Die Laughing: The Loop 21 Spotlights Two Emerging Voices In Stand Up Comedy
No, one of them isn't Kevin Hart
One man has created a name, and many enemies, on Twitter.
The other's name may not ring bells... yet, but he is quickly becoming a favorite of comedy's big names.
The Loop 21 spotlights Lil Duval and Hannibal Buress.
The funnyman you love to hate was here before Twitter, show some respect.
You May Not Know His Name But He's A Big Deal
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Lil Duval Is No #Basic Comedian
“Man, this is some bullshit!”
Those aren’t exactly the first words you’d expect a comedian to open their routine with, but Roland “Lil Duval” Powell is going that route. And for some reason, the small crowd that has come to see him in Atlanta’s Uptown Comedy Corner is laughing. But not with him, or at him, for that matter. Because he wasn’t joking.
Tonight was supposed to be somewhat of a grand homecoming for the comedian. Duval performed his first ever stand up show here back in 2000 before going on to tour with Cedric the Entertainer, appearing on Comic View, releasing two moderately successful DVDs and becoming one of the most prolific black personalities on Twitter. But, because of the NBA finals, most of the people that might have come to this show, decided to stay home.
“LeBron got me out here f*cked up,” he snarls, with the crowd still laughing. “Oh, ya’ll think I’m joking. I’m dead ass serious. I’m too famous for this type of shit.”
Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, Duval is used to getting laughed at, even if he wasn’t trying to be funny.
“Growing up I never cracked jokes purposely,” he says from the closet-sized backstage area at Uptown. “I was never actually trying to be funny, I just always came off that way. I knew I always wanted to be an entertainer though. When I saw that I had a talent to make people laugh, I just decided to roll with it.”
Rolling with it meant leaving home. When asked what he was doing in his hometown before he got bit by the comedy bug, his usually wide eyes begin to slant and his voice turns into a mumble.
“I was just doing everything everybody else was doing in the hood,” he sighs, waving his hands as if to say “next question.”
When asked what exactly, the nonchalance turns into a bit of annoyance.
“I was just doing my thing,” he pauses. “I don’t like to promote that type of stuff too tough.”
Duval doesn’t mind promoting himself though. After moving from Florida to Atlanta, he cut his teeth performing at Uptown until he became a regular. From there he built a name for himself working the chitlin’ circuit and performing at various HBCU Homecoming weekends. Inspired by the efforts of rap peers like T.I., Duval decided to make his talent a legitimate business.
In 2003 he released Dat Boy Funny, a DVD of comedy sketches and parodies. From there he invested in a van, had it wrapped with his image and hit the road. Today he doesn’t remember how many copies he actually sold, but he does know that it made an impact.
“People still ask me about that DVD to this day,” he laughs. “I didn’t even think I was doing anything genius at the time. But my whole thing is, I have to go where people are at; let them see me. I didn’t have the luxury of having the industry fuck with me off top.”
After a rough first night, Duval’s second show at Uptown the next day already looks like a success and he hasn’t even entered the building yet.
With no basketball game to compete with, the club is completely full, drinks are flowing and hot platters are flying in and out of the kitchen.
When Duval pulls up to the venue in his shiny black Lamborghini he sees that finding a parking spot isn’t as easy as it was last night. Which is a good problem to have.
If the flashy car is any indication, life is treating Duval pretty damn good right now. He has come a long way from riding around in a promotional van. People lined outside point and stare he attempts to sneak through the club’s back door. Duval isn’t won over by the attention. More people doesn’t mean easier laughs.
“People don’t really come to my shows to laugh,” he says. “They come to see if I’m actually funny. I probably won’t even get into the jokes I really want to tell. Tonight is still show and prove for me.”
Admittedly, Duval will be the first to tell you that a lot of people come to his shows based off his personality on twitter. The screename @lilduval has become on of the most notorious on the social networking site, making him one of the most polarizing people on it. One minute he’s getting retweets for a joke, the next he’s a trending topic because he pissed the wrong person off.
“People like to say ‘twitter made you,’” he scoffs. “If that’s the case, why hasn’t it made you? Not taking anything away from it, because it has taken my career to the next level. But, I do work.”
With over a half-million followers, Duval’s profile has definitely increased. Promoters and fans alike are curious to see if he is just as funny (or insulting) in person. He recently just signed on to do a variety/travel show with MTV and according to his management he’s currently doing at least one show a week with shows no signs of slowing down.
Duval has been responsible for some of the most used twitter hashtags since he joined the site in 2008. #Killyoself (Duval claims to have coined the phrase back in 2003) and #Winning (this appeared on his timeline way before Charlie Sheen) are among the most popular ones. The others? Well, they might be popular for all of the wrong reasons.
His phrase #basicbitch has made him the ire of feminist, who, if they could, would have him kicked off Twitter. To date, the term has even inspired a line of t-shirts and an official Urban Dictionary entry. While that one can still be used in good fun, in April 2010 his #itaintrape hashtag had people calling for him to be e-lynched.
The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center called him a “troll” and dedicated an entire blog post to him. Duval never really apologized, instead offering “Fuck y’all. I’m a comedian. I take chances and say wat y’all think.” A year later, he has a calmer demeanor about it.
“People take a lot of what I say the wrong way,” he says.
“People think that I try to be an asshole on purpose. I’m an asshole by mistake. I’m not out trying to hurt people’s feelings.”
He continues, “But you’re either going to like me or not like me, there is no in between. People just aren’t used to hearing the truth or hearing people be blunt.”
To be fair, Duval’s live show is just as colorful as his tweets are. The same way he makes fun of people on the Internet, he does the same on stage. Not even his famous friends are above a roasting.
“So, I was talking to T.I. on the phone last week,” says Duval during his routine. He is signed to the comedy branch of T.I.’s Grand Hustle label. “He asked me what I was doing. I told him ‘shit, just outside playing.’”
The crowd roars as he continues.
“You can say damn near anything on the phone to a nigga that’s locked up,” he tells the audience. “You can talk all kinds of shit about them, but guess what? They ain’t hanging up that phone.”
For the rest of the night Duval cracks jokes on everything--the difference between White women and Black women in the bed, why he the thinks Ne-Yo’s music is more sexually explicit than Waka Flocka Flame’s and of course, his height.
By the show’s end everyone is good and drunk with a smile on their face. Duval seems to be pleased too. Last night he ended the show minutes early, went from the stage straight to his car and got the hell out of dodge. Tonight though, it doesn’t seem like he wants to get off of the stage yet. During his encore, he returns to the stage to crack a few more jokes and tell the Uptown staff and everyone that came out how much he appreciates them. He sticks around extra late for interviews, photos and handshakes. He even takes a moment to play the wise man role and school some of the young comedians that opened up for him.
When asked what he told them, he reluctantly answers.
“I just told them there ain’t no blueprint to this. Just stay on stage and learn.”
“The trick is to listen when they laugh, but listen even harder when they don’t”
Comedian Hannibal Buress Talks Poop Jokes, Quitting '30 Rock' and Tracy Morgan
The comedy of Hannibal Buress is, for the most part, about his observations of life’s absurdities and contradictions. The stand-up comedian and former writer on NBC’s SNL and 30 Rock isn’t a very physical comic or particularly boisterous. In fact, he’s so subdued that people often mistake him for being high when he’s actually sober. Laid back yet sharp-witted, the 28-year-old Hannibal culls his material from the awkwardness of social interaction; paying attention to what people say, how they say it and the little things we do that make no sense.
Seated in a Cake Shop, a bar/coffee shop that doubles as a performance space in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Hannibal pauses to think before answering questions in between bites of his turkey sandwich. He measures his words before responding in his signature Chicagoan drawl and if the interviewer stumbles over the wording of a question or inadvertently repeats one Hannibal will take the opportunity to point it out to him. It’s all in good fun as he talks about leaving his day job to do more stand-up, eschewing race jokes for poop jokes and the recent Tracey Morgan controversy.
TheLoop21: What’re you working on right now?
Hannibal Buress: Just doing stand-up, man. Pretty boring. I just do shows and then I drink beers… and liquor and then I got to bed and then go do more shows. Interview over. [Laughs.]
How long have you been doing stand-up?
About nine years.
At what point did you become confident in your ability to make people laugh?
There’s varied levels of confidence that come with the experience of just doing it so I may have been confident in it three or four years in but not confident enough to headline a show. Or I might’ve been confident a couple years ago but not confident enough to just book a show in the city and know that people would show up. So it’s constantly getting to different levels… Like now I feel better on stage now than I did three months ago just because over the past couple months I’ve been headlining more and doing long shows back to back. You ask me the same thing three years from now I’ll be better but I’ll still want to get better.
It’s interesting to see someone who was in a great position like being on the 30 Rock writing team give it up and just say “Well, I’ll going to focus on stand-up.” Do you ever have second thoughts?
Nah, they [30 Rock’s writing team] haven’t even started back workin’ yet and also I’m not even certain they would’ve had me back –that’s not guaranteed— I just quit! So maybe they were going to fire me and I beat them to it, I don’t know. But I know what I want to do with stand-up so it’s the right move.
Let’s talk about your comedy style. The word “refreshing” is often used when people talk about you and your comedy. Why don’t you do the classic “black people do it like this but white people do it like this” comedy?
I just do what I enjoy talkin’ about and what’s fun to me. It’s not deliberate, it’s just what I like talkin’ about. Whether it’s talkin’ about rappers, phrases, women, talkin’ about poop…
Yeah, poop jokes. I noticed that you have a pretty good repertoire of poop jokes—
Not really, I got one now where I talk about how much I really want to do poop jokes, so it’s a poop joke about wantin’ to do poop jokes because I really do want to do more.
What’s holding you back?
I don’t know, man… I don’t know how many poop jokes you can do in a set before people get upset. But maybe further on down the line that can be a special side act that I do if I get big enough then I can finally have this huge crowd coming out then that can be a side project— “The Poop Joke Comedian.”
“The Poop Joke Comedian” kinda works.
“Sh*ts ‘n’ Giggles” could be the name of the album. You do this weekly show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and it’s a great platform for established comedians to test out material and for a lot of up-and-comers to get some shine, what made you want to do it and how’d it come about?
I started doing the show ‘cause I did opening night at The Knitting Factory [in Brooklyn] in September ’09 and I opened up for the band Les Savy Fav then they asked me if I wanted to host a comedy night there and I said yeah, let’s do it on Sunday because that was my off night at the time for SNL so we started doing it and it’s also two blocks away from my house so that appeals to my laziness. I just kept doing it and I thought it was nice for me to just have somewhere that was easy to get to try new material and a place people want to see me instead of promoting other stuff. It’s like yo, I got this every Sunday. So I just host it and have people on and have a lot of fun doing it.
People like Aziz Ansari and Neal Brennan often pop-up at the show, as far as the more established people who come through does that happen pretty organically? Like, “I want to test out some material let’s go to Hannibal’s show.”
Aziz and Neal are friends of mine and they want to try out stuff and do shows. Neal is just starting really to get heavy into stand-up performing really often over the past couple of years. [So] cats wanna come through and try out stuff, it’s a good crowd and it’s always a good audience so that’s all a comedian really wants in New York anybody, [to just] go in front of a good crowd no matter where it’s at.
Once or twice I’ve seen people get heckled, in your experience how do you deal with unruly audience members?
When somebody’s hecklin’ you just take a moment and just handle it and say something because 99.9% of the time I’m better at comedy than they are—way better at it. Plus I have a microphone, I’m louder than them and I’m on stage and the crowd didn’t come to see them. So it’s usually pretty easy to say something back that’ll turn the crowd on them. If someone’s being continually disruptive and they’re kinda messing up the show it’s easy to turn the crowd on ‘em like “the crowd didn’t come to you! Blah, blah, blah!” And everybody’s like “Ahhh!” It’s an easy trick so it’s different ways… Some people don’t even engage them. When people are talkin’ and Louis C. K.’s performing—like I don’t know about hecklers but if somebody’s just chatting in the crowd he’ll just say “Can you stop talking? ‘Cause I’m also talking, so you’re distracting me. Please stop” [Laughs.] That’s it! He just wants to do his bit. Really if he’s working on material for a new set dealing with a heckler doesn’t help that. I mean you get big laughs out the crowd because it’s in the moment—
But there’s nothing you can get out of that to add to a set.
For the most part, you get a little chops but it doesn’t help your set in the long run. But it’s fun to destroy people when they try. [Deadpan pause.]
I like how you just said that with the absolute most serious face in life.
Let’s talk about your creative process. There are a lot of non-sequitur observations about life with some imagination added to make it absurd. What is your process like for thinking of stuff like that?
It’s addin’ stuff and it’s trial and error and it’s just tryin’ to take a situation that’s grounded in reality and make it really weird. For me it’s just what I think is funny and tryin’ it and if it hits keepin’ it and if it doesn’t hit adjustin’ to figure out the wording and see what works.
I read somewhere that you may be trying to write your own TV series, tell me about that.
I don’t know what it is yet, but as a comedian you want to build your audience and have a regular outlet so I wanna have a TV show.
A sitcom or sketch comedy show?
I don’t know. Might be a mixture of both or a sort of reality thing, it depends.
I’ve seen you do cameos on shows like once you doubled as Tracy on 30 Rock, do you like acting?
Yeah I do, acting is easy.
I mean the type of acting I’ve done so far is pretty easy. I was on a couple episodes of 30 Rock so I’d just go in and say two lines…
You know when you’re in movies and starring in stuff it’s gonna be a lot more of an undertaking.
Even then it’s still memorizing words. I’m not saying it’s the easiest thing in the world but…
You feel like you can do it basically.
I’m not gonna be an Oscar-winning actor but I can come in and say some funny lines and get outta there—
You never know, you might win an Oscar down the line. Let's talk about up-and coming comedians that you like that may’ve been featured at your Knitting Factory show.
I hate everybody, man. I’m a hater dog… But there’s this young cat named Gallagher I think he’s gonna do big things.
Shut up! [Laughs.]
[Laughs] Gallagher is hot.
Who’s some funny people? Damien Lemon is really dope, Calise Hawkins, Nore Davis
Who’s Laurie Davis? Is that the chick—
Nore! It’s a dude.
Who is that?
It’s a dude named “Nore Davis.” [Laughs]
No, I mean describe him.
The stand –up [act he does]? I don’t know, I mean he’s a funny dude he just did the show Sunday and ripped it. Michael Che, Kevin Barnett. Have you seen Jeffrey Joseph at the show? He does characters like he’ll start out as a gay or Latin character. He’s funny he’s been doing for a while he was acting and stuff in the ‘90s and doing stand-up and he just recently started back in the past couple of years. He’s not really and up and comer but he’s about to start doing it heavy again.
Are there any other comedians whose awesomeness you’d wax poetic about?
The Tracy Morgan flap, what was your opinion of that whole situation?
It was really hurtful for me because I wrote those jokes for Tracey…
Like “Color Me Embarrassed”?
[Laughs.] Yeah, so it’s been kind of a bummer for me that we’ve been taking this beating in the press like that and I thought those jokes were hilarious and it’s been really hurtful so I want everybody to stop it right now. [Laughs.]
Comedians are constantly pushing all types of boundaries of taste, I’ve heard white comedians like Louis C.K. go so far as to say “nigger” and in the right context it’s funny, do you think people should have thicker skin when it comes to comedy?
People like what they like but I don’t know if you always need to make a huge deal about it if offends you. It’s just that person [the comedian] sayin’ somethin’.
So I think we’re finished here. You have nothing going on in your life.
I toured four times! Goddamn you a hater!
Calise Hawkins: A single mother whose musings on parenthood will make you think twice about spawning.
Nore Davis: Fresh out of college? Broke? Nore Davis can relate and his “Bootleg Fridays” weekly movie reviews will advise you on how to spend that hard-earned unemployment check on entertainment.
Kevin Barnett: A shameless weirdo who enjoys searching for images of dinosaurs and dragon pictures on the Internet.
Hari Kondabolu: An Indian-American (no, not Native American) comic who’s astute observations about race, class and the mispronouncing of his name will have you in stitches.
Heather Lawless: When it comes to self-deprecation and borderline incestuous jokes about motherhood she is without peer.
Damien Lemon: A rising star on NYC’s stand-up circuit he’s keenly aware of how climate change leads to more sexual harassment.
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