moved to New York in ’06, I was out of money and did an empty-envelope deposit at Washington Mutual. You’d write an amount on the envelope, put it in, and sometimes the machine trusted you. I withdrew like $1,200. After they found out, the only place I could get an account was in Chicago at TCF Bank. Looking back, I should’ve just FedExed the checks to my mom, but I guess I was stupid or didn’t want her to know, so I made specific trips to Chicago just to put money in the bank. One time I flew from LaGuardia to O’Hare, went to the bank, deposited the checks, then got back in the car and went back to the airport.

I’d known for a while I had ADHD. But being in a writers’ room, unmedicated, was not conducive to how I was. I just was terrible at the job instead of figuring out ways to be better at it with how my brain operates. There were times you had to be there — pitch meetings, read-throughs, rewrites — but you had a lot of free time. Dude, I went to a Knicks game on a Friday. I wasn’t mature enough to say, I don’t think I’m working at my optimal level.

Being famous, you constantly get to work on your social skills. I’m still adjusting. You might come up to me and be like, “Can I take a picture?” And I’ll be like, “Sure, let’s do it. You wanna do a pose? Let’s do prayer hands and look off in different directions.” Or I might say, “Absolutely not. I don’t feel like it right now.” It’s just about recognizing that people are excited about you and appreciating that, but also protecting your personal space and psychological boundaries.

I try to be mature, but I am a sarcastic motherfucker. Anyone who has spent a few hours with me or seen my show knows I say some shit that’s slick. In my mind, I’m just having fun. But sometimes, if people don’t know me from standup, it cuts in a different way.

If somebody doesn’t like my comedy or my performance in a movie, it’s not ideal, but that’s an opinion and you gotta take that. But it’s weird when people lie on you. If you search “Hannibal Buress landlord” on Twitter, it’s the wildest shit you’ll ever see.

I don’t like Trump, but I gotta say: His steak company was amazing.

Getting sober was from a mix of things. I got arrested in Miami in 2017. The shit was embarrassing — I was on TMZ drunk-talking to the cop. That made me think, OK, from a straight-up numbers standpoint, what is alcohol bringing into my life? Is it bringing me money? No. Is it bringing me women? Maybe. But am I able to get them without drinks? Probably. And it cost me money. Missing my flight and having to charter a jet for $50K just to make it to the Justin Bieber roast definitely was a result of drinking. And I lost a corporate gig in Utah because they saw that Hannibal got arrested. Down $75K. Now I just look and feel better. There’s more mental clarity.

I still do edibles and psychedelics. I could never go full straight-edge. And I don’t have the desire to.

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